Clothes to Me

Once Valledupar's main economic produce; Cotton

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I watched a show yesterday called Eco-Trip: The Real Cost of Living.  In this episode, they  followed the life of a cotton t-shirt. Apparently, cotton crops are some of the most heavily sprayed in the US agricultural industry. Cotton crops also consume a vast amount of water, over 2,700 litres (700 gallons) per pound of cotton. The heavily sprayed seeds and other plant parts are also fed to cows, which we then eat. According to this show, we are actually consuming more cotton through eating beef than through purchasing clothes. Hmmm.

After it is picked, the cotton is cleaned and shipped overseas, mostly to China, where it is woven into cloth, using more water and dyes and chemicals. In many cases the cloth is shipped again to another country where the garment is put together, and then shipped again back to North America, where it is put into stores for us to buy.

Our clothes really have an amazing journey, even before we walk around in them for the first time! Just as importantly, our clothes consume a lot of water, even before we have washed them for the first time. Finally, our clothes have been responsible for a whole lot of pesticide use, almost 1/3 of a pound per t-shirt. If you think about it, the pesticides used to produce a regular cotton t-shirt, can weigh more than the t-shirt itself. Ewww.

Before turning all green last November, I had never once thought about the impact that my clothes had on the environment. I had never considered my clothing footprint.

We have an insatiable appetite for new clothes in North America. The fashion industry feeds this frenzy, by making us feel decidedly un-cool if we don’t buy new clothes each season. Many people have racks and racks of clothes, some of which they have only worn once or twice, some still with the price tags.

If we all knew the environmental cost of making our clothes – would we still buy so many?

As part of my Nothing New challenge, I have not purchased any new clothes for myself, husband or kids since January 1st. It honestly has been very easy. We have so many clothes to begin with there is no reason to buy more. However with kids it can get a little tricky. Take my son for example – he is five years old and plays rough and tumble on the floor. The knees of his pants can take quite the beating. Since our challenge began, he has blown out the knees of 3 pairs of jeans. I still let him wear them, just not to school.

My next problem is socks – my socks. It seems like I am getting holes in all my socks all at once. The other day I had to try on 3 pairs of socks before finding one without new holes.

My community held an “I’ve Outgrown It” sale last weekend. It is an annual event where they stuff a school full of used kids clothing and toys. It is like a giant garage sale! There are great deals to be had. I purchased 4 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of shorts and 5 shirts for my son, and 2 pairs of pants, 3 pairs of shorts and 5 shirts for my daughter. I got all this for $100. Several items had never been worn and still had the tags on them. Others were high-end, brand name items that had seen very little wear. So I am now set up quite nicely for spring and summer.

I am closing in on my 3 month challenge of nothing new, with only about 2 weeks left. It has me thinking about what I will do once the challenge is over. Will I rush out and buy a bunch of new stuff? Will I continue to not buy any new stuff at all? Or will I take a hybrid approach and purchase new only when absolutely necessary?

I have not quite decided. I do know that I am very aware of the huge footprint my clothing has, and will opt to wear what I have instead of purchasing new.  If I have to purchase, I will try to purchase used whenever possible. If I have to purchase new, I will buy from stores that offer high quality fabrics that don’t wear out as fast – it may cost more but it will last longer, and someone else is more likely get some use out of it when I am done. I am also going to be on the look out for organic cotton fabrics in my area. I would like to save some pesticide poundage! I will also get out my mending skills and see what I can do about those nasty holes in my socks and my son’s jeans.

Umm… wait a minute. I think I just committed to darning my socks. Seriously?

I guess so! 🙂

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19 thoughts on “Clothes to Me

  1. So what did you do with all the time and money saved?

    The cotton thing hits home because I quilt, which seems so environmentally friendly and homey and good, but if you’re buying yards and yards of new cotton that’s not really the case. Although quilters on the whole are good about trading and sharing, using up small scraps, and so forth. Also almost all quilters have more fabric than they could ever hope to use up, yet still keep acquiring more …

    • I spend my time shopping at the Farmer’s market these days instead. There is such a wonderful vibe there, and I enjoy having conversations with the growers and producers.

      Quilting! I could see myself taking that up one day, maybe when my kids are a bit older. Maybe the key is to make quilts using scraps, or organic fabric, or perhaps clothes you don’t wear anymore!

  2. I read lots of books when I was in college about the life of stuff. So scary once you know all the real costs of things. They certainly don’t consider all those costs when they put it on the rack and price it. Love your challenge! I gave up shopping for myself for Lent (nothing new for me or the house for 40 days) and it will be a struggle, I am a shopping addict. But so far I have stuck with it. Great post, thanks for sharing.

    • That is a great thing to give up for Lent! Y’know what I like most about shopping? Seeing the pretty things. Noticing how well something goes together, appreciating the design. It is like going to a museum – you go to see the prettiness, the beauty, but that doesn’t mean you have to take everything home with you. My favourite store is Anthropologie (not sure if they have it in your area) and last month I walked into the store and just appreciated everything, how it was set up, how it was designed. I did not buy, because I really did not need anything (plus I am on this challenge!). Good luck!

