This week I sewed up a shirt out of a fabric I am absolutely in love with. It, of course, has a chicken on it. It is going to be my favourite shirt until wears threadbare and even then it will probably be upcycled into something new. I used a high-quality cotton/Lycra blend, and the artwork was designed by a Canadian artist which was then printed onto fabric and sold by a very small Canadian company. This little process has got me thinking about the bigger sustainability picture this week, as it has also got me looking at my closet.
I own a lot of clothes. I wager I actually own less than the average Canuck since I’ve been actively cleaning out and holding back from purchasing in the last few months, but by what any one person needs to wear I own a lot. Most of them are cheap. Like many people who are also not made of money, I occasionally fall into the trap of trendy, low-quality, low-cost fashion. It’s so cheap! You can go to almost any mall, walk into an extremely low-cost shop and buy a ready-to-wear shirt for $8-$10. At this price, you can buy five of them and just toss them out when they get holes! What most of us conveniently forget about, though, is what goes on behind our closet.
Most of those clothes are made out of polyester (a synthetic fiber which breaks down like plastic – slowly!), and they come from faraway countries where they are mass-produced in factories which have questionable labour policies and working conditions, packaged in plastic and shipped overseas in large, stinky vehicles, where they eventually make their way to us – the consumer who is happy to block all of this out because we are getting a trendy shirt for $10. We want cheap clothes, so we overlook the fact that our money is going straight into another economy, never to be seen again.
The shirt I sewed is cotton-Lycra. I admit it isn’t perfect, because the Lycra is a synthetic product that won’t break down quickly. However, it’s only 5% of the shirt. Because of this ingredient, my shirt is very durable and will last me a long time. Because I sewed it myself, I was able to make sure the stitching is sound. I ordered the fabric from a Canadian company who worked with a Canadian designer. A significant portion of the money generated from this entire process will stay in the Canadian economy, which supports Canadian jobs. The materials for this project cost me approximately $32.
Now, I understand that for the significant majority of people, sewing one’s own clothes simply isn’t a realistic goal. People are busy, they work long hours, they want to spend time with their children, or even more simply, they just don’t want to sew. All of these reasons are fair. I just hope that I can encourage anyone reading this to think about their clothing choices from a new perspective. Given my history of wear and tear on my clothing, my shirt made from high-quality materials will probably last me two to four years of regular use, if not longer. To buy such a garment ready to wear would run approximately $100-$150. A $10 shirt from a trendy shop often wears raggy after just a few washes. It’s the type of garment that is often ready to be replaced after about a season or so of wear, or it lasts long because it is worn sparingly to preserve it which requires a full closet to stay clothed during the week. If that $10 shirt is replaced at the end of the season it was purchased for, an individual is looking at spending up to $40 a year just for one part of their wardrobe. Over 2-4 years, that can add up to $80-$160 for eight to sixteen shirts that are worn briefly and often discarded. That’s a heck of a lot of waste potentially ending up in our landfills and ecosystems when we consider the number of consumers out there in the world!
You don’t have to throw out your whole wardrobe tomorrow to have an impact. If affordability is an issue because it’s easier to shell out the $10 now instead of $100, that’s ok. Changes aren’t always made overnight. But maybe I can get you thinking about your clothing choices down the road! I would love to see people choosing clothing they love that will last them a long time, and that makes them feel good instead of repeatedly dishing out their hard-earned cash for cheap fashion statements designed to last for a hot minute. I would love to see local artists and businesses supported by wages reflective of the love and care put into their products by the people in their communities and strong local economies! Imagine the reduction in wasteful packaging and fuel costs to clothe us! I’m willing to sound perfectly cliche; be the change you want to see in the world. For me, that means making thoughtful clothing choices and even creating my own clothing to reduce my impact in the massive world of fashion. What change do you want to be in your world?