Simpler living requires a simpler closet. My wardrobe has evolved gradually to include fewer and fewer items – but the biggest impact in the last few years has been looking at where an item is manufactured before I make a purchase/no-purchase decision.
For this North American, the increasing availability of inexpensive clothes in the last 20 years has not equaled spending less $ on clothes or having better quality clothes, it’s just meant having more clothes. For many of us, our closets are overflowing with items we may not particularly like, but hoard anyway. And at what cost? The production of many of these inexpensive items is outsourced to developing countries with poorer working conditions (and possibly child laboUr and human trafficking) and fewer environmental regulations. The Bangladesh clothing factory that collapsed last year took over 1000 human lives and added to the suffering of 1000’s more.
Many clothing companies are invested in ethical manufacturing and you can research online to determine whether you want to support them. Also, some online stores provide a filter for “made in the USA” products (though I wish they would include Canada and other “developed” countries).
This is still a work-in-progress for me, but in considering sweat-shop laboUr and environmental impact, I am trying to think about:
- Buying clothes made in a “developed” country or Fair Trade.
- Less is more (inspired by Courtney Carver’s Project 333, I am trying a small seasonal wardrobe which is easier to manage).
- Quality over quantity.
- Taking care of items (e.g. not overheating in the dryer).
- Thinking long term – planning to wear at least 5+ years.
- Buying used clothing (again).
- Immediately donating items I don’t love or don’t make the cut for my seasonal wardrobes.
I failed miserably this year one time I tried to put my $ where my mouth is. I decided I was going to buy a pair of black tights that would enable me to “dress down” a few skirts that I liked but rarely wore. After researching a company and reading about the tremendous work they do in supporting American manufacturers as well as ethical practices in developing countries, I went into a store and tried on a few items – all of which were made in the USA and fit beautifully.
I just could not walk up to the cashier and pay the price on the tag. After a couple weeks of thinking about it, reasoning that the tights would never be on sale (I’d asked the cashier) and that I would take care of them so they would last a long time, I went back, bought the tights and immediately adored them. But it was difficult overcoming the thought that if I spent less, it would be no big deal if I didn’t like them.
Buying inexpensive clothes allows us to treat them as disposable. What if we were to only buy items we absolutely loved, were willing to take care of, and would last for many years before going to a donation box? Thinking about the potential impact on the suffering of other human beings and the environment of each purchase I make is totally changing my shopping and making a minimized closet easier to maintain.
If you are thinking about reducing the number of items in your closet, check out Courtney Carver’s Project 333 – wearing a maximum of 33 items per season (including jewelry, accessories, jackets, and shoes).
Bangladesh 2013 Clothing Factory Collapse (source: NY Times)