Does this sound familiar to you:
“Oh, it was only a €10 t-shirt, if I wear it twice, it will already pay off!”
“This dress will probably lose shape and colour after a few washes anyway. It’s cheaper and easier to just buy a new one”?
If you ever thought this way about a piece of garment, you’re not the only one. Most of us do. Nowadays, clothes are so cheap and affordable, that caring for them isn’t something we think about much. After all, we can always just buy a new thing, right?
Clothes became almost disposable to us.
And while by no means we intend to shame or impose our vision, this isn’t how we always thought of fashion . Having clothes easily and cheaply available to us is pretty new in our history. Since the sustainable movement is growing in recent years, we are slowly starting to turn our attention to this too: how and why should we care for our clothes?
For us, this question goes beyond environmental concern. It has to do with a cultural shift and change. Today, we want to explore that.
First, let us give you some context.
Fashion and speed: a very short history
We, humans, love clothes. We love clothes so much that we have been making and wearing them for functional, decorative, and symbolic purposes for hundreds of thousands of years. We have developed different tools, techniques, narratives, rules, trades, styles, and so on, around fabrics and textiles. Or, that's what we call fashion nowadays.
It’s, of course, impossible to fit in a simple overview of the whole history of fashion in a single article but throughout a large part of our clothes-wearing history, we were making clothes locally, slowly, and in small quantities. The fabrics were intense to make and thus expensive for most people. Those who could afford this would usually have the clothes tailored to them specifically and they would wear them often. Clothes were also passed on within families, often altered to fit the wearer. Most people had pretty small wardrobes and clothes were meant to last.
Historically speaking, it really wasn’t that long ago, that the industry started producing massively and fast, in factories. It was with the arrival of the sewing machine in the 19th century when the modern fashion industry was born. This young industry married well with the early capitalism philosophy of profit gain, which became more and more dominant with time. Through the 20th century, with the constant improvement of sewing technology and the invention of cheap materials (like polyester), the industry was speeding up.
In the second half of the 20th century, we are seeing the arrival of trends: fast-changing styles, championed by the youth of the West. The fashion industry embraced this fully, starting to find a way to speed things up even more. Soon, European and American businesses started to outsource their clothing production. It’s in this context where the fast fashion business model was born. The term first appeared in the 1970s, to refer to trendy, inexpensive clothes. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, fast fashion became the dominant production and marketing model where clothes are made fast and with minimum (financial) costs.
Fighting against the disposable culture
Fast fashion also changed the way we think and consume clothes. About a century ago, the average cost of clothes was much higher than the average cost today. This doesn’t match up with the costs of other daily items (like food and housing) that went up throughout the years. Keep in mind that we’re talking here about the average clothes, not the luxury sector. However, the way we manufacture clothes hasn’t changed significantly during that period. What changed is the business, which now relies on long supply chains, cheap materials and underpaying the labour.
The main point here is that today, we have more clothes than ever (our annual production has doubled in the past 20 years alone) and we can buy them cheaper than ever. We have easily available clothes and the industry is encouraging that. Thus the new trends and collections all the time. Fast fashion created and is perpetuating a culture where we no longer think of clothes as an investment but as a quick thrill. Because the price tag of the clothes is so cheap, they come in and go out of our lives quickly. And they lose their economic value as soon as they’re bought. It’s a culture of disposable clothes.
However, even those cheap clothes required heavy labour and resources. The clothes maybe didn't cost much but they still deserve respect and care because of that. Today, sustainability is more important than ever and, as we wrote before, businesses and the industry will need to figure out their way to produce and sell more sustainably. Yet, even more than being a necessary business change, sustainability is a cultural and social change. This is where our attitudes towards clothes come into the game.
Choosing to love the clothes we already have and take good care of them is crucial. Regardless of the quality or the origin of our garments, when we choose to repair, mend, and care for them properly, we are creating new habits and attitudes. And it’s in those tiny, daily choices and actions where we can create and recreate ways, cultures and systems.
We do believe that all clothes should be made ethically, sustainably and with the highest quality in mind. After all, that’s what Les Izmoor is all about. Yet, that’s just one piece needed for the fashion industry to change. What we do with our clothes is another, perhaps even more important piece, in which we can fight against the ideas of speed and profit of the industry, the system that has proven to be socially and environmentally too expensive for us. Again, we have been making and consuming our clothes in a slow manner most of our history and we can do it again.
The best part?
Everyone can do it.
Finally, here are some of our best clothes caring tips, all of which will help the clothes last longer. As a bonus, some can cut down your eco-footprint as well as your energy bills!
How to take care of your clothes
Unless they’re really dirty, there’s no need to wash clothes that frequently. With the exception of underwear and socks, we can wear most of our clothes 5 or more times before washing. If you’d like to freshen up the clothes between the washes, try airing them out for a few hours or overnight!
Wash on low temperatures
In most cases, washing clothes at 30°C (or cold wash, depending on your washing machine settings) is enough. This is one of the easiest and most important things you can do to save energy, reduce the amount of microfibers released during the washing cycle, as well as preserve the shape and colour of your clothes.
Dryers can shrink and fade clothes, as well as increase microfiber shedding. Plus, they only add to your footprint and bills.
In case you have a drying machine at home and cannot always avoid it, try reducing how much you use it. And don’t forget that some clothes, like delicates and activewear, should never go into the dryer!
Perhaps our favourite tip of all!
Instead, hang garments immediately after washing to air dry and you’ll see that most of them don’t really need ironing.
Store your clothes properly
Things like shirts should go on a hanger to keep their shape. Yet, the opposite goes for heavier items, like sweaters and knitwear. Those can stretch and lose their shape if hanging for too long, so fold them on shelves.
Also, try storing your clothes with some dry lavender to keep your clothes fresh and chase way moths.
Though they smell nice, clothing or fabric softeners don’t actually help with bad odours. Plus, most commercial ones contain toxic and petroleum-based ingredients. They are pretty much a waste of money and are bad news for the environment.
Instead, you can add a mixture of part water and part white vinegar to soften the fabrics.
Change your detergent
If you can, go for gentle and natural detergents. In case you have a bulk shop near you, check out if they have some there! Oh, and avoid dry cleaning in general, it’s usually bad for the environment and your health.
Mend & repair
Always try repairing your clothes when the damage is new and small. It’s easier to fix a small hole or a loose button than the whole garment! Learn some basic mending skills, which will come in handy and will save you some money. And if you need some bigger repairs or alteration, look for a nearby tailor.
These will always pay off in the long run!
Do you have any other tips? Share them with us!