Making Clothes Last Longer
Updated: Oct 11, 2019
As fast fashion accelerates the rate of buying clothes and their disposal, we should all be considering how to make our clothes last longer. It is estimated that the average life for an item of clothing bought in the UK is 2.2 years, and extending this period is good not just for individual finances but for the world, as more and more clothing ends up in UK landfill, and even second-hand UK clothing exports to developing countries increasingly threaten not only to diminish local textile employment but to increase disposal issues in those countries as well.
"Make do and mend" was the clarion call of wartime household economy, and in a world where resources are not scarce, it provides the cue for how to limit our consumption to benefit ourselves and the environment. "Make do" may be counterintuitive when the fashion industry is constantly assailing us with cheap new products to buy and throw away, but of course the best way to reduce consumption is simply to buy fewer clothes, and if necessary to mend the ones we have. Our older friends or relatives will often have the basic clothes repair skills that the younger generation lacks, from being able to sew a button on to putting on a patch. Patching items like knitwear and jeans can actually give a trendy, homely look. If repairs are beyond the home mender, it is usually cheaper, particularly with more expensive clothes, to have them professionally repaired by a tailor than to replace them. A tailor can also make adjustments should clothes need taking in or out.
Buying sturdier clothes to start with is essential to ensuring longevity. Clothes should be made of good-quality fabrics. Natural fibres such as wool, linen and cotton have the added benefit that washing does not cause plastic microfibres to be generated, though arguably synthetic fibres are more durable. Whatever clothes are made of, they should not be see-through when held up to the light, and the seams should be well sewn, with no obvious strands or shabbiness. Having sufficient seam allowance for a pair of trousers or skirt to be let out, or making sure that a shirt has a spare button sewn into it, are ways to futureproof clothes.
There are various techniques for clothes storage that will increase their life. There are some types of clothing that are designed not to be washed, such as wool suits. Some experts advocate alternatives to washing such as steaming clothes in the shower, rinsing them in a mixture of vodka and water, or simply hanging clothes to air in a breeze. Anything we can do to decrease the amount of washing will help the environment considerably, as the average washing machine uses 13,500 gallons of water a year.
Clothes moths are an increasing problem in the UK, and they can spell the end for woolen clothes unless measures are taken. There are natural moth deterrents such as cedarwood blocks or dried lavender, but sticky traps or putting affected clothes in a plastic bag in the freezer for several days are surer solutions.
When it comes to our shoes, careful treatment can extend their life. Brushing off dirt and treating leather shoes with a conditioning wax can work wonders in preventing shoe uppers from wearing out, while soles can be repaired or replaced for far less at the cobblers than it would cost to buy a new pair of shoes.