Ethical Fashion

Learn to be a Conscious Consumer: The 7 R’s to Reducing Your Fashion Footprint

Learn to be a Conscious Consumer- The 7 R’s to Reducing Your Fashion Footprint
Cassandra Ciarallo

Feeling a profound connection to the things we buy is meaningful. However, we often consume things without taking a moment to reflect to the story behind the item, forgetting to ask important questions like “Who made this? Where does it come from? Who was affected? What impact does this have on our planet? How does this impact my life and the lives around me?”

By broadening our perspective, we connect to the bigger picture. And although it can be oftentimes overwhelming since there are many problems associated to the big issues, it helps us make better decisions that leave us feeling good. The small decisions in our day-to-day life really do affect the bigger picture. At least, for me that’s what I’ve learnt on my sustainable fashion journey.

Over the past two and a half years, I have been pursuing what aligns with my purpose. I launched an eco-fashion accessory brand, Chic Made Consciously, after connecting with beautiful artisans in Bali, Indonesia. I met them in 2014 and after being incredibly inspired by their handmade and upcycled accessories from tire tubes, I starting distributing them in North America. Previous to this experience, I never really connected to the story behind what I bought. Meeting such authentically creative souls inspired me to start changing my shopping behavior and I started to consider the people behind the products.

Though it hasn’t all been easy, each day I learn so much about how we can be better consumers. I made it my personal mission to educate others and myself on how to be more eco-conscious. I began volunteering with Fashion Takes Action (FTA), Canada’s leading non-profit dedicated to sustainable fashion. Founded by Kelly Drennan, I was inspired by her drive and passion to positively transform the fashion industry.

Still to this day, the facts I’ve learned about the fashion industry continue to startle me. Such as how it takes 2,700 liters of fresh water on average to make just one cotton t-shirt – the same amount we would drink over three years! Even the fact that the average Bangladesh worker makes only $68 in an entire month is nauseating.

Globally, consumers are buying, hoarding (and most likely discarding) roughly 80 billion garments per year – outrageous when you consider that most clothes created are discarded quickly with no thought of the non-renewable resources consumed in the manufacturing process. It’s crazy!

I started to sit back and ask: Do we really need all this stuff? I mean, I do love fashion, but can’t it be done in a more sustainable way that helps rather than hurts so much of what is precious to us?

Learn to be a Conscious Consumer- The 7 R’s to Reducing Your Fashion Footprint

In 2015, a year after I met the beautiful Balinese artisans, I began teaching kids grades 4-12 through Fashion Takes Action’s educational youth program called My Clothes, My World. This full / half-day workshop inspired not just the children I taught, but me also. I began feeling hopeful for our future and thankful for the next generation of change-makers.

At the end of each workshop, we briefly review the problems discussed, but most importantly, leave students with solutions and action steps. This is my favourite part of the workshop because taking action is key to creating a more sustainable future.

Knowledge without action is futile.

So let’s talk solutions and action items.

Here are the 7 R’s to being a Fashion Crusader: (I’m sure most of you know the first 3…)

1. Reduce

Reduce the amount of clothing you purchase. In her book Overdressed, author Elizabeth Cline states that on average we buy 64 items of clothing per year; that’s a little more than one piece of clothing per week! The next time you are going to buy something ask yourself “Do I really need this new thing?” Buy less, buy quality and choose your needs over your wants. This is a huge step towards reducing wasteful consumption.

Learn to be a Conscious Consumer- The 7 R’s to Reducing Your Fashion Footprint

2. Reuse

Have you tried shopping second hand? Had a clothing swap with your friends? These are great ways to obtain new wardrobe items AND ensure that clothes don’t end up in landfill. Plus, some of my favourite pieces in my closet have been hand me downs from my mom and sister.

3. Recycle

In Canada, we have new laws about recycling textilesyay! We are encouraged to place everything into the donation bins, yes even the holey-toed socks and stained underwear – because right now there is a small market to recycle them with new technology. The more we as consumers act on this, the more we will push government to create more and more technology to recycle.

4. Repurpose

Repurpose or “upcycle” is a way of using up textiles by transforming an original item into something different. I love this “R” because of how creative you can be. Not sure what to do with that old t-shirt? Turn it into a bag or better yet a scarf – without sewing!

Here are some great DIY upcycle no-sew videos to help you get started and have some fun!

5. Rent

I had no idea renting was even a thing before teaching the Fashion Takes Action workshop. Nowadays, you can keep your clothes and accessories in this closed loop/sharing economy by lending, sharing and swapping with others. Instead of keeping that fancy dress you only wore once in your closet for the rest of it’s life, why not rent it out? I think it’s such an ideal way to reduce your fashion footprint and encourage this sharing economy to grow. Some cool ideas for renting in Canada can be found at Rent Frock Repeat and Boro.

6. Repair

Fast fashion has created a huge “throw away” culture. Why would anyone repair anything if they only paid $10 for it and can get another one for only $10!? That’s what fast fashion has done to society – cheapened fashion to the point that buying is cheaper than fixing. Ridiculous!

