By Jennifer Dobrowolski

This is How You Buy Clothes that Stand the Test of Time

It’s that time of year again. As you pull out your summer clothes and start to organize your closet, you may have accumulated a large “donate pile”.  While you may have removed the ghosts of fashion trends past that no longer fit with your style or “spark joy” if you follow the Marie Condo method […]

It’s that time of year again. As you pull out your summer clothes and start to organize your closet, you may have accumulated a large “donate pile”. 

While you may have removed the ghosts of fashion trends past that no longer fit with your style or “spark joy” if you follow the Marie Condo method – something lingers. Glancing at those bags of clothing, it’s hard to ignore the feeling of guilt – the energy that was used to create the garments, the money that you spent on them, and the knowledge that they will eventually end up in a landfill. Some of the items might still have the tags on them.

Looking at this manifestation of overconsumption, I bet you’re wondering “if I create this much clothing waste as an individual, how much is created globally?” An average American consumer throws away a whopping 75 pounds (34 kilograms) of clothing per year (world wear project). Globally, we produce 13 million tons of textile waste each year 95% of which could be reused or recycled.

While donating clothes may make you feel like you’re contributing to something positive, the unfortunate reality is that most clothing doesn’t end up in the arms of someone who will love it as much as you once did. 

While the best clothes are resold at thrift stores, the vast majority of items are wrapped into enormous plastic bundles and shipped to developing countries. Pakistan is the top importer of used clothing, with 11 percent of the market, followed by Malaysia, with 7.1 percent, according to M.I.T.’s Observatory of Economic Complexity

So what’s the problem with shipping unwanted clothing to developing countries?

Foreign clothing imports can have detrimental consequences for emerging economies by creating an oversupply. When there is an oversupply of clothing, prices and demand are driven down, inhibiting the development of local textile sectors. This problem has become so significant that three East African countries have fought back and initiated a ban on secondhand clothing (New York Times). This move has created tension with the U.S., as these East African markets are worth over $43 million and provide 40,000 American jobs, including sorting and packing clothes.  Instead of being dumped in East Africa, the clothing now gets shipped to a U.S. landfill. 

Bales of clothing to be shipped abroad courtesy of HorizonEX

So how can this all be avoided?

You can keep your clothes for longer and consume less. When shopping for new clothing, here are some important questions to ask yourself to ensure that your new item will not end up in a landfill next summer. 

4 Questions to ask yourself to find garments that last:

1. Will I wear it again?

Kate Middleton // Getty Images

When deciding on a new shirt or pair of shorts ask yourself if you can see yourself wearing a year from now. Does it fit well? Does it match with your other clothes?

One unfortunate trend of the digital age is that many people feel pressure not to repeat outfits in their Instagram posts. In a recent Barclay survey, 9 percent of shoppers in Britain admitted to buying clothes online for the sole purpose of posting Instagram. After the photos, they simply return it.

There is no reason to be ashamed of re-wearing your clothing. Take a page out of Kate Middleton’s book and repeat your outfits!

2. Does it feel good to the touch?

Let’s face it: if a piece of clothing isn’t comfortable, you won’t wear it. If quarantine has taught us anything about the fashion industry, it’s that in times of crisis, people prefer comfortable clothing. 

One of the few apparel companies that has been thriving during COVID-19, at least online, is Lululemon, thanks to its wide array of hoodies and leggings that keep you comfortable in your home office (New York Times).

Note: Year-over-year change in sales through April 29  ·  Source: Earnest Research

3. What is it made of?

Jessica Pettway for The New York Times

For professional suits and dresses, a lining can greatly extend the life of your item.  For everyday work clothes, Tencel is an excellent option. Made from dissolved wood pulp, Tencel is strong, durable and comfortable. Luckily, Renoon has a wide selection of Tencel products for you to get started. 

For sweaters, pilling is the main issue as nobody wants to find themselves covered in those unsightly balls of fuzz. Synthetic fibers and blends have a tendency to pill more than natural fibers such as cotton or wool.

For T-Shirts, look for organic cotton. Organic cotton is typically more durable than conventional because it is less processed and not treated with harsh chemicals (like chlorine bleach and formaldehyde) that can wear down fibers. Once again, Renoon has you covered with our wide selection of organic cotton clothing. 

The bottom line: When it comes to materials that last, look out for linings, Tencel, and high-quality organic cotton.

4. Can I maintain it?

Image credit: Bea Fremderman

Buying high-quality clothing is the first step to ensure the longevity of your wardrobe, but like most good things in life, you need to treat them well. 

For example, bras tend to last longer when you hand wash them or use a lingerie bag on a delicate cycle. 

Elastic based items such as underwear, workout gear, and swimwear should never go on the dryer as the heat destroys the elastic. This rule extends to jeans and T-shirts as well.

The bottom line: To make your clothes last, wash them in cold water and hang to dry.

Beyond washing, you need to learn to replace buttons and stitch holes or find a trustworthy tailor who can do it for you. 

You can extend this level of care to your shoes by spraying them with a protective spray, which can prolong the life of leather and suede when exposed to the elements. If your favorite pair of booties start to fall apart, you can have them re-heeled at your local cobbler.

While overproduction and planned obsolescence in the clothing industry is a major systemic problem to tackle, the best way to start is with your own closet. But buying fewer “forever” items that you intend to wear well into the foreseeable future, you not only reduce your impact but signal to the industry where your values lie.

By next year, you may find that there is no need to clean out your closet at all. 

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Cover Image: Audrey Hepburn (Eva Sereny / Iconic Images / ACC Art Books)

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