Textiles make up 4 percent of our annual contributions to Canadian landfills. Every year Canadians throw out enough clothing, carpets, and curtains to fill Toronto’s Rogers Centre three times.
While we can take steps to reclaim a greater percentage of this material, we must also examine why we are creating this vast volume of waste in the first place. Figures from the UK show that people are simply buying more: in 2007 the average woman bought 34 pieces of clothing, up almost 80 percent from just 10 years earlier. What is the reason for the dramatic expansion of our wardrobes?
Some experts blame “fast fashion?manufacturers are working with shorter production cycles, with some generating up to 15 “seasons” per year. This near-continuous stream of new fashions from factory to store creates a sense of urgency among shoppers to buy before new stock arrives.
Coupled with the dominance of big-box retailers and large-scale overseas production, a culture of low-cost, disposable clothing has evolved. Although consumers perceive they’re getting a deal on their latest purchases, underpaid factory workers and overtaxed landfills pay the price in the end.
Ready, set, slow!
Enter Slow Fashion. Like the Slow Food movement that inspires its principles (slowfood.com), Slow Fashion eschews the breakneck pace of modern life, challenging us to fortify our connections with clothing producers while incorporating values of community, sustainability, and diversity.
While fast fashion relies upon voracious consumption, bargain prices, and labour abuses, Slow Fashion values quality, conscientiousness, and long-term thinking. This may sound like a lofty expectation to have of your next party dress, but curbing the volume of clothing that we buy and throw out requires radical solutions.
Slow Fashion is the farmers’ market approach to clothing. Imagine buying your clothing directly from the people who make it. Our wardrobes would consist of fewer, but higher quality, pieces that are handmade or customized to reflect our individuality. Each garment would have its own story which would increase our appreciation of it.
Having a deeper understanding of the value of our clothing, we’d repair or update it to suit our changing tastes. ?hen the time came to replace the garment, we’d find a new home for it or return the natural fibres to the earth and begin the cycle of growing once more.
This may sound idyllic, and perhaps you’re picturing jute sackcloth and wondering, where’s the fashion? Luckily, there are plenty of forward-thinking designers who are successfully marrying fashion and function, and producing clothing that takes up the challenge of true sustainability.
UK-based Makepiece (www.makepiece.com) is an outstanding example of a company embodying the principles of Slow Fashion. Locally raised sheep produce the fleece for their wool, which is then spun into yarn within 20 miles of the studio. Some sheep naturally produce fleece in grey, black, or brown, which reduces the need for harmful dyes.
Local knitters and lace-makers create unique designs by hand, and garments travel as few miles as possible from production to purchase. Disposal is even addressed on the company website, where customers are reminded that the pieces can be composted when they are worn out.
Local designers in every city provide the opportunity to embrace slow principles. Smaller-scale production results in quality products made with personal investment and virtually guarantees that you’ll never see your outfit walking down the street in front of you.
Work is often done on-site, keeping packaging, waste, and fuel consumption to a minimum. Contact with the designers themselves means that your requests for sustainable fabrics go straight to the top and can influence next year’s collection.
Clothes with a repurpose
Bold and innovative Canadian designers are addressing the question of sustainability from the other end of the spectrum by tackling waste already being produced by the fashion industry.
Precocious (precociousboutique.com), Preloved (preloved.ca), and Susan Harris (susanharrisdesign.ca) use yesterday’s clothing to make tomorrow’s fashions. Their diverse collections of repurposed clothing include frilly frocks made from floral bedsheets, craftily reconstructed sweaters, new-from-old trench coats, and one-of-a-kind kids’ tops with whimsical cut-out designs. Countless useful yet rejected garments have been fused into fashion through the efforts of these Slow Fashion pioneers.
While specific designers and their business practices may help us to live life in the slow lane, the commitment to sustainable fashion must come from us as individuals. First, we need to evaluate our buying decisions and distinguish want from need. Second, and just as crucial, are the responsible choices we can make in the post-purchase life of our garments.
Donating clothing to charitable organizations and second-hand stores is clearly a better option than landfill, but be aware that most of it is sold and flown overseas. Over 30 African countries have banned the import of used clothing from North America, owing to its negative impact on local economies.
Finding a Canadian home for used clothing maintains our responsibility for our own waste. Swap parties are a low-impact, high fun way to part with past favourites, while garage sales offer another chance to unite old duds with new owners.
So how can we all make a substantial but fashionable difference? Think long-term, think sustainable, and take it slow.
Slow clothes mindset
Before you buy new
- Ask yourself, do I really need this?
- Determine whether clothing items are made with eco-friendly, organic materials.
- Consider how far an item was shipped and whether a local product is available.
- Find out where the item was made—avoid clothing made in sweat shops.
- Consider the care instructions of clothes—try to avoid dry-clean-only items.
- Buy durable, well-made clothing that will last.
- Avoid fashion fads that quickly go out of style.
- Shop second-hand and consignment clothing stores.
- Choose an organic dry cleaner when dry cleaning clothing is unavoidable.
- Use gentle, biodegradable laundry products to wash clothes.
- Line-dry clothing to save electricity and scent your clothing with the fresh outdoors.
Before you throw away
- Repair your clothes rather than throw them away.
- If you sew, reconstruct your own garments.
- Salvage buttons and lace from worn-out items to use on other sewing projects.
- Transform interesting fabrics or old T-shirts into craft projects such as pillows and quilts.
- Make rags from worn-out T-shirts or other items.
- Donate clothing to a second-hand clothing shop whose sales benefit a charitable organization.
- Donate old clothing to a local designer who reconstructs clothing.
- Take good quality cast-offs to a consignment store.
- Hold a clothing swap with your friends or work colleagues.