Monday, March 10, 2014

Riding The Clothing Cycle - a #CTWW Challenge

This week's Change The World Wednesday Challenge would not necessarily work for me, because every day I get dirty in the garden. However, it got me thinking about the cycle of clothing: from manufacture to use (by me) to ultimate disposition.
First, the challenge:
This week, choose two outfits and wear them exclusively for the week. This does not include undergarments. To make this challenge work, do not wash clothes more often than usual. If you feel that your clothing needs freshening up, try hanging it in the bathroom while you shower ... or hang it outside for "airing". The idea is to see if we can live with less while maintaining water conservation and good environmental practices.
There are alternative challenges for those of us who can't really execute the main challenge, and the post is well worth reading. Go ahead, read it - I'll wait until you're done.
You're back? Ok. Now let's think a little about the mindful use of clothing throughout the clothing cycle.
Most of us first encounter an item of clothing in the store where we buy it (...less often, when someone gifts it to us). When I was a child, my mother actually sewed much of our clothing: pj's and button-front shirts, mostly; pants and undies still came from the store. I assume that at the time fabric was cheap, finished clothes expensive, and the time of stay-at-home mothers available, so this made sense.
Now there are few "non-working" parents - that is, most people have to go out into the marketplace to extract money which they trade for clothes - and whether that's a good thing is a whole 'nother subject. For better or worse, it just is.
The American clothing industry has been pretty much wiped out. With a few exceptions, the good union jobs were moved to nonunion states so that factory owners could make more money, and then they noticed that they could just get people who had lost their farms in less-developed countries to do the labor, so the "right to work" states lost those jobs too. Every day huge containers come into port full of clothes and go back carrying not much, except scrap and jobs. But that's a whole 'nother subject too.
The environmental cost of this is high, since sweatshops outside the USA have notoriously lax environmental standards (and this is overlooking the human costs as well.) Those container ships burn fuel so dirty that even with our weak environmental standards they aren't allowed to burn it near our shores; the sulphur is burned offshore where magically is disappears or something - it's not like the wind blows that stuff around or anything.
Fortunately, in the realm of clothes, environmental responsibility coincides with a consumer's financial interests. There is a HUGE secondary market, a.k.a. thrift stores, where you can buy used clothing in excellent condition. The environmental cost of these has already been paid by the first purchaser, so buy with a clear conscience!
Secondhand clothing used to sound tacky but in my experience, if you shop wisely you can get almost anything, and no-one can tell you didn't pay full price at a regular store. I have nice suits, dress shirts and slacks, and top-of-the-line shoes, all from thrifts. The one thing I have not found ... and don't really look for ... is underwear. I always buy that new, and they are rarely at thrifts anyway.
That covers the first part of the clothing cycle. What next?
Wearing clothing mindfully is sort of the topic of this week's CTWW. I'll experiment with hanging out my gardening clothes so that I wear the gardening outfit more than a day. It may be that I've been overwashing them; after all, when I garden, who cares if there's yesterday's soil on them? It's a worthy experiment - I just need to dedicate a part of the mud room for my working jeans and shirt.
The final part of the clothing cycle is disposing of the unwearables. Everything wears out eventually. Clothing may not be a major part of the landfill, but every little bit helps.
Back when mom used to sew clothes, an important part of retiring clothes was cutting off the buttons and putting them into the button jar. Maybe that's a habit I should take up - I wouldn't reused the buttons but someone would. If I put a button jar in my workroom, I might fill it up over the course of a year and then see who wants them.
A traditional use of old clothing is as rags. There's plenty of cleanup to do around the house, and never enough rags. Natural fabrics work best; rags that repel water are fodder for comedy! They last a long time, too, and can be laundered just as they could back when they were clothes, or just hang out on the line to let the rain do the work.
Some fabrics, such as jeans, don't work well as rags. I used jean legs as a fabric barrier to suppress the grown of grass under a little step-up I built (see "Shedding Your Pants In The Garden") . So far, it's worked just as well as the fabric barrier that I could have bought at a store.
I have used fabric as filler in the bottom of flowerpots. Most of my pots are deeper than they need to be, and old fabric seems to work just fine to take up the bottom couple of inches. It seems to me that it'd retain moisture well, and if it's a natural fabric, the worms would gradually break it down. I'm a little concerned about dyes, because I don't know whether they are toxic, but since the fabrics at the bottom of the pot I don't it'd get into what I'm growing (and I'm hoping transport by worm would be minimal.) If anyone has information on this I'd appreciate it.
I understand that there are facilities that take old clothing and reuse the fiber. I don't know much about this and would like to learn more. But even without access to such a facility, I don't see the point of putting old clothes into the garbage if you have a house; there are just so many uses for cloth scraps that reuse, rather than trash, should be the standard end of the clothing cycle.


Anonymous said...

Remember all the white shirts we had to have for school?

I can remember cutting the sleeves on long sleeved shirts above the worn-out elbows and turning them into short sleeved shirts. Mom and I would also turn the collars. Pick out the stitches that held the collar on, mend the worn area and put it back on "upside down" so that the unworn side was up and the mended area hidden.

Clare (@EcoExpert1) said...

I really like the idea of using old clothing as a weed / grass barrier - I'll start doing that, thanks!