I love when celebrities use their voice to push messages of change. My favourite example is the #30wearscampaign, led by eco-fashion activist Livia Firth (married to actor Colin Firth). This campaign is an effort to reduce waste in the fashion industry by bringing more awareness to the perils of fast fashion. The idea is before you buy a piece of clothing, simply ask yourself whether you would wear it 30 times. If the answer is no YOU DON’T NEED IT.
This campaign is a positive step in getting people to start thinking more about sustainable fashion and the waste they create unnecessarily. After all, each year in Canada, we produce enough textile waste to create a mountain three times the size of Toronto’s Rogers Centre stadium, according to an organization called Textile Waste Diversion. However like many social media campaigns, the 30 wears campaign could go further. If you really want to reduce your eco-footprint—and buy quality over quantity to save money—a better measure of longevity for garments is the 5-year challenge.
The 5-year challenge takes the 30 wears campaign a step further. Instead of asking whether you’d wear something 30 times, ask yourself if the garment is designed well enough, made well and from good enough materials that it won’t be irrelevant in the next 5 years. The criteria for well-made, sustainable fashion speaks to the quality of craftsmanship, is better for the environment, and can save you money because we spend more on less-quality items more often (according to Statistics Canada, the average Ontario household spent $3,680 on clothing and accessories in 2013.)
Here are some tips on determining whether the item you are about to purchase is a sustainable fashion item of good quality (can last 5 years or longer):
1. Check the finishing details. The difference between a well-made item and one that isn’t is evident by the cut of the pattern, all the way through to the finishing details. The cut determines fit and should account for weight changes. The piece should have some flexibility in its fit and be alterable (a practice more common in men’s wear than women’s). The right threads need to be used, durable seam finishes chosen and linings need to be of the same quality as the outer fabric. Any decoration needs to be more classic, and not so trendy that you can link it to any one season.
2. What is the garment made from? No matter how well a garment is finished, if it’s made from poor quality materials (natural fibers like cotton, wool, angora etc., are best compared to synthetic ones like polyester, rayon, viscose etc.,) it won’t last as long. Check the label. There is drop in quality when you have less than 80% natural fiber. This is one way we as consumers really need to show companies what we want with our buying dollars.
3. Natural fibers are the most sustainable. Read the tag before you even try on a garment. If it is going to end up in the landfill after 1 or 30 wears we still want it to decompose, which again means natural fibers. Polyester is the world’s most commonly used fiber. It is made from petro-chemical products and doesn’t biodegrade. Choose organic cotton over conventional. Choose bamboo over polyester. Choose lower spandex content where you can. Choose linen or hemp. And if you can’t choose a better option, maybe choose not to buy. This non-action is also a message to the companies to provide better options.
Believe me, companies are watching how we spend our money and how we shop and interact with products. They monitor our interest on social media channels and want to make money off of us. At the end of the day, collectively, we have a lot of power in choosing sustainable fashion. Show them what you want and don’t compromise. Better options are literally around the corner (or up the street) and they are there for you to choose. #30wears is a good start. And we can do better.