It is true that the most sustainable clothes are the ones you already have in your wardrobe. But as we go through life we adapt, find new interests, our bodies change. Inevitably our style evolves. We add to our wardrobes, they develop with us - we feed in new items to mix with pieces we already own.
Investing in our wardrobes is ok. We can shop, evolve, develop our style and what we love. But the main thing is that we love what we buy, intend to wear it over and over, and give our clothes the longest possible life, so we can love them always.
It is no secret that we have a textile waste problem. It is estimated that in the UK alone, approximately 350,000 tonnes of clothing ends up in landfill each year. That is approximately £140 million worth of clothing that is used but still wearable. In terms of all of the UK clothes, this is roughly 30% of our clothing going to landfill. This is not sustainable. (*Stats from clothesaid.co.uk)
And there really is no need for this. Whilst there is a much bigger discussion to be had around clothing waste, the condition of our clothes should not be one of the reasons they end up in landfill.
When looking to sustainable fashion, as a consumer, we do have a role to play in the lifecycle of our clothes too. Yes, we absolutely need fashion to become more sustainable, for sustainable fashion to be the fashion market, to the point that we no longer need to say ‘sustainable fashion’, because this is simply how we make and produce clothing and so this phrase will become obsolete. The ultimate goal. But in the meantime, we can play a part in caring for our clothes sustainably.
There are so many benefits to caring for our clothes well; the long life we can give our clothes, keeping them in good condition, being able to pass them on when that time eventually comes. And it can even save us money and help save energy and resources for the planet at the same time! This is caring for our clothes sustainably. The longer the life, keeping the circle going, this allows our clothes to participate in a more sustainable fashion lifecycle.
Here are my 13 top tips for caring for your clothes sustainably:
1) Wash less, love longer
The less we wash our clothes the longer they will last. If we can spare our clothes a bit of spin in the machines, they will appreciate it! Not only will our clothes last longer, but washing less is better for the planet because we will use less water and less energy, which, bonus, save our bills too! So it just makes sense to wash less. Wash less, love longer - this is the mantra we live by at Saywood.
2) Fresh air does everything a world of good
So if we’re washing less should we be concerned. No way! Fresh air does the world of good when it comes to our clothes. If you hang them up, outside or just beside an open window, that fresh air will flow right through, air that item out and give it a new lease of life - ready to wear again.
As a little bonus tip, if you get a good sunny day, and you’ve got light flowing in by your wardrobe, throw those wardrobe doors open. It’s so good to give your wardrobe some sunlight, and on a good weather day a bit of air. And it helps to keep any moth visitors away.
Edi Volume Sleeve Shirt airing in the breeze. A great and sustainable way to refresh your clothes.
3) Spot clean if possible
If you do get any dirty marks, try to spot clean first. This usually works a treat. The sooner you can get to the stain, the better. Use warm soapy water and a clean cloth to remove any light marks. Try to blend outwards, so that the dampness reduces; this helps to avoid any water ring marks.
4) Play it cool
A 30C machine wash is good; 20C, even better, especially if clothes only need a refresh. Sometimes we only need a refresh. Most washing machines now have a quick wash or refresh setting. These are really good for just giving that extra bit of freshness, especially if there’s not dirty marks. And the cooler the wash, again, it's better for our clothes, it helps them last longer, and less energy is used in the washing cycle. Happy planet!
Try to use more eco friendly detergents too. Ecover or Smol are great eco friendly options. Look for those with less chemicals, vegan or animal friendly. Anything without plastic is always good, but you can always go down the refill route too. I appreciate refill is not always easy, refill shops are still new… in the now terms. Infact, they are a really old way of doing things, that fell by the wayside once big supermarkets took over. But they are making a comeback, and they are brilliant if you can find one at a suitable distance for you. And you don’t need to make the 100% switch immediately. Start with one or two items, go gradual. Remember , sustainable also means sustainable for you.
5) Get the hang of it
Save on energy by skipping the tumble dryer and hanging your clothes. Your clothes will last much longer without tumble drying, it is much preferable for the fabric not to go through this process if you can. To reduce ironing, shake them out thoroughly to prevent creases, before hanging them. Often, for a shirt, rather than using a clothes horse, I try to hang these on a hanger - avoid wood. Dare I say it, but a plastic hanger is better for this. Wood can leave discolouration - discovered after leaving a freshly washed t-shirt to dry on a wooden clothes rail having run out of drying room on the clothes horse; never again!
The Etta Oversized Shirtdress and Edi Volume Sleeve Shirt hang on the wardrobe to finish drying on a hanger.
6) Steam works a dream
If you're not a fan of ironing, like me, or you just want to give an item a little pre-wear refresher, try hanging it in the bathroom for a light steam. You take a shower, your favourite item of clothing gets a little light refresh. Steam helps to loosen up the fibres in the fabric, meaning any wrinkles ease up. It also helps to disband any light odors too.
7) Dry clean responsibly
Sometimes clothes do need to be dry cleaned, whether it’s a more specific stain requiring specialist assistance, or a delicate or particular material, such as silk. More dry cleaners now offer eco-friendlier methods, like natural or biodegradable detergents. These will be better solutions for your clothes to be cleaned in and are also safer for those who clean the clothes too. It’s really worth searching these greener dry cleaners out, and they will really take care of your item too. To help cut down on plastic, take a bag with you for collection, just let them know you won’t need the plastic covering.