  3. I helped Kevin patch his jeans a while ago — I don’t know how a grown man can still put holes in his trousers so quickly — and I think we may be moving on to darning soon. He wants a manly guide to darning before he’s willing to take it up. Hmm…

    My clothes wear out much more slowly. I still have skirts and shirts from six or more years ago, and they still look fine. I enjoy getting used clothes every now and then but buy new underwear and socks. I think I’m going to try to switch to organic for those things and continue to buy used for everything else.

    • That is so funny about his jeans! Maybe he just has had them for a long time! My husband wears everything for forever.

      My clothes wear out slowly as well. Most of the time I get sick of them before they wear out. The key is that when I buy something (new or used) that I need to make sure it has real purpose in my wardrobe, I feel good in it, I really like it. Then maybe I will be less likely to get a closet full of clothes and feel like I have “nothing to wear”. 🙂 I am looking at my closet as I write this… hmmmm. But overall it has been fine not buying new clothes. The only thing that is annoying me is the dang socks!

  4. Thinking back, the last time I bought clothes was for a Hallowe’en costume, and those were used. Somehow, every time I see pretty clothes in a shop window (a daily occurrence in the neighbourhood I now live in), I manage to remind myself that the environmental damage is not worth the short-lived glee at showing off something new.

    One idea I’ve been toying with is having a clothing swap with my girlfriends. A lot of us are roughly the same size, and I know many of them buy much more than they need. Just wish I knew someone else with a 6 1/2 shoe size! 🙂

    • Oohhh you must live in a fun area, if there are pretty shops all around. Like I was saying above in an earlier reply to a comment, you can still look at the pretty dress and appreciate it without having to take it home with you. It is a visual gift as you are walking home!

      Clothing swap sounds fun. I think I would especially like that if it was only for a short term basis, like 3 months or something. That way, you could keep switching it up, and get back your favourite shirt if you really wanted to…

  5. Sherry,

    Thanks for the great information on the cotton industry! I didn’t know they supported the beef industry too! How interesting. I should go watch that documentary too.

    I’ve been buying only used clothes for the past 6 months, but new socks and underwear. I really love it, as I can find great clothes for $5 or less. I usually go to Goodwill, and buy all my jeans there too for $10-$20, which is a great deal for designer brands.

    I’m also looking into organic cotton or bamboo socks as an alternative, but they are so expensive! I’m tempted to start a fund on my site to help me support the organic cotton and sustainable textiles industry.

    I’ve also been reading about clothing swaps, both online and local. Online there’s one called SwapStyle and another for kids’ stuff called Zwaggle. Maybe you could use those sites.

  6. I love the idea of only buying organic cotton or hemp clothes, the problem is the cost. Those clothes are so darn expensive! I’ve been trying not to buy a lot of clothes, I tend to go in spurts but now that I’m paying more attention and trying to be more green in all aspects of my life, I am trying to be even better about it. I will say that awhile ago I realized that if I bought all good quality items for my work clothes, I tended not to buy as much and they lasted really long. I also figured out when to shop during the year so I could get $80 pants for only $20. It’s to the point that I refuse to buy work pants unless I can get it for $20 or less..a lot of times I can find them for $10. My problem last year was some weight loss that left me in need of different size pants at least twice. I’m still wearing some pants that are way too big for me, but fit ok and I don’t think anybody can tell. lol But..of course none of my normal haunts are green. That’s going to be an issue.

    • If you buy less, when you do buy, you can afford to splurge on the high quality items that will last a long time, or the hemp or bamboo or organic cotton items that do cost more! It does take some more time to seek out these products, but hopefully that time will be offset with less shopping trips overall!

  7. It really is amazing to consider the impact of buying new clothes. A book that I am reviewing says that on average we buy 48 new pieces of clothing every year. That is a significant impact, even if it is organic! Buying used, and repairing when possible, is really a wonderful way to lessen our environmental footprint. Good for you for doing so well these last few months!

  8. I love your blog, it is admirable and inspirational. I support green living and taking care of our environment, as well as being an advocate for animal protection and vegetarian. In the last few years, I have shifted to buying more clothing from the Goodwill, thrift stores and consignment shops. You can find some really nice stuff, save money and you don’t contribute to the environmental impacts involved with clothing production. Good Luck with your blog! :O)

    • Thanks for stopping by! There are lots of good finds at Goodwill and other second-hand stores! I found a dress for my daughter to wear to a wedding – only $12! We really don’t need all these clothes, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Good luck with your blog too! 🙂

  9. Great post! Really points out the hazards of a fashion-fueled addiction. It really is hard to counteract this when people get so excited about finding a great buy! Lines like “Joe” at Loblaws are really making “fast-clothing” even more addictive. It’s really a vicious circle!

    For those people trying to purchase organic cotton and hemp products – I’ve been lucky to find some stuff on ebay, at thrift stores, on etsy and through Pure Citizen (http://www.purecitizen.com/). Actually today they are featuring a line at 80% off the regular price! (Usually it’s 30 – 40 percent.) Stewart + Brown has great sales too.

    As you mentioned if you think of it as a quality purchase rather than a quantity purchase you can justify the price. And I always use a tailor to help me make an item “just right” after I make purchases!

    Keep up the great blogging!

  10. Awesome, I thought this was a solid posting, thanks for
    blogging with all of us. I have some good friends
    which will be engaged, I’m going to mail it along directly to them.

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