When I started Slowclothes, I did a little market research. I asked, “if you were going to try purchasing ethically-made clothing for the first time, what would you buy?”. The response was overwhelming BASICS. Most of my respondents felt they’d dip their toes in the ‘ethical’ fashion pond by trying out an eco-friendly t-shirt.
Nearly 2 years on and I’ve learnt A LOT about how people think about clothing and price. I’ve learnt that people are much happier to spend more of their hard earned $ on a statement piece – a beautiful dress or jumpsuit, for example – rather than a t-shirt or t-shirt dress (even if it is made ethically from eco-friendly fabrics).
Now, when I think about it, this is unsurprising really. Many of us would be used to dropping some serious cash on a nice dress for a wedding or birthday. We probably, in contrast, save $ by buying cheaper t-shirts – they’re not as exciting as a pretty dress, after all.
But if we start to think about how often we wear each of these items, this investment starts to seem a little strange.
I know personally that, in the past, it wouldn’t have been unusual for me to buy a statement dress to wear to a wedding or engagement, and to only end up wearing that dress a few times (certainly not often more than 10 times).
A survey of 2000 women in the UK in 2015 (which in all honesty I cannot find the original reference for) found dresses were the items most likely to be bought for an event and worn only once. Other studies have found some garments, globally, are worn on average just 7-10 times before being discarded (Ellen Macarthur Foundation, 2017).
Now I don’t know about you, but when it comes to t-shirts I have some that I’ve been wearing for more 2 years, at least once every fortnight, that are still in rotation. A study in Sweden found people wear each t-shirt they own on average 22 times in a year (Roos & colleagues, Mistra Future Fashion 2015). 22!
So what is it really costing you?
Let's say we buy a dress for $200 and wear it 10 times. That’s costing us $20 per wear (known as ‘cost per wear’, or CPW), not to mention the greater costs to society in regards to environmental and human wellbeing.
On the other hand, if we invest in an ethically made, eco-friendly t-shirt for say $69 AUD, and wear it 44 times (say we wear it once a fortnight for 2 years) – the cost per wear of that garment would be $1.56.
Studies have found that people buy many more t-shirts than other types of garments. So while I absolutely encourage buying LESS of those garments you will barely wear, focusing on the materials and stories behind the t-shirts you buy is pretty important – you’re likely to buy a lot of them over your lifetime.
But will it go the distance?
As the Ellen Macarthur Foundation point out, encouraging people to wear their clothes more often, and for longer, only works if the garments are durable enough to withstand this. This is where quality becomes so important, and why I absolutely encourage people to consider investing more in their staple pieces, and learning which fabrics (and brands for that matter) are going to go the distance. There is no point spending $69 on a designer t-shirt that was made in horrible conditions from crappy fabrics. A higher price tag does NOT always equal higher quality or ethical production.
It is estimated that almost half of all fast fashion produced is disposed of in under a year (Ellen Macarthur Foundation 2017), and much of this will be due to sizing and trend changes and poor quality. That $15 t-shirt isn’t actually that affordable if it wears out or is no longer ‘on trend’ after a few months. Given that consumer travel to and from stores contributes significantly to the environmental and carbon impacts of a garment, having to shop more often is also inherently less sustainable.
You gotta know your fabrics girl!
Fibre and fabric production together account for around 70% of a garment’s environmental footprint (impact). Cotton and synthetics (essentially plastic) are the most common fabrics used in clothing globally, and also have the highest negative environmental impacts of any fabrics (including the highest carbon emissions).
As you move towards building a more eco-friendly wardrobe, finding durable, key staples becomes super important. Choosing styles, colours and fabrics that go with your existing wardrobe will also be key to ensuring your pieces are worn as much as possible.Some of the BEST FABRICS to look for that are wonderful, eco-friendly (and durable) alternatives to conventional cotton (non-organic) and synthetics (don’t wear plastic my love, please) include:
- HEMP, which uses less water and insecticides that all other fibre crops and MUCH less than cotton specifically, produces a higher amount of fibre per hectare, is more durable than other natural fibres and is anti-bacterial (no smell here!)
- LINEN, particularly organic, which also uses much less water and insecticides than cotton, is very durable and breathable and improves with age.
- TENCEL and other Lenzing (closed-loop) rayon/viscose alternatives, the production of which releases significantly less carbon emissions than cotton and synthetics. These fabrics are also made from wood that is NOT from old-growth forests (which most viscose and rayon are made from – not cool).
- ORGANIC COTTON, which doesn’t use harmful insecticides or pesticides, uses less freshwater supplies than conventional cotton, has huge positive impacts for the health of cotton farming communities in lower income countries versus conventional cotton growing, and produces much less water and air pollution, and has a lower carbon footprint than non-organic cotton.
- DEADSTOCK can be a good alternative and is often more affordable than other eco-friendly fabrics. It is essentially ends of rolls and waste fabrics from big factories and labels that may have otherwise been burned or thrown into landfill.
- OTHER PREFERRED cotton varieties (such as BCI cotton - more about them coming soon in our fabric guide).
As well as choosing durable, quality and eco-friendly fabrics, look for labels that have a commitment to creating timeless pieces with a focus on quality. The reality is, even a fast fashion label can produce a range of organic t-shirts. While the fabric for such a collection might be better to the non-organic alternative, the collection itself may still be made within a model of fast fashion that over-produces products and waste, and works its butt of to produce as cheaply as possible, employing cost savings wherever possible, including in poor working conditions, low pay, and poor quality.
Fabric is key, but so is the brand’s overall business practices.
But.. but.. that pretty dress!
And truthfully? We REALLY need to move towards NOT buying those 3-wear-wonders entirely (there’s rental and borrowing from our stylish friends for that, right?!). A woman came into our store just 10 minutes ago (I was half way through writing this) and tried on 3 dresses for a wedding next weekend. She went with one of the two that she saw herself wearing most often, recognising the other was stunning but just not that easy to throw on or appropriate for a wide range of occasions.
The environmental footprint and ecological impact of a piece of clothing is GREATLY reduced the more we wear it.
So just to recap, focus on finding pieces...
- that are DURABLE and FIT beautifully (that YOU feel amazing in), that can be worn with your existing wardrobe (colour, texture and style),
- that are made from preferred fabrics (because that’s where 70% of the garment’s environmental impact lies).
Washing garments less will also reduce their carbon and water footprints and extend their lives too (spot washing for the win!).
Is it not worth investing a little in something you’re going to wear 22 times a year?!?!
Where to find these magic basics…
So with that in mind, I’ve popped together a dedicated collection on our website of some truly fab wardrobe staples. From beautifully soft yet uber-durable hemp tees and jeans/pants to affordable t-shirts made from left-over fabrics, locally-made, organic tee-dresses, beautiful hemp-blend work shirts and versatile everyday dresses. Have a little looksie and perhaps update your wardrobe with some classic, timeless pieces that will truly last.
Not so basics this way: https://slowclothes.com.au/collections/the-not-so-basics
Talk to me...
And as always, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts, successes and struggles lady. We are in this together. And just knowing what to do doesn’t always mean we win the battle against our willpower – I know that, and no judgment. But given our current climate madness, maybe this is the year to take that battle more seriously ha?! I know I’m committing hard core to reducing my consumption, and I’m here as a cheerleader if you’re ready to do the same xx