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Toward a Healthier Closet

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clothing rack

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The clothing industry is super wasteful. Here’s how to stop being part of the problem.

I love clothes and I love shopping. So, I was totally guilt stricken when I learned that textiles are a leading polluter, coming in second only to the oil and gas industry. What?! According to Eco Watch, every second, a garbage truck’s worth of textiles is either dumped into a landfill or burned. Less than one percent of material is recycled to make new clothes. And our appetite for clothing keeps increasing; the number of times we wear each item before casting it off has steadily gone down compared to 15 years ago. All my little pick-me-up trips to Madewell are not harmless, and I’ve vowed to do better. If you’re a clothing junkie like me, here are some healthy habits to try:   

Stop Seeing Donation as a Free Pass

For years, I’ve been keeping the Goodwill bag in the closet, dutifully following the “one in, one out,” mantra to avoid clutter. The problem is, we’ve hit a glut in the U.S. According to Newsweek, Americans are now purging 80 pounds of clothing a year, so much that charities simply can’t resell all this clothing. Cast-offs wind up in landfills (much of the clothing material isn’t biodegradable, remember) or flooding global markets, creating havoc on poorer countries.

Start Investing in Better Quality

Fast fashion is inexpensive, easy to grab and certainly not made to last. I’m thinking of a $17 dress I thoughtlessly threw into my cart the other day at Target. Within two wearings, it’s pilled. Had I waited, saved up a little and invested in a well-made garment, I could have had something that would last for years. I’ve started checking out sites such as BuyMeOnce, which curates items from companies with lifetime guarantees. Or shop from more sustainable brands such as Study NY, Gordon and Loomstate, which feature business practices that focus on not wasting fabric scraps, producing fewer lines instead of churning out styles endlessly, and using more durable fabrics. Will you pay a bit more when you shop for higher quality? Initially, yes. Lifetime, no. Environmentally, totally saving.

Have a Swap  

If you have friends of similar size and taste, you have a clothing swap in the making. Real Simple recommends inviting three and no more than 20 attendees, serving snacks, and having a system, such as poker chips for every item brought, that can be cashed in to “shop” with. Be sure to be clear on expectation on what can be traded prior to the day of, and take turns picking, to keep the results pleasant. A full-length mirror, garment racks and an “accessories boutique” area can all add to the fun.

Three-Point Challenge:  

  1. Can you find what you need/want in a pre-owned way? See how long you can go with shopping only at consignment stores, charity resellers and thrift shops. A nice online version: ThredUp adds 15,000 new secondhand arrivals every day, boasts 90 percent off retail and sells women’s and children’s clothing, including maternity and plus sizes. I’m eyeing their “Goody Boxes.”    
  2. Can you store a box of clothing for six months and open it up and be redelighted by it? We often toss clothing out of boredom, not because it doesn’t actually work.
  3. Can you purchase clothing that is more timeless in style, knowing that the classic trench coat, striped boat-neck top and little black dress that worked so well in the 1960s still looks as fantastic today?

Let us know how it goes in the comments section below.


Kathryn Drury Wagner

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.  


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