Greensleeves: How To Green Your Wardrobe

Did you know that 1/4 of all of the pesticides used throughout the entire world are used in the production of cotton? Not soybeans. Not rice. Not any of the major food crops. Cotton. We can’t eat it and we can’t feed hungry people with it, yet we’re dousing our planet in chemicals to feed our bottomless addiction to clothing. Add to that the fact that most conventionally produced clothing is made using dyes and finishes that are loaded with chemicals. And to keep clothes cheap, many items are produced using child labor forces in deplorable sweatshop conditions. Whew! That means that the clothes on our backs that many of us (myself included!) take for granted, come at a high cost to both society and the environment.

How to green your wardrobe

So does that mean we all need to don potato-sack dresses and scratchy burlap pullovers? Heavens no! The good news is that eco-fashion is in and becoming more affordable by the minute. So whether you buy your duds at your local mass retailer or on the catwalk, here are some easy tips for going green.

Fix It: Save money and the planet by fixing or re-tailoring the clothes you already own before hitting the store to buy replacements. Learn the basics, like how to sew a button or stitch a hem, or make friends with someone else who can! If you’re handy with a needle a thread, consider giving new life to old clothes by re-tailoring them into something new (turn worn out pants into shorts or a pre-pregnancy dress into a shirt or skirt.)

Consider “Preloved”: My girls go through clothes so fast that I barely have time to make room for new stuff before it hits the giveaway pile. There’s no way I could afford to keep them clothed without hand-me-downs. “Pre-loved” clothes save money and reduce the use of new materials while keeping the old items out of the landfill.

Go Au Naturale: When you have to buy new, look for natural, organic fabrics that have not been subjected to synthetic chemicals for at least three years, nor have they been produced using any genetically modified crops. Cotton, linen, wool, and hemp can all be grown organically and used to produce green clothing.

It’s Not Fair! Does that cute $5 shirt have you reaching for your wallet? I’ll be the first to admit that I’m still tempted by sales like these. But then I remember the environmental and social costs required to make this garment so inexpensive. It’s hard to feel good about buying a $5 shirt for your child knowing that another child worked in a sweatshop to make it. Look for clothing that has been independently verified as “sweat-free.”

Pass Them On: Don’t toss your clothes in the trash. When you can no longer use a garment, pass it on to a friend, local charity, or thrift store in your area. If it is simply too worn out, cut it up to make baby doll clothes, blankets, or cleaning rags.

Rebuild Your Clothes:A number of clothing manufacturers are “greening” their clothing lines by rebuilding garments into new designs. Check out Patagonia’s Common Threads Garment Recycling Program where you can turn in their worn out duds to be transformed into next year’s line of fleece and cotton tees.

Don’t Get Taken To The Cleaners: Dry clean and kids? You’ve got to be kidding! Steer clear of any clothes that require dry cleaning, but if that is not possible, consider hand washing delicates or seek out a dry cleaner that uses “green” technology to reduce its toxic load.

Read more from Jenn in her book, The Green Parent: A Kid-Friendly Guide to Environmentally-Friendly Livingor her blog The Green Parent.

Original 5 Minutes for Going Green post.

8 Responses to Greensleeves: How To Green Your Wardrobe
  1. Jessica (Surely You Nest)
    August 27, 2008 | 2:25 pm

    Love this! I especially appreciate that you’re reminding us all to use what we’ve already got first and foremost. We are big closet-rearrangers and 2ndhand shoppers. But, where can I get new organic cotton athletic socks for my kids? Help!

  2. Fruit Lady
    August 27, 2008 | 3:36 pm

    Another thing to remember that if you’re donating clothes to Goodwill and you’re worried that it’s too worn out…Goodwill takes all the clothes-stuff they can’t resell (old socks, underwear, etc) and sells it to the people who manufacture carpet padding. So it stays of out the landfill for a little while longer anyway!

  3. GreenMe
    August 27, 2008 | 4:20 pm

    Thank you! Excellent points. We recently bought new towels (old ones were thread bare and have been turned into rags) and we took advantage of a sale at JCPenny to buy organic towels. While there I noticed a t-shirt stand in the juniors section advertising 99 cent t-shirts!!! Can you imagine? Hard to resist for the average person, but there is no way possible that such cheap clothing was manufactured in an environmentally friendly and social conscious manner!

  4. Jessica
    August 27, 2008 | 5:23 pm

    Our family shops for pre-loved items for most everything. In fact, it is my hope that in the coming year I do not purchase any new items of clothing but find stylish wear at consignment and thrift shops. Recently I even borrowed clothing from my girlfriends so that I could dress up for a formal wedding. As you said, it keeps new materials out of the cycle and prevents older items from the landfill.

  5. Jenn (The Green Parent)
    August 27, 2008 | 9:47 pm

    Thanks for all of the comments folks! I had no idea that Goodwill can use even torn up clothes. Thanks for the tip!

  6. Jo Paoletti
    August 27, 2008 | 11:39 pm

    Great post! One quick addition to your excellent list: most of the environmental impact of clothing is in how it’s washed and dried. Using cold water, hang-drying at least part of your clothing and using earth-friendly cleaning products can make a huge difference! And thanks for not buying into the “bamboo is the miracle green fiber” greenwashing we see so much of these days.

  7. pregnant clothing
    August 28, 2008 | 3:44 pm

    Pregnant clothing really are the ultimate in comfortable pregnancy clothing. They expand, breathe, flow and gently caress the body rather than cling, pinch and squeeze. They are a great way to stay cool in the heat of the dog days of summer.

  8. NewssyLee
    September 5, 2008 | 4:04 pm

    Thanks to you