Tag Archives: clothes

Greener jumpers

For the last ten years or so I’ve mostly bought jumpers from sale rails, often at the end of winter. I figure that buying from the ends of lines doesn’t increase demand in the same way and may keep wearable clothing out of landfill.

It’s not ideal, though. I’ve owned a lot of black jumpers, because I like my jumpers plain, and often black is the only plain option. I still have a hard time finding things that fit me – I’m tall. I often actively dislike the kinds of jumpers designed for women, and if I’m wearing a jumper designed for a bloke it’s never going to be a good fit. Sometimes I like jumpers that fit. With the kind of clothes buying budget I have, even my sale rail jumpers tend to be low quality. They wear out, look shabby really quickly, and are never that warm.

This year I’ve started knitting my own. I can buy a better quality of yarn for the budget I have. I’ve not entirely managed to move away from synthetics, but a more substantial yarn is going to last longer and not end up in landfill for many more years, so overall it’s the better move. If I knit a jumper I can have the shape and colour I want. I don’t have to spend time traipsing around in the desperate hope of finding something I can afford that I can also bear to wear. This frees up time and emotional energy for other things.

I usually find clothes shopping depressing. It’s rare for me to find clothes I truly like that also fit. I’m tall, and broad, and have had to do a lot of ignoring my own feelings and preferences and putting up with whatever would do – this is not great for self-esteem. Second hand clothes shopping is often an exercise in futility for anything other than big, shapeless skirts. It’s the same with sale rails, and often with new stuff, too.

If I make my own clothes, I get things I like, in better and more robust fabrics that will last longer. If I have clothes that suit my tastes, my body shape and the way I live, then I can get by with less. It takes more ‘sort of works’ clothing to get you through – I know this from experience. I also like making things. Crafting is a valuable mental health activity that eases stress and allows me time for emotional processing and imaginative thinking, so making an item of clothing gets a lot of things done. Better dressed in terms of clothing quality, happier with my clothes and not stressed by the process of getting them means having more energy for other things. That in turn increases my chances of being able to be more environmentally mindful in other ways.


Resisting the fashion industry

Fashion is terrible for the planet. Tons of barely worn clothing finds its way into landfill every year. Plastic particles get into our water supplies from clothes washing. The actual clothes tend to be made in grim conditions by underpaid people. What can we do?

The easiest change to make is not to put wearable clothing in the bin. Give it away. We can all do that.

Most of us can improve how we do our laundry – wash at a lower temperature, air dry don’t tumble dry, use a more environmentally friendly detergent, and don’t wash things quite so often.

We can buy fewer clothes of better quality and keep them longer. Tricky for people in poverty who can’t afford the upfront extra cost. 

We can buy and be gifted second hand. This helps, but is not a solution, nor is it viable for everyone. If you aren’t average size, or you have an emergency around a key piece of kit, this doesn’t work. Plus we can’t do it forever, second hand depends on the fashion industry too, it just doesn’t put money into it directly.

I’ve been wrangling with all of this for a while, alongside issues about appearance, and identity. I’m too tall and broad to buy much second hand. I also don’t like the vast majority of clothing out there. I hate the kinds of textiles, prints, patterns and colours that show up in supermarkets. Clothes shops are rarely much better, and all of it involves exploitation. But, most of my clothes are now too big and/or worn out.

I’ve been dabbling in clothes making for a while, using salvaged fabric from otherwise worn out clothes. But I’ve long since used the available material. So I took the plunge and bought a few meters of cotton from my local haberdasher. That won’t put any plastic into the world, and no one has been exploited at the sewing stage. I made a couple of tunics. I’m not brilliant at sewing – I can’t use sewing machines, they stress me too much. I’m making patterns out of clothes I already have, and I’m improvising. I get to use strong, dark colours and plain fabrics – this has always been my preference, but is hard to find in clothes shops. 

I’m not going to be able to do this for everything I need, but I can do it for at least some of my new clothing. I can make things I like, and explore what I actually like and want rather than being limited by what’s for sale. The cost is low compared to buying new clothing, the fabric standard is higher than cheap clothing so it will last. I’m not supporting the fashion industry. I craft as a hobby anyway so I’m using hobby time to do this, and I’ve found it rewarding. As I can’t buy my way out of participating in the grim behaviour of the fashion industry, this seems like my best bet for non-participation.


