A couple weeks ago, Stefano’s sister-in-law showed up to our apartment with two garbage bags full of clothing! Luckily, this is the second time I’ve gotten a chance to comb through her previously loved garments. I came over to Italy with a suitcase of clothing thinking I would be here for a year. And much to my surprise, here we are on year two of Living in Italy.
Although there were well over a hundred beautiful and well-made pieces to choose from, I carefully selected 13 garments that I knew would compliment my existing wardrobe and would get plenty of use.
My Italian Hand Me Down Clothing Haul made me reflect on how drastically my consumer habits have changed around style and fashion these past few years. Years ago, you wouldn’t have caught me DEAD in a thrift store. I saw them as ugly discarded leftovers that nobody wanted or would use. (Ugh – cringing at the way old me used to think.) I attached material things to personal achievements, success and self love.
Today? It couldn’t be any more different! Personal achievements, success and self love now look like: Meditation. Yoga. Personal grooming. Outdoor exercise. Art. Reading. I prefer to gift myself time rather than add more material stress and anxiety that kept me stuck in the proverbial Rat Race.
As someone who is still learning and new to practicing a sustainable lifestyle, I know how important it is to chalk up some sustainability wins early on in your journey. Which is why I wanted to offer some very impactful alternatives to purchasing clothes (even if they are slow and sustainable).
We have three opportunities to protect our clothing: when we wash them, how we wear them and the way we store them.
When washing, flip your clothes inside out and wash them in cold water. (Reserve hot water washing for extremely soiled articles of clothing.) Once you’ve washed your clothing, hang them to dry on a clothes line or a drying rack inside the home instead of using the dryer.
When wearing your clothes, think ahead and practice good hygiene! If you’re going for a stroll and there are hills, you’re likely going to sweat. So don’t wear your wool sweater! And if your morning routine includes hair products and makeup, wear a housecoat while you prepare for the day and change into your clothes after you’ve gotten ready so that there is no product transfer onto your clothing.
And finally, when storing your clothes make sure you fold heavy articles of clothing and stack them on a shelf or put them in a drawer to avoid stretching. And zip up those zippers! Unzipped zippers and unbuttoned buttons have a way of snagging fabric that they come into contact with, and it’s completely preventable.
When it comes to shoes, use a protector and keep them clean! In Winter months, salt can be especially harsh to your shoes and speed up the wear and tear. Take the time to care for them so that you can extend their life.
2. Nix Unnecessary Washing
Do your clothes even warrant washing? Not only does washing clean clothes use excess energy and laundry products, it also adds unnecessary wear and tear on your clothing. The agitation, tumbling and churning can speed up stretching, fading, and damage to your garments. So do yourself (and the world) a favour, and just wash the clothes that actually need to be cleaned! A quick little sniff test and dirt scan should help you determine whether or not it’s time to throw them in the wash.
Broken zipper on your jeans? Missing button on your blouse? Soles on your shoes getting worn down? These are all things that can be fixed! I can’t tell you how many sweaters and shirts are still in my wardrobe because I simply sewed them back together when stitches came loose or they had a small hole.
I’ve also had a number of pairs of boots and shoes re-soled by a cobbler. (Humble brag: I had a pair of Aldo boots that I purchased at age 16 and used leather protector on, kept clean and re-soled twice. I handed them down to my Mother, and she still wears them to this day. They are 14 years old!)
Buy less, choose well, make it last.Vivienne westwood
4. Increase Seasonality
Building a capsule wardrobe that not only has complimentary colours, styles, patterns and fabrics – but can be seasonally interchangeable is KEY.
When I was younger we would put summer clothes into storage by the time winter came around. But let me tell you, having clothing that is seasonally interchangeable is a game changer! Who says you can’t sport a silk dress overtop leggings, with a nice pair of boots and a thick sweater to keep you warm? I challenge you to bring out some of your summer favourites and work on incorporating them into your winter wardrobe.
If some articles of clothing are too worn to wear, that doesn’t mean they can’t be repurposed! Have an unsightly stain on your white blouse? Why not dye it?!
And if there are holes, turn those tattered pieces of clothing into dog toys, reusable face pads, pouches, baby bibs – the list is endless! Simply search “upcycle old clothing” or “repurpose old clothing” on Google or Pinterest and you’ll have more than enough inspiration.
And last, but not least – donate, donate, donate! If the clothes are desirable, please consider dropping them off at your local donation facility versus bringing them to one of the metal bins in your neighbourhood. Many of these metal bins are in fact placed there by for-profit material processing companies that will shred perfect pieces of clothing to be used as stuffing in upholstery and mattresses.
There you have it! Six ways you can make your wardrobe more sustainable TODAY! Which methods you currently use at home? Which ones do you want to start implementing? Or what have I missed? I would love it if you wrote me a note in the comment section below!
Amber Roy is the founder of The CTRL Lab, a Digital Delegation agency that empowers small business owners and helps them grow a successful business, while promoting a sustainable work/life balance.
She currently lives abroad in southern Italy with her partner, Stefano, where together they continue to build a sustainable life that is rich in Italian culture.