Did you know that textile waste is the fastest growing category of municipal solid waste, contributing to overflowing landfills and CO2 emissions that are released as our garments break down? The average person purchases 60% more clothing than 15 years ago and keeps those items half as long before discarding them. This is a result of low quality, cheap and accessible fast fashion and pressure to keep our wardrobes current. Reusing our clothes and extending their life can help mitigate this waste problem. Currently, only 60% of North Americans shop second hand once a year or less.
Before we recycle or donate our clothing, we should stop and think about the resources that went into creating them in the first place. The cost of our clothing is more than what’s on the price tag. Worldwide, less than 1 percent of the material used to produce clothing is recycled, according to an Ellen MacArthur Foundation report. The waste causes major environmental damage and the annual loss of $100 billion of potentially useful textiles that are either burned or buried in landfills. Many fashion designers today are thinking about how new items can eventually be incorporated back into the reuse stream. Eileen Fisher is one such proponent. She takes her products back and reuses the material to extend the life of the clothes, giving them an updated look.
But, we don’t always have to purchase brand new items to satisfy our desire for new and trendy pieces. Clothing reuse can also include shopping at thrift, consignment and vintage stores, borrowing, swapping and lending clothes with friends and family or renting, repurposing and repairing your clothes.
Good news for a change: the resale and second hand clothing market is thriving and expected to surpass luxury retail by the year 2022. It has become a trendy alternative to fast fashion and far more commonplace than it was in the previous decade. While thrifting is certainly not a new concept, reasons for buying second hand have changed. Thrifting has traditionally been a way of shopping, well thrifty, but there has been a shift in behaviour in that the average thrifter used to be an economically minded consumer, while today, we have the informed consumer hoping to reduce the negative environmental impact of their purchases.
So, how can we reuse what we already own? Whether a garment has lived a long and productive life, or has sat unused in the the back of a closet, it inevitably comes time to say goodbye. Many brands today have clothing take back programs (eg. Patagonia, Levi’s, H&M & more) but before you recycle or donate that garment, stop and think about how you might give it a second life. Upcycle it, give it to a friend, sell it — the possibilities are endless.
Start by looking in your closet and try to see each piece of clothing in a new light. Find your creative self by pairing something you haven’t worn in a while with a different accessory or item you’ve never paired it with before. If that doesn’t work, then think of alternative uses. For example, you can make cleaning rags or turn an old shirt into a bag (check out 27 ideas for reusing clothing). You can even hold a swap party with your friends — take those items you no longer love and give them to someone else while getting “new to you” pieces in return.