Recently, most of us have had a lot more time to be at home and reflect on what we value. I am nostalgic for surfing with friends and going to fancy dinners with my sister. Beyond discovering what social interactions I really miss, I also find myself being pickier about the things I surround myself with and where I get them from.
Now, more than ever, my favorite small designers (like those represented by our neighbor the General Public), artists, fabric stores, and pattern companies hang in the balance. I have found that those possessions from the places I love are the ones I am now holding close. Not just because they are of a higher-quality, but also because of the story and humanity built into them. I think more than ever this is a time to connect with what we own. A time to learn about which items we hold the most value in, and ask why we have such an intimate relationship with those items.
I spend a lot of time thinking about how the fashion and textile industries interact and impact the earth. I am constantly asking, ‘how can we reduce our footprint through our purchasing patterns’? How can we still love fashion and want to have a diverse and unique wardrobe without negatively impacting the earth and the people involved? I usually find that the answer to the above questions is to reduce consumption, to only buy clothing and fabric that you really love, and to support a long and abundant lifecycle of those items.
Americans, on average, throw away 81 pounds of clothing a year (the weight of a middle schooler). There are many amazing sustainable options in the fashion industry today. But with the statistic of 81 pounds, I have to believe that reducing the amount of clothing we consume and its respective impact will greatly ease the fashion industry’s burden on the earth. Even the most sustainably made garment has a water, carbon and waste footprint. One organic t-shirt is significantly better than seven for example.
The Hands Behind the Fashion
Beyond the impact on the earth, typically each store-bought garment we own passed through the hands of numerous underpaid workers. Due to the current consumer trends, factories focus on quantities rather than quality. That means that workers must spend day after day sewing the same seam hundreds of times. Meanwhile, consumers are so far removed from the process, that they take each new garment utterly for granted. Marx must be dizzy from constantly rolling in his grave.
As DIY sewers, we deeply understand how hard it is to make something as simple as a t-shirt. Yet, these big factory seamstresses are no longer considered crafts-people. As the demand in fast fashion maintains, so does the demand for low-quality garments and low-paid workers. If we put greater value in well-made clothing, that value will spread to the upstream supply chain. Thus creating higher-valued workers.
Negotiating A Crisis
This is exaggerated in the current climate. A vast majority of clothing is made in countries that are most vulnerable to a global economic crisis, such as India and Bangladesh. Most garment workers migrate from rural areas into industrial hubs. And, they are now stranded with no job, no income and strict stay at home orders. As a result, workers are forced to walk thousands of miles on foot to return home. Although these workers hold up the entire base of the global clothing industry, they are the most likely to have their livelihoods threatened during times like these.
So what do we do? I think this extra time at home is a great opportunity to go through our closets and fabric stashes. It’s a chance to truly understand what we hold value in. We need to be critical about our purchasing patterns. And we need to create attainable goals for how to infuse more love and gratitude into the clothing we own. For the clothing you do not value and want to get rid of, I suggest donating or reselling the non-damaged goods (through sites like Thredup or Poshmark), and recycling all damaged goods (through places like For Days or H&M). Basically Marie Kondo your wardrobe with the goal of critically understanding what sparks joy and using that to inform future purchasing decisions.
Summer is (hopefully) going to be a big-time of transition for us, as we shift out of wearing sweats every day and back into some semblance of normalcy. During times of changes, I often find myself making a lot of rash purchases. It’s that first day of school outfit problem, I usually would buy the outfit on a whim and never wear it again. So, I am challenging myself to resist that urge, to take time and intention when I make purchasing decisions and be sure that what I purchase is made well enough to stand the test of time. Earth Day is a time to honor the earth, but we have to remember that everything piece of clothing comes from the earth, so we should honor them too.