What if we re-thought fashion?

The fashion industry is one of the most planet harming, carbon intensive, polluting of human activities. Clothes are often made in sweat shops, only to end up in landfill after one or two wears. We throw away tons of clothing. Unlike issues around transport, food and energy consumption, there’s nothing inherent in the fashion industry that either justifies the waste, or makes it technically that difficult to change.

There’s a lot we can do as individuals on this one – buy less, use clothing for longer, give it to charity shops when we’re done with it, upcycle. Simply by rejecting the idea that you might buy an item of clothing, wear it once and throw it away, we could collectively get a lot done on this one.

The fashion industry itself is a bit of a poster-boy for throw away consumerism. It’s hardly an issue for this industry alone, it’s a cultural issue and an issue inherent in capitalism. If we accept that new is always better, and up to date is important, then buying things to almost immediately throw them away might make sense to us. Replace those ideas with durability, inherent worth, and the desire to own things that are inherently satisfying and pleasing, and that whole edifice could crumble.

If we wanted lasting clothing that would serve us well, we’d perhaps pay more for it and that would help move us away from the terrible conditions in which clothing tends to be made. It has to be said that currently the price tag on the clothing is not an indicator of how well the maker was paid. Unless you are buying from a person who made the clothes, the odds are there’s exploitation in the mix.

I want to make more of my own clothing. It’s one way of resisting, and as I can sew, it’s an option I have.  I also very much like having clothing that doesn’t look like what everyone else is wearing! I aspire to being able to afford to buy things from makers, rather than mass produced things, but there’s a significant economic aspect to that, and it’s a bit beyond me at the moment.

We don’t need throwaway fashion. It isn’t life enhancing, and it’s not especially joyful. There’s much more delight to be had in clothing that can be re-worn, and that can be a friend on the journey. Clothing full of associations and memories can be life enriching. Clothing into which time, care and thought has been invested has a lot more to offer us than something bought cheaply and immediately forgotten.

We don’t need fast fashion. There’s really no inherent good in it. The whole process goes with a strategy of selling us dissatisfaction so that we keep spending money on new things. What if your wardrobe was fine and did not need updating? What if it made more sense to replace clothes when they wear out or you change shape, investing in things you can enjoy for years to come? Think how much time, energy and effort that would save people! Think how much more joy we could have by only owning things we really wanted and that we make part of our lives.

I’m enough of an animist to make friends with the things I own. My clothing has been on journeys with me and is full of stories. When it wears out, I salvage what I can and re-use it, meaning every now and then I find an old friend in whatever place they’ve been re-purposed to. That’s a nice feeling. I’ve got fabric that came from my grandmother, clothes that are twenty years old and more. I’ve got parts of my life in my wardrobe, and I like how that feels. There’s meaning in it, and significance, and companionship.


The trouble with clothes

Fast fashion is a major source of plastic pollution and a driver of climate chaos.  Clothing is often made in terrible working conditions by people – usually women – who are sorely underpaid. Buying more expensive clothes does not guarantee that there wasn’t sweatshop labour involved.  It’s quite hard to take an ethical, eco-friendly approach to clothing, and a tight budget makes it even harder.

Buying second hand isn’t always the answer. You need to be time rich to do that, and you need an average sort of body. Less usual body shapes, sudden health related shape changes, and limited mobility can have a huge impact on your clothes options.

Part of the environmental impact of clothing comes from how we wash and dry it. If your budget is tight, you probably don’t wash clothing after one wear anyway. Air drying is cheaper and greener than a tumble drier. Fewer washes means putting fewer plastic particles into the world. Repeat wearing helps reduce impact. The worst problems are caused by buying something, wearing it once or twice and then throwing it away – there’s a terrifying amount of clothing that ends up in landfill.

The cheap solution to sweatshops is to make your own clothing. This is an answer that does however require time and skill. Skirts are easy. Trousers are not. It’s taken me years to get the hang of anything resembling viable trousers. I favour cobbling things together from dead items of clothing to keep as much as I can out of landfill, but that also takes time and skill and won’t be available to everyone.

The trouble with clothes is that we’re surrounded by stories about how we should look. That our clothes should look new is considered key to looking smart, professional and successful.  To be tatty is to court accusations of being not only poor, but unwashed. We are encouraged to read low personal standards into old, faded, tatty and mended clothing.