8) Repairing is caring
If you love it, fix it. This actually adds to the story of our clothes too. Each little stitch, darn or patch tells a story. Repair can be subtle, or it can be full visibility, patchwork fun. The Japanese have a very visible way of repairing clothing, it's called Sashiko. A beautiful technique, meaning 'little stabs', where stitching is visible in little marks or crosses, to patch up your jeans or garment. It leaves a story of the piece’s repair that is quite visible, but has a real beauty and starts the garment on a new chapter of its lifetime. There is no need to worry about ensuring invisible repairs to our clothing, we can let this be a part of their characteristics, enjoy how the repair can bring a new energy to the item.
Whether you prefer to go subtle, or shout about it, holes can be darned or patched; lost buttons, replaced; and ripped seams, stitched, all for little time and effort. And darning, stitching, these can be such peaceful, mindful tasks. Time set aside to delicately or slowly do this can truly be quite relaxing. Even if you don’t consider yourself a sewer, just take it slowly, and know that the repair can add to the fun of the item.
9) Be part of the vac pack
Ok, I’m a big fan of vacuum packing clothes. This is definitely something I got from my Nana. They can fit under your bed, and let's be honest, it’s really satisfying to watch them reduce right down as you hoover the air out of them. Vacuum bags have multiple benefits; they are great for keeping moths at bay - vacuum pack any clothes you aren’t wearing regularly, this will protect them from becoming a cosy little spot for new moth babies (aka larvae). It also really helps to maintain a little bit of working space within our wardrobe. If it’s not quite the right season for some of your items, get them packed away. They’ll stay protected for that summer or winter, and you might have room to move in that wardrobe, making it so much easier to see what piece you fancy wearing today. And bonus: they will feel like new again when you bring them out of storage, and you can get excited about wearing them again.
10) Up(cycle) and away
Have you ever reached a point where you just feel like you’ve outgrown a clothing item? It doesn’t feel like the right piece for you anymore. Before you pass it on, think about it; dresses can be shortened, sleeves cut, buttons changed, patches added. It can be fun to get creative, to breathe new life into old favourites. If you’re not a sewer, there are some amazing alterationists that can help. If you love something, but it just doesn’t feel right anymore, it’s so satisfying when that little tweak gives it a whole new look.
11) Swap shop
Got a piece you no longer wear that’s in good condition? Swap it. If you no longer wear it, then someone else may love to instead. There are lots of swap shops popping up, either being hosted among friends or by shops or small businesses. This is certainly something we’d love to host one day too. But in the meantime, try hosting a swap shop with friends, or have a look for a local swapping event. There’s even online events. And you’ll be exchanging for something new for yourself. Keeping the life our the clothes circling.
If you’re not into the swap shop, donating can be an option. Unfortunately, clothing donated to some charities just ends up creating more waste; not all clothing is in good enough condition for resale, and charities can receive more than they can even sell. It is always worth doing research beforehand to see which ones are able to take on more clothes. And there are other ways to donate clothes in good condition. Smart Works, for example, helps unemployed women back into the workplace by providing smart (donated) interview clothes. It’s really worth looking into options like this for donation, where your clothes can be used to support people.
There are so many resell platforms now, from Depop to eBay, and even the brands themselves. Did you know we have a resale scheme at Saywood?! You may not be aware of this, as let's be honest, we only launched in October 2020, so we don’t anticipate needing to open up our resale platform for a few years. Hopefully you will all want to keep your Saywood pieces a bit longer for now! But in return you will receive a voucher to spend on your next order. So we think resale is a win-win, keeping the circle going.
13) Remember to recycle
If your clothing item has really and truly reached the end of it’s life, beyond repair, then recycling is really important. In the UK, our textile recycling has a long way to go. But slowly we are seeing some improvements. An internet search is the starting point to see where your best and nearest location is. Some councils are starting to recycle end of life textiles, and some stores are also participating in recycling schemes. At Saywood, we are also looking into bulk recycling schemes.
What we want is for the materials to be sent to recycling mills, that sort, clean, purify and shred the fibres, so they can be recycled into new cloth. This process has a long way to go in terms of accessibility, but it is happening and progress is being made. In fact, we have our Edi Volume Sleeve Shirt that is made from recycled cotton. Cellulose based cloths can also be made from recycled cotton fibres. These are pulped, processed and re-spun into new viscose.
So before you dispose of beyond repair textiles, check the textile recycling options in your area. One thing you can do to help prepare your item for recycling, is cut off any buttons - these can be reused and it is always handy to have spare buttons!
So when it comes to caring for your clothes sustainably, giving them the longest possible life, the best chance to to be passed through the generations, this is the key. Energy and water reduction, fresh air and make do and mend all go a long way to supporting this circular process. The fashion industry has a way to go themselves, but as consumers we can still get involved, do what we can to keep our clothes long lasting, and we can absolutely shout about the changes we want to see in the fashion industry to see it become not just more sustainable, but sustainable full stop.