We write a lot about adding to your wardrobe sustainably, but we want to take the time to talk about reducing it sustainably as well. Textile waste and the long-term environmental consequences related to managing it is a large part of why the fashion industry is considered the 2nd most polluting industry today, after oil. In a time of rapid movement in fashion, we should all take time to think of how we can be slower to throw away our old clothes, and quicker to preserve.
Here are 5 new things to do with your old clothes:
1. Repair Your Clothes
Clothes that have missing buttons, loose stitching or tiny holes in them are small problems that can be easily fixed. Instead of rushing to the bin or donation pile, try calling a local clothing repairer and extend the lifespan of your old clothes for a small fee.
TIP: You can also do it yourself with some simple sewing skills. Don’t be afraid to experiment new stitching styles, bring patterns together to personalise your clothes (as in common in Japanese Boro textiles), and give your wardrobe a touch of colour and character. When you’ve done that, take a picture on Instagram, and join the #visiblemending movement!
2. Repurpose and Recycle
With fast fashion pushing us to change our wardrobes with the seasons, clothes – often those that are barely worn, some even with tags on – are filling up our landfills faster than ever. With a little creativity, there are many ways to upcycle and refashion “old” clothing, to repurpose them and give them new life. Upcycling is also a great way to make use of clothes that might have shrunk in the wash or that we might have outgrown, because the fabric are often still in good, wearable condition.
TIP: Even if you don’t feel like transforming old clothing, clothes we no longer want to wear in public can still make for comfortable sleepwear.
3. Rent Out Or Sell Second-hand
Yes, renting clothes is a thing now. Though currently it’s more saturated with designer gowns for proms or wedding parties rather than everyday wear. You can add to the variety of clothes in the second-hand clothing market and set up your own clothes rental business. Thrift shopping is also popular, so consider donating to a thrift shop if there are such options where you live. You never know, there might just be someone out there willing to take in your pre-loved clothing for the fraction of the price you bought it!
TIP: Online platforms like Carousell (for our local friends in Singapore) or Etsy could be a user-friendly way to start your personal clothes rental business. Check out Rent A Dress for some ideas.
4. Refresh At A Clothes Swap
On that note, a clothing swap is another great way to find someone who might be excited to wear the clothes you don’t want anymore. At a clothes swap, you can also add “new” items to refresh your wardrobe, without spending money or actually purchase new clothing that contributes to more production and potential textile waste.
TIP: Start by sorting the clothes you don’t want by type (shirts, pants, dresses, etc), size and colour. If it doesn’t work out, have a plan B to get rid of the leftover clothes. You can take them to the thrift store, or recycle them at a textile center.
5. Recycle At A Textile Recycling Center
Finally, if you decide that your clothes are really not worth keeping anymore, recycling is still an option. But be careful not to fall into the donation trap. Donating to thrift stores or the Salvation Army might be the most common way to recycle clothing, but it is not the most environmentally efficient or beneficial way, because a huge bulk of clothes from donations end up in landfills eventually. Consider instead dropping your clothes off directly at a textile recycling center. These centers break down fabric sustainably, where textile fibers are remade into something new. This is best for clothes that cannot be worn again, (think stained shirts, ripped pants, or well-loved items) that do not serve their functions anymore.
TIP: We recommend doing some research before picking a textile recycling program to donate to. If it is too inconvenient to make a trip to the textile recycling center, there are also options to drop off unwanted clothing at company stores that practice closed loop recycling. Here are some possible ones to start with:
Remember, the goal here is to be more aware of the ways in which our material decisions matter far beyond what we consume. There is more than one way to care for your old clothes sustainably, while clearing out your closet. So go on, try something you’ve never thought of doing before, and make the process fun!
Do you have other sustainable ideas on how to manage old clothes? Let us know in the comments below.