Most people historically have patched and mended clothing to extend its life. This is often easier to do with natural fibres than it is with synthetic fabrics.  In a culture that takes pride in carefully maintained, patched and repurposed garments, it’s much easier to be someone who does that. If you were going to be judged for the skilfulness of your repairs, not for looking like your clothes are brand new, there would be more incentive to learn how to repair things.

We’ve told ourselves a story about what looks good and what is most desirable. It goes along with other stories about the expression of material wealth being a good thing to do, or emulate. It is not a coincidence that this helps people sell clothes to us instead of us maintaining what we have. There’s not much profit to be made from clothes lovingly maintained over many years. There’s a lot to unpick here and a great deal that needs to change.


Adventures in patchwork

I really like unique clothing. I also hate waste, and these two things often result in me making patchwork clothes out of otherwise dead items.

When jeans wear out, it tends to be at the ankle, the knee and the front of the thigh. This leaves a lot of fabric still in good condition in the calves and backs of thighs. So, when a pair of jeans die, I take them and I salvage the usable bits.

In this waistcoat project I’ve been using the small scraps left over from making a jacket for Tom. I used an old waistcoat as a pattern, and a lot of pins to get the small pieces into shape. The sewing is rough – it just needs to hold the denim together. I am now in the process of embroidering the whole thing – the embroidery will do most of the structural work and makes the garment solid and durable.

The resulting garment will be unique. It doesn’t matter how many waistcoats I make, no two will ever be the same. That cheers me. There’s something so very sad and drab about one size fits no one  supermarket clothing, and so many people are stuck wearing that for lack of anything better that’s also affordable.

Throw away fashion is incredibly harming to the planet. Anything we can do to slow down our consumption of clothing is a good idea. For me, this kind of repurposing is a way of doing that while also having clothing that is original, and interesting. I find joy in making things, and in remaking. There’s a pleasure in keeping clothing out of landfill and in getting to use skills I have developed. Nothing in this waistcoat is especially difficult to do nor did it require much specialist kit – pins, scissors, sewing thread and needles, fine wool and an embroidery needle. Mostly it calls for patience. It’s an affordable hobby alongside being useful and eco-friendly.

This is all based on boro patchwork and sashiko sewing.


Scruffy for the love of the earth

Being scruffy is something we can all do for the good of the planet. It’s a low cost, low effort response to cutting carbon, cutting plastic use, cutting the impact of the fashion industry. I appreciate that in some jobs and contexts it’s simply too high a risk, and that the more affluent and comfortable you are the fewer implications there are in looking a bit ragged round the edges. If you are poor, people will judge you – but they will also judge you for not looking poor enough.

Scruffy clothes – anything a bit worn, or faded, marked from use or obviously repaired falls into this category. Wearing old clothes is something we can celebrate as an assertion of loving the Earth, and I think if we can re-enforce those choices for each other, there’s a lot of good to be found in it.

It’s also a way of pushing back against all that glossy new age rubbish full of improbable dresses in fields and things you’d never wear for a decent walk in a wood because it wouldn’t last five minutes. And for the guys, and the non-binary folk there’s very little visual content out there. That’s something else to push back against – if we are going to be spiritually glamorous, there should be room for everyone, not just young, thin, white, female-looking people.

I find that if I’m outside for a while, my hair becomes messy. I find that if I don’t wear makeup this impacts on how I look in photographs and videos alike. But, getting makeup without getting throwaway plastic is hard, and animal testing is back, and makeup is expensive, and I don’t think those chemicals do my skin much good… and maybe my face is ok without it. Your face is definitely ok as it is, I feel sure of that. I take no issue with people wearing makeup creatively and playfully and for fun, but if you feel like you need it… you’ve been had by adverts. (I have been had by adverts, but I’m pushing back).

A Pagan aesthetic that is scruffy for the love of the Earth is available to everyone. Body shape doesn’t matter, nor does age, or gender or our ability to conform to ‘beauty’ standards. If you live closer to the Earth, you won’t be able to keep your clothes perfect anyway. Crafting, gardening, walking, doing things from scratch – anything physical like this causes wear and tear. You can only have pristine new looking stuff if you don’t do much with your body while wearing it!

