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Fast fashion is the sartorial buzzword of the noughties. With Australian women under 30 buying an average of 112 items of clothing each per year, it seems we’re well and truly hooked on inexpensive, trend-driven clothing. But the apparent affordability of fast fashion is false economy. The initial outlay is small, but these low quality clothes have a short lifespan. Work out the cost per wear, and that $15 top may not be the bargain you took it for. Not to mention the environmental cost per wear. The production of new clothes uses a lot of resources and creates a lot of waste. It is estimated that 50 million kilograms of textile waste is collected each year, most of which goes to landfill.
A more sustainable solution is to buy clothes that are made to last. Get back to basics with ‘the’ fashion equation: invest in good-quality classic styles as your wardrobe staples and supplement with a few items each season as needed.
“If you want a piece to last, make sure you love it and that it is suitable for your lifestyle,” advises Annalisa Armitage, a personal stylist and past president of the Association of Image Consultants International. Choose colours and styles that work for you, look for durability in fabrics and design and ensure the garment is a good fit.
Reinventing existing pieces in your wardrobe, by altering to fit or to update the shape, is also a cost-effective way to increase a garment’s mileage. A little TLC in how you store and wash clothes goes a long way to keeping your favourite pieces in good nick.
It’s probably no surprise to learn that when it comes to clothes that will stand the test of time, Mother Nature does it best. “Always choose natural fibres, such as cotton, wool, linen, silk and bamboo, rather than man-made fibres,” says Armitage. Natural fibres have better breathability, durability and capacity to absorb moisture. They’re also more effective at helping to regulate our body temperature.
Your fabric hit list
Australian regulations require clothing manufacturers to label garments with the content, care instructions and country of origin. A quick check of the label will reveal what a potential purchase is made of so keep an eye out for these fibres:
Cotton: The best-quality infant onesies and men’s business shirts are made from 100 per cent cotton for a reason: this fabric has outstanding wash-and-wear abilities. It’s also amazing breathable and supremely comfortable. Conventional cotton however, is not only one of the world’s most water-intensive crops, but despite only occupying 2.5 per cent of the world’s farmland, it uses up to 10 per cent of all chemical pesticides and 22 per cent of insecticides. Choose a cotton that is healthy for both yourself and the environment by always buying organic.
Linen: It’s a testament to the strength of this material that the 3,000-year-old fabric that wrapped the Pharaoh mummies from ancient Egypt survived intact. Made of fibres from the flax plant, linen has outstanding resilience – it’s the strongest of the plant-based fibres and doesn’t pill either. Though sprayed less heavily than cotton, conventional linen is still subject to plenty of pesticides, so opt for organic.
Silk: Good-quality silk is robust and strong. Made from the protein fibres of silkworm larvae, a silk garment will always look beautiful and last for years with proper care. Silk takes colour well, too,
so a simple camisole could be easily updated and refreshed for further wear by changing its colour. Conventional silk processing kills the silkworms who make the fabric. Wild silk (also known as peace silk or cruelty-free silk) allows the silkworms to survive. The scale of production is smaller so it costs more.
Bamboo: It’s the fabric du jour, celebrated for its eco-credentials and versatility. Bamboo is described as having the feel and drape of silk without the high pricetag. It’s easy to care for and has good wrinkle resistance, all of which add to its durability. The fast-growing nature of bamboo means it’s a sustainable resource, though the manufacturing process is not necessarily as eco-friendly as it could be.
Merino wool: The fibres of merino fleeces have a protective layer that prevents stains and odours from being absorbed. They are also static-resistant and therefore pick up less airborne dust and lint. These properties mean garments made from merino wool require laundering less often. In addition, merino wool is colourfast and has a natural elasticity that allows woollen garments to mould to the wearer’s body yet keep their shape.
As G has highlighted before (see our recent story on wool here) conventional wool production has a number of ethical and environmental issues to consider, including mulesing (chopping off the rear ends of sheep to prevent fly strike), and chemical dipping and drenching. Search for wool manufacturers that are both organic and non-mulesing, and buy reused wool or second-hand and vintage wool.