The pressure is mounting on fashion brands to lower their impacts on people, the planet, and animals. But we, as consumers, also have a role to play. Read the article to learn more about the five Rs of fashion, a simple model for making the most out of what’s already in your closet and reducing the impact of your fashion choices.
Get to know the 5 Rs of fashion
It’s no secret that the fashion industry leaves a big footprint on the planet, and as a result, we have seen a rising trend in consumer awareness of the impact of our spending choices. More accessible information has invited increased pressure for brands to step up and do better. So, while brands are at work looking at the part they play in all of this, what can we as consumers do to contribute? A lot can be said for some catchy alliteration at the core of this shift that can help you get started: reduce, rewear, recycle, repair, and resell. Ready?
The benefits this “R” brings are countless, and the rewards can be felt instantly. Although a challenge (and often a gradual process), the act of decluttering has been around for years, especially as we learn the horrible impact consumerism is having on the planet, people, and animals.
A prominent figure in the area of decluttering and reduction is Marie Kondo, whose principles and philosophy offer a useful starting point to reducing your spending habits and your wardrobe, all while offering great tips for how to keep it organised and ensure you can utilise everything you already own. You, therefore, will reduce what you feel the need to buy.
This is vital in reducing your fashion footprint, with thousands of tonnes of clothing ending up in landfill everyday. Not only will you reap the benefits of the savings you will accrue and the space you will create, but a big bonus is the decision fatigue you will avoid along the way.
This has been true for various successful figures, including Barack Obama, who only ever wears grey or blue suits as a way to focus his “decision making energy”. Reducing becomes much bigger than just fashion and your wardrobe—it will have you looking at other areas of your life, too.
A useful question to pose to yourself is: “When did I last wear this?”. The answer should help to determine if the garment has served its purpose, and to decipher what should stay and what should go. And when we say go, we don’t mean into landfill, but giving to a friend or donating to the local charity drop off (see the Resell part of this article for more information).
The waste implications of fashion are a major area of concern and a huge contributor to the constant polluting of our planet. A recent study outlined that 95% of the textiles that end up in landfill each year could be recycled (particularly with increasing technological developments). The fashion industry is also one of the most intensive in terms of resource use such as water, waste, land clearing, materials, and more. Yikes.
Today, reusing is essential to minimising your fashion footprint, and we need to normalise rewearing outfits. We already have so many clothes in our closets, including many that we love and cherish, so of course, we should want to wear them again and again.
It's 2023, we need to normalise rewearing outfits.
If you’re worried about what people might think, ask yourself this: “Do I remember what my friend wore last time I saw them?” No? Well, chances are they don’t remember what you were wearing, either. And if you do remember and see them wearing the same thing more than once, do you care? No? See, there’s nothing wrong with repeating outfits, and we really shouldn’t be afraid to wear something more than once. Especially if it’s that cute dress or shirt that suited you so well. Be proud.
There are a number of ways it can be a fun and easy shift in mentality. Once you have reduced your wardrobe and your shopping frequency—and know exactly what you have—you can try out new pairings and look for creative ways to, for example, bring back that favourite item that’s been gathering dust for six months.
A big part of this puzzle is buying better quality clothing that is made to last—garments that you will wear again and again. Essentially, following a slow fashion approach rather than the ever troublesome fast fashion, which is a huge contributor to the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Resources like Good On You provide a perfect launch pad for accessing garments that will serve you for longer, while trusting they are sourced responsibly and not harmful to the planet, people, or animals.
Reusing can also encompass participating in clothing swaps with friends as another great way to have fun while utilising what you have in your wardrobe (or what your bestie has in theirs). Swapping something out with a friend every few months will give your old clothes a sense of novelty, while also supporting your friends to reduce and reuse as well.
If you are up for a challenge, Project 333 is a great initiative to shift your behaviour and really delve into the reuse part of this process.
As new years or seasons roll around, a lot of us want to start fresh and declutter our closets. But what to do with that old dress you haven’t worn in years? You can’t throw it in the trash as it’ll end up in landfill. So why not recycle your old clothes?
