If you care about the planet, you need to learn – and follow – the 7Rs of sustainable fashion
By Roberta Fabbrocino
Most of us have been taught the 3Rs of the environment: reduce, reuse, recycle. But what about the 7Rs of sustainable fashion?
I’d guess that most of us apply those 3Rs to stuff in our kitchen – am I right? For example, we aim to reduce plastics by purchasing loose fruits and veggies. We aim to reuse things like tinfoil and and to recycle bottles, paper and plastic. But what about all the stuff in our closets?
There’s plenty of evidence that more of us want to consume clothing more sustainably. According to Lyst’s 2020 Conscious Fashion Report, the term “slow fashion” has generated over 90 million social impressions in 12 months, and the average monthly searches for sustainability-related keywords in fashion went from 27,000 in 2019 to over 32,000 in 2020. But not everyone knows how to be a more sustainable consumer.
Luckily, it’s easier than ever to be an eco-fashionista: all you need to do is follow the 7Rs of sustainable fashion! They’re simple, and rather interconnected. Not sure that that entails? It’s all spelled out below.
The 7Rs Of Sustainable Fashion
If you’re reading this online, it probably means you were brought up in a consumer society, unconsciously soaking up messages to buy, buy, buy. So no wonder it can be quite difficult for many of us to give up on impulse purchases and retail therapy. But the more we buy, the more likely it is that we end up with a closet filled with clothes we hardly ever wear. So much so, in fact, that according to Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner, the majority of people wear only 20% of their wardrobe 80% of the time.
Going the other route and choosing to reduce what we buy – only making purchases when truly necessary – is much, much easier on our planet. In fact, I would say REDUCE is the most important of all the 7Rs of sustainable fashion!
So, next time you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through your favourite brand’s website, ask yourself if you really need that new skirt, or if it will just end up being worn a few times before it joins the other 80% of your clothes at the back of you closet. If the answer is the latter, then don’t buy it. The Earth – and your bank account – will thank you!
As I mentioned above, too often, we purchase clothing on a whim, to then hardly ever wear it. One study shows that 25% of people would be embarrassed to wear an outfit to a special occasion more than once. What that means is that some outfits are never reused, ever!
Wearing our clothing as often as possible is not only much more sustainable, but it’s obviously also cheaper. And to be honest, if you’re creative with your styling, you can wear the same white tee for a whole week and no one would ever notice it was the same garment!
With this one of the 7Rs of sustainable fashion, quality counts. It’s hard to reuse something again and again was hastily put together from crappy materials – in other words, fast fashion. As the saying goes, ‘Buy less, buy better.’ Ensure you purchase quality clothing and accessories that will last season after season. It’s a great investment!
‘Reuse’ isn’t limited to rewearing clothing. It could also be related to repurposing clothing. This is a fun way of giving a new life to old items. For example? You can transform jeans into miniskirts and skirts into dresses if you know how to sew. Got zero talent with the needle and thread? You could simply use old socks and underwear as rags, or even send them away to be used by companies as insulation.
Companies are also realising the value of repurposing old items into new ones. Take the Kent-based brand Elvis & Kresse, for example. The brand makes luxury accessories and rugs from seemly impossible-to-repurpose materials like decommissioned fire-hoses and reclaimed leather scraps. Paguro Upcycle repurposes old tyres in to bags and accessories. Rockit vintage clothing transforms old leather car seats and seatbelts into cool tote bags. And so on….
Image below: Elvis & Kresse
In a circular economy, recycling is essential – and that’s true even for the nastiest, most synthetic of materials. According to TextileExchange, every 10,000 metres of recycled polyamide used in place of virgin fibre saves a whopping 70,000 barrels of oil. Amazing, right?
There are many ways to recycle your clothing. You can:
- donate it to your local charity shop
- give items away to friends who want them
- sell designer goods you no longer want at a consignment shop
- drop them off at designated recycling programs, like H&M’s Loop or Knickey underwear’s “Recycle Your Rejects”.
Easy, right? But sadly, according to the EPA, only 14.7% of all textiles were recycled in 2018. Let’s try to change that!
Back in the day, decent sewing skills were common. People would often not only make their own clothes, but also mend and repair them whenever needed. That’s because we used to consider garments as investments, so thought, time and care were put into their maintenance.
This is an approach we should try to adopt ourselves today, as lengthening a garment’s life lowers its long-term environmental footprint and keeps us from needing to purchase anything new. See what I mean when the 7Rs of sustainable fashion are all interconnected?
Repairing is also a great way of cherishing investment pieces and family heirlooms, like designer bags and jewellery. If you’re not so handy with a needle and thread, don’t worry – you can still save your clothes from ruin by taking them to a local tailor, or checking YouTube videos to see how to mend whatever problem you have.
For accessories, take your shoes to your local shoe repair if your heel is loose or getting worn down. For bags, you could also try the shoe repair (they have the machinery necessary to sew thicker materials like leather.) Alternatively, try a specialised repair shop like the Handbag Clinic in the UK (pictured below).
This one is kind of related to ‘reduce’ – but it’s more about creating new attitudes about our consumer society.
It’s really tempting to acquire more than we need, and companies sure do know how to appeal to our greedy side. For example, lingerie companies offer buy-3-get-1-free deals. If you work in fashion or go to a lot of gala events, you’ll be given freebies or goody bags. And let’s not forget the holidays and birthdays, when people tend to give – with the best of intentions – loads of presents that often end up unused, unwanted, and binned.
- Say NO to ‘special offers’ or bundled clothing. If you need a pair of socks, buy one – not five, just because it’s a ‘better bargain.’
- Instead of giving (or receiving) things as gifts, give (or ask for) experiences, like spa treatments, classes or streaming subscriptions.
- Say NO to freebies you don’t need, and if you’re motivated, tell the organisers of events that they’d be better off offering services at the event, such as Tarot readings, massages, or beauty consultations instead of hard goods.
This is one of the fastest growing of the 7Rs of sustainable fashion! Certain events, like weddings and galas, require rather fancy attire, and most of us are tempted to buy a new dress for the occasion. But sadly, these show-stopping pieces are often worn just once.
A survey conducted on behalf of children’s charity Barnardo’s in 2019, revealed that Britons were expected to spend more than £2.7bn during that summer on outfits they would have worn just once, at summer events such as weddings, barbecues, and festivals. That’s crazy!
Instead, to save money and resources, why not rent an outfit instead? Companies like Rent The Runway, Gwynnie Bee and HURR Collective allow you to rent clothes for every occasion, helping you fitting into the dress code and experiment more freely with your style – without creating waste!
Image below: HURR Collective
Do you follow the 7Rs of sustainable fashion? Do you have an ‘R’ you would add? Let us know in the comments section below!
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