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How changing your fashion habits can save you money while saving the environment


Delight Nweneka

Being mindful about how we buy and use clothes is good for the environment and us. The average American spends $161 on clothes per month, corresponding to almost $2000 per year. At the same time, the fashion industry accounts for about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Clothes are such an integral part of our daily lives that we often only question the reason or validity of their existence beyond whether it is in both our style and our budget. Unfortunately, the extended lifecycle for clothes is much more complex and troublesome than it appears. The journey from thread to the hanger is plagued with waste, leaving behind a trail of carbon emissions.

One of the most straightforward ways to reduce our wardrobe's effect on our finances and the environment is to be mindful of the clothes we buy. Buying clothes is an investment, and choosing the right ones can save you money and help reduce waste in the long run. The value of this investment can be boiled down to the quantity and quality of the clothes you purchase.

In 2018, it was found that the average American purchased 68 new garments a year, which has likely risen with the drastic uptick in online shopping. For context, the average person owns 148 pieces of clothing. This means that people purchase almost half their wardrobes every year. This is even more alarming when considering a 2018 study that found Americans do not wear 82% of their clothes. There are several reasons behind this, such as the shopping high or the inability to refuse a great bargain, but the detriments are just as abundant. One way to prevent this is shopping according to a budget. Shopping on a budget allows you to weigh the value of garments against each other and weed out temporary high buys with low long-term value. By considering the necessity of different items, you are prompted to ask yourself critical questions that can lead to long-term happiness. 

Shopping for quality goes hand in hand with shopping on a budget. When we buy quality clothes, we increase the number of potential wearable years and expand our options for their end-of-life, especially regarding resale, but more on that later. However, with so much information flying around, how can you be sure of what'swhat's quality and what isn't? 

If you shop in a store, a quick feel and assessment of the fabric can give you a good idea of its quality. How thick is it? Does it stretch or tear beyond its limit if you apply extra force? If so, it would last only a few washes. A more concrete way to discern the quality of a piece of clothing is to look at the material it was made with. Petroleum-derived fabrics like polyester and Acrylic are cheap but could be more durable and tend to pill more easily. Clothes made with less than 50% of these materials should last only a short time.

Investing in quality clothes may seem costly initially, but the reduced burden of replacing cheaper items periodically can more than make up for it in the future. A popular quality alternative, long-lasting clothes is fast fashion. Fast fashion refers to the quick and often voluminous production of cheap clothing items, often well suited to rapidly evolving fashion trends. However, due to their poor production quality, they are often cast aside after only a few years, contributing to an immense amount of waste and loss of value.

As a practical demonstration, let us look at a closet staple, a black turtleneck sweater, and compare the value of a seemingly lower-quality garment with a higher-quality one. A black turtleneck from Shein made entirely from Acrylic can be purchased for $15.49, while a black turtleneck from L.L. Bean made with cotton costs $34.95.

Generally, fast fashion items are discarded after only seven or eight wears. Specifically, items made with synthetic fabric, such as Acrylic, can be expected to last for up to a year. The average cloth is worn for 5.4 years, but as a conservative estimate, wool sweaters can be expected to last for four years. Assuming a lifespan of 1 year for the acrylic turtleneck and four years for the cotton, the cost per year is $15.49 for the acrylic turtleneck and $8.74 for the cotton. These savings can be further maximized with appropriate care of high-quality clothes and multiplied many times with a careful selection of even more clothing items.

The next step to maximizing the value of your clothes is extending the lifetime of your clothes. As mentioned previously, keeping clothes longer is crucial to reducing textile waste. Inevitably, clothes will be prone to wear and tear; however, that does not mean that must necessarily be the end for them. Several tailor shops offer mending services, such as Columbo Invisible Reweaving in Boston, Massachusetts. Especially for high-quality items you need more time to be ready to part with, mending could be a great option. If you are not keen on the price tag, there are a variety of simple stitches and patchwork you could try to mend your clothes yourself. You would be learning a new skill, holding on to your favorite items, and keeping clothes out of the trash for longer.

However, there comes a time for every piece of clothing when it is simply time to go. The wear and tear may be too severe, it no longer gets worn as it used to, or you want to change your wardrobe. There are great ways to make the end of life as sustainable and profitable as its beginning. One of the simplest ways of doing this is to donate them. This can be to relatives, friends, or charities where they will be re-worn, repurposed, or resold. You could even receive a tax deduction depending on the organization you donate to.

Another option is to sell your clothes. There are many steps that one can take to accomplish this. You could go the traditional route of hosting a yard sale or selling the dresses to your local thrift shop. Several online websites, such as Poshmark, allow users to sell secondhand clothing items. This is another aspect where purchasing higher quality clothes can pay you as higher quality clothes are more likely to be in better condition at the end of your lifespan with them and seek higher prices on secondhand websites. 

Finally, clothes can be repurposed and given a second life through various alternations. Two of the most popular methods are cropping and dyeing. While these are most popular for t-shirts and basic apparel, there is no need to limit yourself. There are also more complex alterations, such as patchwork and embroidery, but some of the simplest is tasteful reconstruction. You can turn your old T-shirts into cleaning rags, old clothes into pet bedding, and unwanted clothing into pillowcases. The possibilities are endless.

There is much more to clothes than their price. While we cannot tell you how many clothes you need, there are ways to make sure you purchase the clothes you need with purpose and ensure they will serve you and the planet in the long run. Repurposing is one of the most exciting options for a sustainable wardrobe. From now on, I will learn a new skill or two that can help me extend the life of my clothes and update my style at almost no cost to me or the environment.


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