If your item is unsalvageable, you can donate it to a company that will recycle it for you, such as:
- Patagonia and their Worn Wear program. The brand accepts used Patagonia clothing that functions perfectly and is in good condition. When you trade in your quality, well-loved Patagonia gear, you’ll get credit toward purchases in Patagonia retail stores, on WornWear.com and Patagonia.com.
- Swedish Stockings has got your nylon waste covered. Currently, the brand collects and grinds down old pantyhose to be used as filler material in fibreglass tanks, which are used in the commercial industry to separate grease from water. To participate in this wonderful, more sustainable process, simply collect and send in three or more pairs of synthetic pantyhose from any brand.
- Knickey is a “Great” American-based underwear brand that has a recycling program for worn undies. The brand has partnered with a local NYC non-profit to safely recycle your intimates and divert them from landfill. The undies are sorted by fibre makeup, broken down and made into a new fibre, and eventually recycled and used for insulation and rug pads. So send them your ready-to-retire intimates and they’ll take care of them, Knickey or not.
- Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program recycles athletic shoes, giving them a new life through Nike Grind. Just drop your used shoes at a participating Nike retail store in North America or Europe. Nike Grind is a collection of recycled materials developed by Nike that is composed of pre-consumer manufacturing scraps, recycled post-consumer shoes from the Reuse-A-Shoe program, and unsellable footwear.
Or you could find ways to repurpose these once-cherished items: cotton t-shirts can become makeup removing pads, headbands, cushion covers, or grocery bags. Have fun with it.
Check out our article for more ways to upcycle your old clothes and give them a new life
Repairing, restoring, and salvaging is something previous generations knew all too well—but has this handy pastime been jeopardised by a changed approach to fashion and consumerism? This step is where lowering your fashion footprint gets creative, and presents a chance for you to channel your inner grandma for innovative ways to patch, stitch, and extend the life of your garment.
Repairing can be as simple as sewing up a hole, or as dedicated as taking your shoes to a professional cobbler for new soles.
Both these examples don’t take more than 20 minutes, and could add at least two years to the lifespan of a clothing item. And in fact, lengthening the life of our clothing from 1 to 2 years decreases their carbon footprint by 24%. What this approach mainly does is generate a new life for your fashion items, all while saving you the money and time it would have taken to replace them. Getting yourself a compact sewing kit to have on hand is a necessity, and once you get into the habit, you will find yourself whipping it out more than you initially thought. You will also find yourself thinking through ways you can repair things, from patches to professional alterations. For example, transforming an older style dress into a trendy top. This also feeds into the saving benefits from this part of your fashion footprint overhaul.
If there’s a piece you’re still in love with but it no longer fits right or needs mending or altering beyond your skillset, connecting with a local who knows what they’re doing is a great way to save your clothes and support artisans at the same time. Our friends at The Seam offer an innovative option here for those in the UK. The Seam is a digital platform that connects customers with local, specialist Makers to alter, repair, and rework clothes, as well as craft beautiful, made-to-measure garments.
Many more sustainable brands also offer to repair your items nowadays, such as Patagonia with its Worn Wear initiative, or Scandinavian brand Nudie Jeans.
Have a pesky stain you’d like to get rid of? Have a look at how to get 13 types of stains out of all your clothes
Found some items you are ready to say goodbye to? Not to worry—selling your second hand goods is easier and more accessible than ever.
There are numerous online platforms where you can sell your clothes second hand (or new) such as eBay, Gumtree, and a popular one for fashion, Facebook Marketplace.
Uploading photos takes five minutes, and it’s a great way to make some extra coin while keeping within the minimal fashion footprint framework (after all, we don’t want this minimising process to add more clothing to landfill). If online is not your vibe, then hosting a market stall or a good old yard sale is a great alternative. Who knows, you might even meet some like-minded folks in the process.
Considering these tips and the fun task ahead, making commitments or challenges for yourself is a useful way to keep motivated and committed to this process.
And don’t forget: there is a lot to be said for the positive impact individuals can have by addressing their own habits to reduce their fashion footprint, setting a positive example for those around them to do their bit, too.