How To Care For Your Clothes Sustainably

by Harriet Saywood-Bellisario

For me, sustainability was originally a preservative concept from my late teen years. My family have always had a bit of a love for fashion, and they taught me that clothing was special. To hear my Nana talk about an item of clothing in her wardrobe, you would honestly think it had belonged in a museum. The passion that came through when she spoke; she would talk of the delicate fabrics, the details, oh and the finish! It was like seeing a dream come true.

This put me in a frame of mind to treasure my clothes. Sure, I did some high street stints, but I quickly learned there was just something special about clothing that had been made under such eye for detail and in small runs, the time that had gone into them; they just radiated beauty.

After studying sustainability in depth in the final year of my degree some 10 years ago, I discovered that caring for our clothes beyond the basic wash instructions was not a mainstream consideration. Clothing going to landfill back then was astronomical. Now, there’s even more of it!

But it’s so simple to look after our clothes, and to give them a long life. And actually, by default, it’s more sustainable. So before you put that top you wore just the once in the wash, hold up…

1. Should I wash my clothes?

If we wash our clothes less, not only is it better for the planet - less energy and less water - but it actually prolongs the life of our special wardrobe pieces. Our clothes get a bit of a bruising every wash, even if it's a light touch, the less the better. So give them a good airing, fresh air does them the world of good. Spot clean them with warm soapy water and a cloth if there’s a mark. Then when they get dirty, or a little smelly, then they can have a wash.

2. How should I wash my clothes, if I do..?

Don’t forget to use an eco-friendly detergent, and wash at 30 degrees or below. They don’t need to be on high heat.

3. To tumble or not to tumble...

Tumble dryers are no friend to our clothes. Or the Earth if we’re honest - they consume a lot of energy. Give them a shake and let your clothes hang dry. Use a hanger if it’s something light weight (not knitwear!). Make sure it’s not a bare wooden hanger - I made this mistake once; it will stain your clothes!

4. Shower steam is the dream

Steaming works a treat - if you have some light creasing, no need to get the iron out. Hang clothes in the bathroom while you take a shower, let the stream work its magic to loosen up those creases.

5. Is dry cleaning bad for the environment?

If you need to dry clean, look for a responsible green dry cleaner. Dry cleaning uses a lot of chemicals, but there are more eco-friendly products in use. Some fabrics need to be dry cleaned, so the friendlier the better.

6. Do you vacuum pack?!

I absolutely got this from my Nana, and would recommend to anyone. I divvy up my winter and summer wardrobes; they get a good shake out, an air, and I pack them away for the anti-season. Keeping them safe from moths, and keeping them feeling fresh to me. When you get your clothes back out, having not seen them for a whole season, it’s like finding a new love for them.

7. What is Sashiko?

Repairing and up-cycling are the best ways to keep your clothes living. From small repairs to big; even if you are not a sewer, either a fix at an alterationist's, or have a bit of fun with it… Visible mending really tells a story. Have a look at Sashiko, the Japanese way of mending; this technique is thousands of years old, and creates a real beauty to worn garments, often found on indigo styles, sewn in heavy white threads. And if you love your item of clothing, but just want something completely new, up-cycle it - make a top into a dress with some extra fabric, play with contrasts and patterns for fun, or chop a dress into a top.

8. The benefits of resale.

And if you’ve really moved on from an item - resell, swap or pass it on to a loved one. It brings so much joy to see something you’ve loved be given a new life with someone else who will treasure it. Clothes embody a story, and it is this story that makes vintage and second hand so special.


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