The most common question I get when I tell people I work in sustainable fashion is 'can you send me the links where I should shop?' If only it were that easy. Before you pull out your wallet, let’s start with two basics: your laundry hamper and dry cleaning bag.
Let me start you off with a quick retail hack, in case reading about cleaning your clothes wasn't what you had in mind when you read the title of this first post. If you want more information, you can read "Beyond the Hack," right below.
Beyond the Hack:
#1 Wear your clothes more often before getting rid of them.
How many times you wear a garment is called ‘clothing utilization.’ In the United States, we wear our clothes far less than in most other parts of the world. Fast Fashion, overnight shipping, Instagram and having stores open 24/7 online has made it easy to buy something new rather than wear what we already own. The underutilization of clothes is a huge issue for the fashion industry in terms of its environmental impact. A report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that “...if on average the number of times a garment is worn were doubled, then GHG emissions would be 44% lower.” Studies show that with the advent of fast fashion it is not uncommon for a garment to be worn once or twice before being disposed of and a new item purchased.
#2 Turn the temperature dial to cold when doing a load of laundry and line dry items as often as possible.
"It's sometimes hard to imagine, but care—washing, drying, ironing, and dry cleaning—use more energy and toxins than raising fiber, spinning, dyeing, manufacturing, or transportation." - Eileen Fisher, Behind the Label.Laundry machines and detergents, if not dryers, have changed and are far more efficient than they used to be. Not only do washing machines not need as much detergent but they also no longer require warm or hot water. The cooler the wash, the less energy you’ll use and the smaller your carbon footprint. As for line drying, I know it can be a pain but start with line-drying intimates or rather than send all your sweaters to the dry cleaner, try cleaning one at home. The Laundress, Eileen Fisher, Nadaam and Stella McCartney all have great information on their website to help you take care of your clothes at home.
*Note: Consumer Reports did a useful article on how you no longer need to use hot water to get most clothes clean. The exception is if someone in your house is sick, dirty diapers and laundry that falls in a higher risk category.
#3 The Dry Cleaner.
I am not going to tell you never to use the dry cleaners again; however, there are some steps you can take to make those visits more eco-friendly. If cleaning the garment yourself isn't an option, try to find a dry cleaner that offers “wet cleaning.” Never heard of it before, it is a process that forgoes harsh chemicals and uses a minimal amount of water. You should also ask your dry cleaner to skip the plastic wrap. Most dry cleaners will provide or sell you a cloth hanging bag. For clothes that need to be folded, ask that they are put in a reusable bag. It goes without saying, you should always return your hangers.
If you do find yourself with the occasional garment covered in plastic film, check with your local town hall or Trex.com for information about where and how to recycle it.
#4 Repair, Repair, Repair.
I am not suggesting you sign up for a sewing class though that might be helpful. However, if mending isn’t your thing or, like me, you can’t see the hole at the end of a needle, find a local tailor to help out. When you buy a garment with an extra button or thread, figure out a system that you can easily locate when needed. With a good tailor, you can have jeans shortened, waistbands let in or let out, underarm holes patched, buttons replaced and hems fixed. The options are endless.