The fashion industry is a women’s industry through and through, as women make up the majority of its producers and consumers.
- Over seventy percent of American consumer spending is driven by women. This spending isn’t just on clothes for themselves, as most American mothers spend more on clothing for their children than on their own clothes.
- About eighty percent of the people who work in the global garment industry are women. In garment factory jobs these female workers may be subject to pregnancy discrimination via forced pregnancy tests and termination if pregnant, a lack of breastfeeding and childcare support, long hours and workplace safety issues, and wages that are below the living wage for that locality.
As a culture the clothes we buy are cheap, and we certainly treat them that way. Outsourcing has dramatically changed American consumption in many ways. Globalization can have many benefits, yet when it comes to our consumption patterns, we appear to be more dissatisfied with what we have. For example, the United States is home to four percent of the world’s population but it produces 30 percent of the world’s waste. The average American purchases five garments a month (over 60 a year!) and discards 70 pounds of clothing each year into a landfill. We spend less than half of our total family budget on clothing compared to fifty years ago, yet we buy three times more.
How do we change this? What if we viewed our clothing, and as many other types of many physical purchases as possible, not as a consumable but as an investment?
Here’s the rub. If you’ve read this far you are probably both thinking this is a dire situation that you’d like to do something about, but also that this would be really hard to take this on with everything else you are juggling. Your life is busy with one or more children who may be covering their clothing (and perhaps yours) with pee and poo, skinning their knees and creating holes in their clothes, and/or rapidly getting too small far too fast for your preteen. Time is scarce, and so is money.
As a mother pregnant with her second child who is juggling quite a few professional and personal endeavors I get how hard this is to implement. Which is why I want to offer five practical tips for treating clothing not like a consumable, but as an investment.
5 Tips for Treating Clothing as an Investment
1. Bring clothing into your home based on a real need, not want or whim
We regularly wear only about 20% of what we own. Organize your family’s closets so you know what you actually have and will use and get rid of what you truly don’t need. Then keep a running list of items you actually need, have a high bar for entry on this list, and don’t deviate from it. Don’t follow trends but think about your family’s values, aesthetic, and each family member’s physical builds for your selection.
2. Save clothing from landfills (and money!) by borrowing or buying used
I recently needed to expand my wardrobe for a warm weather pregnancy, as my first pregnancy was at the exact opposite time of year. I’ve utilized local listservs, borrowed from friends, and purchased from ThredUp, a super easy online spot to get used items. The DC area also has some great consignment stores. I’ve also found it to be very easy to not purchase many new clothes for my now toddler son. Most of the items he wears were borrowed or given by friends who no longer need them or purchased used.
3. Make it easy to prioritize sustainable brands when buying new
Sometimes you just need or want to buy something new. So what do you do then? Do your research and find a few sources that match your values, vocation, and aesthetic. Follow the listservs of your top five favorite sustainable brands to see what they are up to, in case they have an item that matches your needs, plus by following then you can also get discounts on their pieces. Find some bloggers (I personally love StyleWise, The Wholehearted Wardrobe, and ALL AWEAR for womenswear) who share your values and aesthetic and see the pieces they recommend. I’m also happy to personally be a resource, so feel free to e-mail me your questions or follow me on Instagram where I often share the ethical, sustainable clothing worn by all members of my family.
4. Invest in true investment pieces
Sustainable brands can’t complete with the rock bottom prices of brands who don’t include environmental impact or treating workers fairly in their supply chain. As the creator of sustainable brand I’ve learned that you often have to pay a few times more at each step to make clothing the right way. Keep in mind that you will be buying far fewer clothes each year if you’ve implemented the above techniques and that the true cost of clothing is the cost per wear, not the initial price. A number of sustainable brands are also using programs like Afterpay that help with cash flows, enabling you to make multiple payments over time.
5. Keep clothing and other usable items out of a landfill if at all possible
Treat as many clothing items as come into your home as possible as investments. This goes for more than just clothing and can include homewares as well. If you think you can still use an item, try mending or repairing it. It’s amazing the stains a local dry cleaner can get out. Plus, it’s often cheaper to mend items rather than buy new ones, which can usually be done at your local dry cleaner if you don’t have the time or sewing skills. If there’s an actual hole try making a fun patterned patch with another worn garment.
Once items depart your home you aim for them to not be in the trash can or even the recycling bin but sent to another home. If you will no longer use an item try neighborhood listsservs (I’m a bit fan of my local Dupont Circle Parents listserv) or Craigslist, resale at online ThreadUp or local consignment stores, or the in person Wee-Sale. I have yet to find an item I can’t get someone to pick up at my home if I offer it for free, and if it has a long life ahead of it I will often request that the new owner make sure the item doesn’t end at the landfill after use.