reduce, repair, reuse: the 3 r’s of sustainable fashion

Didn’t you hear the news? Did you catch the memo? Darning socks and patching jeans are soooooo in right now. No, yeah. Even Kim Kardashian herself has finally decided to hand-stitch the holes she left in Marilyn’s dress. She’s only a season away from stoking fires and baking pies from scratch. This indicates we’re entering our Grandma-core era. I suppose this could also be referred to as a “recession.” Suddenly, staying in and perfecting your bolognese recipe seems eventful enough for a Saturday night. The cavity in your boot that accepts puddles of questionable NYC rainwater with open arms is now no biggie. Wet socks aren’t that bad anyway.

While the prices of quite literally everything increase, our desire for the new and shiny tends to dwindle. As someone who has always preferred the old and tarnished, this result is somewhat (SOMEWHAT!) rejoiceful. It’s wildly unfortunate that society often needs to be held at gunpoint to drive necessary changes, and while I stitch back together the armpit of my vintage silk Custo Barcelona top, the frivolity isn’t lost on me. 

However, to me, my vintage silk Custo Barcelona top isn’t just a piece of clothing. She’s my pal, and I only wore her once before her age revealed itself: it was the first time I cut all my curls off, leaving the hairdresser with itchy hairs laced along the collar like a furry necklace. By the time I returned home, I had realized the breeze on my left armpit wasn’t just in my head, and sure enough, there was a sizable hole. Naturally, I was heartbroken. After a mere single outing together, Miss Barcelona had ripped on me. Now, I love my clothing on a level that saying goodbye is rarely an option. No matter the size of the hole, the severity of the stain, or the delicacy of the fabric, I will find a way to remedy the wound. 

While my fixation on clothing repair might be a tad eccentric (though what fun is life without personifying inanimate objects?), I’m appreciative of the sustainable elements. Sure, I repair my clothes because it would feel like cheating on a life partner to replace them, and that may not be the average experience, but there are less insane reasons. 

Most notably, clothing is simply not made to last anymore. Fashion retailers conceded that… now, wait a second… if we manufacture clothes that last no longer than a year… the customer will return faster and give us more money! Yay! And they think they’re so smart and clever for that one. Well, guess what? We’re smarter AND cleverer (and broke)! You could throw your damaged goods in the trash and cough up another half-paycheck, OR you could turn to your old friend and see its lingering life. In fact, your pair of light-wash Levi’s is pleading to you: “Please, save me! I have another 5 years in me if you just mend the hole in my butt pocket!” However, Levi Strauss & Co. holds a different opinion, tempting you with their newest collection. Are you going to fall for their tricks?

We’ve all had the “Three R’s” (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) drilled into our brains from an early age. Minimize your waste, reuse products, and as a last resort, recycle materials. With slight adjustments (Reduce, Repair, Reuse), this concept can be applied to fashion habits as well.

Operation Uno, always, and most importantly, REDUCE YOUR CONSUMPTION (read more about that here). Secondly, if the apparel is damaged, can it be repaired? Thirdly, if restoration is out of the question, how can it be reused? Can this broken earring live a new life as a brooch? Can this dress become a two-piece set? Can these wearied socks stand as leg warmers? Can these lifeless boots be utilized in an art project? Think outside of the box and the closet. Sometimes a clothing piece has lived sufficiently on your body and instead could be framed, or fashioned into a blanket to warm your now sockless feet! But, please, do not apply this logic to your 5 for $25 Victoria’s Secret underwear. They’re 5 for $30 now, that’s how long it’s been. Throw those out.

Lastly, and certainly least (so least, in fact, I won’t include it in our Three R’s of Fashion, because then it would be Four R’s and that’s just ridiculous!) you replace what has been or can’t be reused if you and your bank account deem it necessary. I’m not going to pretend there isn’t an arid depressing air about this topic, as there often is when discussing fashion sustainability in general. In particular, it’s disheartening that many can’t afford to even think about a replacement and here I am yielding my love affairs with damaged goods.

I write a lot about the dichotomy of the fashion industry, as the broad spectrum consistently exists in my mind, and I find it impossible to view one end without considering the other. A brilliant mind in the world of upcycling and sustainable fashion, Orsola de Castro (@orsoladecastro on media of social persuasion) once said so brilliantly as would be in her brilliant nature: “Mending doesn’t mean we can’t afford to buy something new, it means we can’t afford something being thrown away.” And truthfully, you wasted your time reading the last 858 words because she compiled my entire point in less than 20. Loved clothes last.

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