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Sunday, 31 January 2016

A sustainable wardrobe – Part 4, Opting out for a while

This past month has seen me return to work, albeit in a part-time contract capacity. Boy, was it a shock to the system in my first week. My shoulders hurt from sitting at a computer all day, my feet hurt from wearing grown-up shoes and I was exhausted by Friday afternoon after a week of early (relatively-speaking) mornings.

There have been lots of clothes in my wardrobe that haven't seen the light of day since I stopped work, so it's been interesting to get them out again and to notice the difference in wear between these and the clothes I've had on every day. This month has seen the end of a full year without purchasing clothes for myself. I don't want to say that I'm proud, because, in truth, it's been fairly easy. I had a pretty large base to start. And in the interests of full disclosure, I haven't stopped buying fabric or yarn, although I'm buying a lot more consciously when I do.
Originally this post was going to be about the sustainability issues in turning fibre into fabric, followed by a post on the social sustainability of the fashion industry – that is, the working conditions under which our clothes are produced – but right now, I feel the need to opt out of the system altogether for a while.

For starters, the industry is still very opaque and it's almost impossible to follow the supply chain. Often a company's head office has no idea where their fibres come from, so there's no way the customer can find out. And don't think high-end brand names are immune. Just because an item of clothing is expensive, doesn't mean it's ethically made. I'll still be active in contacting my once-favourite brands to see if they're making progress, but I'm not holding my breath.

Second, as a rich (again, relatively-speaking), white woman, there's not a lot I can add to the horror-story that is the conditions under which our clothing is made – beyond urging you to look into it, be aware, and make some changes in your own wardrobe.

Anyway, my current situation... Now that I'm into my second year without clothing purchases, I've noticed that some items are starting to become a little worn. I probably haven't let that happen much over the past ten years, as corporate jobs come with certain expectations about acceptable dress. What's particularly frustrating are the items containing elastane – and that's quite a few these days. I've got a fitted, black, knit top, that's in perfect condition everywhere except the neckline. The elasticity is completely gone and, because it's part of the fibre make-up, I can't see any way to restore it. Another thing to add to the list of no-no's when I do need wardrobe replacements.

Right now though, I'm still aiming to decrease my wardrobe to the point of not having to move a season's-worth of clothes out to fit the alternative season in. It'll still be some time before that happens, as I'm not one for purging perfectly good clothes just to go all minimalist. If you remember back to Part 1, I did a wardrobe audit, and there were 167 items were on my clothing list. I've decided I want to get that down to below 100 and then re-assess. I know there are some items that will need replacing as soon as they go – my gym pants for example – but there'll then be a long list of items that don't need replacing at all.

So, that's where I'm up to. Below, I've listed some links about the subjects I was originally going to write about so you can still look into them if you like. I have to warn you it makes pretty depressing reading and watching.

Turning fibre into fabric

  • Greenpeace's 'Detox my Fashion' campaign
  • Newsweek article on the shocking consequences of toxic chemicals used in the fashion industry and the conditions people using them work under.
  • The downside of waterproofing outdoor clothing.

Fashion factory working conditions 

  • China Blue – the story of jean manufacturing in China.
  • Sweatshop – Deadly Fashion – the story of three Norwegian fashion bloggers sent to work in Cambodian sweatshops. Five, ten minute episodes.


  1. Very interesting subject, one i am researching for myself right now! I am eager to find your posts 1 to 3. I just finished "Where am I wearing" audiobook, in which the author traveled the world to seek out the factories where his casual outfit was made. It was surprising, not only bringing bad conditions to light, but slso gives s glimpse of what has helped and ehat has hurt in the way of perple in the US trying to affect change.

    It is so complex. I understand opting out as a "first fo no harm" decision. I am on a fabric fast for 2016, as in mot purchasing any more quilting fabric. I am still buying a few items of required attire for working public events, and buying used when possible. But I am also looking into upcycling and lagenlook for reusing tired wardrobe fabric for new clothes as well as for quilts.

    1. Yes, I have to say I have still been buying textiles for my craft and textile practice... But even there I'm moving more towards secondhand. It really does require a large change in the way we consume doesn't it?