For too long, a ‘Pagan’ look has meant velvet cloaks. Impractical shoes. Flouncy shirts. What happens if we start dressing as though we’re going to walk everywhere? What happens if we walk everywhere and start to look like that? What if looking like you spend time outside is the most Pagan look you can cultivate? What if you make actual crafts part of your Craft?

Changing the surfaces of how we present isn’t superficial. It calls for a massive change in what we value and celebrate and treat as appealing. Show me your dirty Paganism. Show me the love that goes into keeping clothes out of landfill, and I will show you mine…

Here’s an old photo of me in the kind of clothing I can walk in and sit out in. Not especially attractive, but I wasn’t doing it for the camera…


Upcycled Steampunk against waste

There are certainly steampunks who spend a lot of money on new clothes and for whom it works a lot like any other kind of fashion. Often though, that’s not what happens. I think Steampunk clothing has a lot of potential for up-cycling and keeping garments out of landfill. The focus on creativity and individuality gives a framework in which a person can play about, and re-use and re-imagine things.

For many steampunks, vintage clothing is a key part of the mix. This means second hand – however upmarket or un-chic your shopping options are. Second hand is good for the planet. Repurposing clothing, and tinkering with it to make it work is also very much a thing. When you value innovation, clever methods for re-use become appealing.

For example, I’ve recently dealt with worn, shiny patches on a second hand jacket by embroidering over them –

I’m not sure how fashion came to mean trying to look like everyone else. I’m not sure how we’ve decided who to follow as fashionable, and who is just weird. I’m not sure why we’re so collectively persuaded about what’s an acceptable way to dress and what isn’t. I’m also not sure why most of the clothing most people wear seems so dreadfully bland. Supermarkets tell us to express ourselves with their clothing ranges that are about as tedious and un-expressive as clothing can get.

When you’re tinkering with clothes, it becomes unique. When you make your own, amend what you have, re-think and re-jig you can have a varied wardrobe and as much novelty as you want. Our pre-mass production ancestors used to be good at this, changing the trimmings to give a garment a fresh look, cutting down old adult clothes for kids to wear, and all that kind of thing.

There are, apparently, trend setters and trend followers. Perhaps it’s validating to have people copy you – that seems weird to me, but maybe it works for some people. Perhaps there’s some emotional reward for being a bad copy of a celebrity by wearing the look they’ve already moved on from. Certainly, it makes a lot of money for some people. It’s almost like we’ve been persuaded that what we put on our bodies is better decided for us by the people who want to make money out of us.


Limits to second hand sourcing

In a recent blog post about clothing I mentioned buying second hand, and inevitably didn’t say a great many things about the limits of second hand shopping. In the effort to reduce the appalling impact of the fashion industry on the planet, many people are committing to only buying second hand clothes. It’s good if you can – but not everyone can, and that needs talking about.

If you have an average sort of body shape and proportions, then second hand clothing is a lot more realistic. If you are unusual in any way, the chances of walking into a second hand clothes shop and finding an item that will fit you, is not high. If you need a specialist shop to source things that will fit you, second hand shopping is a limited option – you might be able to do a little bit online now and then.

If you have a minimal wardrobe either to save money or as a green choice, then if a key piece of kit becomes un-wearable, you will need to replace it quickly. You might not be able to afford to wait until something turns up. Equally, if you walk or cycle for transport or work outside, there will be key pieces of kit that you can’t manage without and you won’t reliably be able to source second hand. Greener living choices will inform what kind of clothes you need.

Second hand shopping takes time. Not everyone is time rich. Other greener ways of living are also more time intensive – walking for transport, handwashing your clothes, shopping on foot, growing your own veg, cooking everything from scratch… these things all take time. Finding suitable clothes in charity shops takes time. You might not be able to do all of it. Not being able to find the time for some greener activities because of the time it takes to do other green activities is not something to feel awkward about.

Not all new clothing is created equally. If you are supporting artisan creators, fair trade sellers, handmade creativity, local independent shops, locally sourced materials and the like, this is very different from buying cheap, throwaway fashion.

I potter into charity shops often enough to have a good idea what to expect. It’s rare that I see anything I like and that would fit me – I’m fussy about clothes and only buy things I’m confident I will want to wear for years to come. Inevitably, a large percentage of what’s in the shops is that bland, supermarket stuff that does nothing for me. Clothing is an important form of self expression, and for many of us is how we create and express identity. Wearing stuff that doesn’t feel like you, is miserable, and thus not sustainable. It would be good if more people who can afford to bought more of the good quality, handmade, original stuff and then sent that on to the charity shops!