If we purchased less fast fashion and bought more quality garments that mean more to us, perhaps will make more effort to care for our possessions and help extend the life of our favourite pieces. So the next time there’s a hole in your t-shirt, try stitching it, mending it or finding a tailor to do the job for you – instead of throwing it out!

Learn to be a Conscious Consumer: The 7 R’s to Reducing Your Fashion Footprint

7. Research

My ultimate favourite “R”. I believe that as conscious consumers it’s truly up to us to make a difference and therefore we need to stay educated. Especially with the things we’re buying. Instead of just impulsively consuming, next time you want to buy something, put some thought into it beforehand and do some research to see how the company is operating. Use Google and search: “brand name + sustainability or responsibility” and once you’ve done your research you can feel good supporting the company as it aligns with your values!

Conclusion

As I started to use these 7 R’s and make better decisions surrounding what I bought and wore, everything began to shift in a positive way. It might seem difficult in the beginning, but once you start to apply these “Rs” you’ll start to see the positive impact of your choices and it’s connection to the bigger picture. It’s such a beautiful thing to know that each decision can make a difference, no matter how small.

Challenge yourself to try implementing ONE new R next week and see how you feel.

Sources

Alternatives Journal, Kelly Drennan: http://www.alternativesjournal.ca/policy-and-politics/how-fashion-industry-picking-threads-after-rana-plaza

Overdressed, Elizabeth Cline: http://overdressedthebook.com/

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About the author

Cassandra Ciarallo

Cassandra Ciarallo

With a business degree and love for fashion, Cassandra Ciarallo partnered up with artisans in Bali and launched Chic Made Consciously: a company offering fair-trade & eco-accessories from repurposed tire tubes. Her latest project, Wear The Change Movement, was created to bring awareness to how we consume and shift behaviour!

10 Comments

  • I do number 6 for sure. Sewing is actually fun once you learn how to do it! I can’t fathom buying 64 items of clothing per year. That’s downright ridiculous. Thank you for this post and keeping us informed.

    • That’s so great that you like to sew, what a fun way to reduce your footprint 🙂 I would love to do it more often myself. 64 items is pretty ridiculous! Imagine what the world would be like if we all REDUCED?! Haha, let’s hope we can change those statistics:) It is my pleasure to share this information and thank you for reading Priscilla!

  • Sadly, it’s also about the quality of the clothing. Most fast-fashion stuff is so pathetically made it isn’t even really able to be mended properly. 🙁

    So, under #7, research, I also suggest researching the clothing brand itself — find out how well it wears! Something that lasts for 10, 15+ years (and there are clothing brands out there that do), means that while you spend more money at the outset, you save money by not having to replace it every 6 months! And, it also means means less production, and less to landfill.

    • Yes!! Amazing point Sarah! It really is about buying LESS in general, but definitely of fast-fashion. Choose alternatives that are made to last and definitely doing research is important in this area:) Thanks for bringing that up!

  • Important article and I feel as a Product designer 3 R’s can be added -) 1) Reinforcement – garments for e.g double layer knee patch for kids and consider 2) Restructuring – making extendable necklines or waistbands can help discarding of clothes and use them more or changeable linings, collars etc…3) Reversible constructions – Why not have clothes that could be used 2 ways

    • Absolutely yes to your comment!

      Reinforcing helps -so- much when it comes to the life of your garments. I design all my socks with a reinforced heel for exactly this reason! And on my own sweaters, I’ve often reinforced elbows by duplicate stitching. Saves so much time. I haven’t yet figured out how to reinforce the thumbs of mittens, which always seem to wear out for me, but it’s on my list!

      Reversible clothing is a bit trickier, since it has to look good both ways — but it can be done, I’ve got a hat design in progress where the hat can be flipped inside out and worn, there really isn’t an inside-out! I’ve also seen lots patterns for shirts that can be worn both ways. So it can be done, with a bit of design forethought. Admittedly, it’s harder for woman’s clothing (because of the bust line), and also depends on the style of the garment. But yes, absolutely, it’s quite possible!

      I’d say that restructuring is probably the hardest thing to do while still keeping a good fit to the clothing. It’s easy to add elastic to something casual and extend the range of sizes that way — but, then it will look different on different sized people (It’s a common problem in one-size-fits-all clothing), which can cause some problems. But, for something fitted, it’s a lot more challenging.

      That said, there still are a few ways. Corset-style ties are one way, depending on the style of the garment, and elastic in a hat band or wrist-band will be almost invisible, since there’s less variance in size in adult human heads and wrists.

      Another option is allowing for easy modification: creating hems that are easy to let out for more length, or pants that can be shortened with buttons or snaps. And restyle-able linings, collars, and hoods are much less trouble, just simply have them button or snap into place!

      • Awesome Ruchi! These are some really creative R’s and bring perspective on designing garments. Great things to be mindful of as a designer to extend the life of clothing made!

        Sarah Dawn, thanks for shedding your light on these 3 additional R’s and bringing your own experience to the table!

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