Wear it thirty times

I saw online the other day the excellent advice that if you are buying clothes, ask yourself if you are going to wear it thirty times. The fashion industry contributes an obscene amount of carbon, waste, and stray plastic in the environment. Our clothes choices have massive impact, and many of us could do better. If you’re going to wear an item thirty times or more, you are going to wear it over several years, in all likelihood. These are the terms on which we should consider clothing.

Of course there are exceptions – you might need something for a specific activity or event and know that you won’t get much further use out of it. These items should be sold on, given to charity shops or otherwise kept in circulation. There’s nothing wrong with using something once and passing it along to someone else.

If something has to be worn thirty times or more, it has to be durable. This is where poverty becomes an issue. Cheaply made, poor quality, low cost clothing won’t necessarily survive that many rounds of being worn and washed. If poverty is a barrier, second hand is often a better way to go – you can sometimes pick up higher quality clothing with better life expectancy. Also, if you’re buying second hand, you don’t need to think so much about those thirty wears because some of the wearing has been done already.

It’s as well not to assume that price will equate to durability. It’s possible to have expensive things made out of shoddy materials. You may be paying for the label, the design, the outlet carrying it and not for the intrinsic worth of the garment. On the whole, natural fibres and fibres that are a high percentage natural are the best bet – better for the environment and often harder wearing than synthetic alternatives. Here it pays to do your research – Rayon sounds like a synthetic for example, but it is actually made out of cellulose. Viscose is only semi-synthetic despite sounding like it was made out of old car tyres. Only if you need waterproof gear does synthetic material make more sense.

With practice, you can tell a lot about a fabric by touching it. This is time well spent. So often we shop by looking – as with all online clothes shopping, rather than shopping by texture. When it comes to the experience of wearing a garment, how it feels matters a great deal. Natural fibres are less sweaty to wear, warmer in cold weather and cooler in hot weather than synthetics. So in turn, if you get this bit right, you may be able to reduce your environmental impact in other ways. If your clothes truly help you deal with temperatures then you won’t need the heating or the air con quite so much.


How being smart harms the planet

The fashion industry has been under some scrutiny of late for the environmental harm it does. A lot of clothing gets worn once and sent to landfill, and the notion of fashion is held to blame. However, there’s also the issue of looking smart, and what we now imagine that to mean.

Smart clothes are new clothes. There are no marks, no worn bits, no faded bits and no repairs on smart clothes. My son’s school is big on the idea of ‘smart’ and clear that a visible mend isn’t good enough. This wasn’t always the way of things and for much of the past, clean and neatly mended was smart enough for most of us.

New clothes speak of money. New clothes announce that you do not need to make do and mend, you can afford to throw away and replace. To look smart is to look affluent. However, the planet can’t afford us to keep going with this idea of richness.

It helps that I don’t do the kind of work where people will expect me to look ‘smart’. Authors are renowned for working in their pyjamas. We’re allowed to look a bit eccentric at events. It’s not unusual to find people at Transition meetings with old paint on their clothes, upcycled gear, things mended, and repurposed. I recall a fabulous hat made out of a child’s jumper… Equally in steampunk gatherings, remaking has kudos to it. I can go into those places wearing a skirt made out of offcuts from worn out shirts, and any judgement I get will tend towards the affirmative.

When we focus on smart, we also tend to focus on what we can buy readymade, which in turn means conformity, fitting in, having what everyone else has. Readymade means unoriginal, bland, lacking personal expression – and these might be good ways to push back against the smartness that harms the planet. If we prized innovation and originality more, then we’d be more up for upcycling and re-purposing because it would be all about showing off personal skill and cunning.

The current notion of smart, is modern. Our Viking and Saxon ancestors, I gather, took great care of their kit and meticulously patched damaged clothes to keep them going. When your culture says that your smartness is measured by how deftly you can make repairs, then that’s how you focus yourself. When your culture says ‘smart’ is a poor quality garment you throw away after a couple of wears, that’s apparently what we do.

Conventionally smart clothes are boring, unsustainable, and involve little or no personal creativity. Keeping usable fabric out of landfill leads to much more fun, innovation, skill, delight and scope to be unique.