Sustainable Fashion: what to do when you split your dacks

The other day I split my dacks, right up my crotch. Bugger. They were my good jeans too. You know the ones that are the most flattering yet still comfy? Now that I’ve declared I’m not going to buy anything new for a year what am I to do?

First of all, let me back it up a little – why is sustainable fashion important and what is it? This may sound quite basic, but to me, sustainable fashion is the opposite of fast fashion. Fast fashion is a term we’re all fairly familiar with, but do we really know what it is? I didn’t until I started researching it over the last couple of years and here’s what I found out:

  • Fast fashion is a term used to describe moving fashion trends from the catwalk or celebrities, to the consumer and then to its end of life in a short period of time and at a minimal cost to the consumer.
  • Fast fashion trends are not designed to last, rather, the retailers want you to buy more pieces, more often. The idea is although these pieces are sold at really low prices, the higher volume of sales means retailers still make a large profit. Instead of new trends being released every season based on weather, they’re released every week or in some cases every few days.
  • Fast fashion is usually poor quality, not built to stand the test of time due to the fact it is manufactured as fast and as cheaply as possible.
  • Even if the items don’t wear out by the end of the fashion ‘season’, they are designed to be un-fashionable come the next change in physical season (summer, autumn, winter or spring). The powers that be want us to fall into this trap so we buy more and more and even more clothes.
  • Due to all of this, the supply chain is compromised. Workers along the chain, usually the poor and marginalised in developing countries, are often subject to poor working conditions including the farmers who produce the fabrics and the people who manufacture the clothing (many of whom are women and children enmeshed in modern day slavery).
  • Fast fashion clothing contributes to our ‘throw-away society’ and is quite often made of synthetic fibres, derived from petrochemicals, making them harder to recycle into something new. It also means they are not biodegradable, ultimately destined for landfill.
  • The high volume of consumption means fast fashion is one of the major polluters of greenhouse gases. According to an article published by the BBC earlier this year, the fashion industry accounts for around 10% of total global greenhouse gases. Only just behind agricultural.
  • As for me and my jeans – according to the United Nations, “It takes around 7,500 litres of water to make a single pair of jeans,  equivalent to the amount of water the average person drinks over a period of seven years”.

So how am I going to avoid fast fashion and do it sustainably? Follow a hierarchy of course (I love a hierarchical list, or any kind of list really) and ask myself the following:

  1. Do I need the new piece of clothing? Can I go without it? Can I wear what I already have?
  2. Can I mend the damaged piece of clothing?
  3. Can I upcycle a piece I already own?
  4. Can I find the clothing second hand? This includes op shops, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, vintage markets, hand-me-downs from friends or garage sales.
  5. If it’s for a special occasion, can I borrow it from a friend or rent it online?
  6. Can I make it myself using repurposed items/fabric? (probably not… my sewing skills are very basic but I can give it a crack).
  7. If I can’t do any of the above, can I buy the item from an ethical manufacturer? 

Now to solve the problem of the split pants. 1. Give up chocolate…

Do I Need It?

Jeans are my staple. I’m that crazy mofo that wears jeans for comfort instead of tracksuit pants (until Covid that is). Given this, and that where I live the winter seems to last around 6 months and I don’t own a dryer – I need at least 4 pairs of jeans to get by. This pair was my 5th pair, however, of the other 4 pairs, none of them are really what I would consider my Sunday best (two pairs are in fact maternity jeans [feels just like wearing tracksuit pants] and the other two are about +/- 10 years old). To answer the question… probably not, seeing as though my social life is near non-existent at this point in time, but for the sake of this article I’m going to see what I can do about it and say yes!

Mend It

Can the jeans be mended? I purchased a patch from Spotlight to see how this scenario would play out.

They’ll do the trick to ensure they don’t turn into a pair of chaps but these might have to be relocated to the “around the house” section of my wardrobe.

***UPDATE***

This happened after about six hours of wear… I’ve now popped them in my fabric recycling pile 😦

Upcycle

I took a pair of my ”around the house” jeans, that were hand-me-downs from a friend, in which the style was a little dated (bootcut) and turned them into a straight leg – my preferred style. It was super easy and I’m really happy with the outcome – I now wear these out of the house. I used an online tutorial from Instructables:

  1. Turn the jeans inside out (unfortunately I forgot to take pictures as I was doing this).
  2. Put the jeans on.
  3. Pin where you want the legs to taper, on the outside of the leg. I started at the knee.
  4. Use a ruler and a sharpie/chalk/pen to draw the line of the pins.
  5. Sew along the line.
  6. Cut off the excess.
  7. Voila! Easy peasy!

Like many craft projects, upcycling doesn’t always turn out as planned. Anyone who has kids knows they don’t mix well with white clothing, so I thought I’d try using natural dyes from strawberries and cabbage to give them a bit of colour. I was imagining my end product would turn out to be beautiful dusty pinks and lavender shades of purple. Nope. As you can see the end result is more like a roll in the dirt than either pink or purple.

Buy It Secondhand

On one of my recent op shop trips I did come across an almost new pair of black Jag jeans for $9. Contradictory to my above statements in point 1, I did find myself unable to put them back on the rack and ended up purchasing them. One of the downfalls of op shopping is that you can’t always find what you want in your size, so when I do, I have the mentality to just grab it – even if I don’t really need 6 pairs of jeans…

I don’t like to give out too much advice because this website is more about trying to change my own actions first but, I’ve loved op shopping since I was in primary school and have some tips if you do want to get on the op shop bandwagon:

  • Don’t expect to go to the shop and find exactly what you need or want. Go with an open mind and time on your side.
  • Have a physical or mental list of what you want before going in to avoid getting overwhelmed and wandering aimlessly. Or not… some of my best finds happened by aimless wandering.
  • Shop to your own style, not necessarily what’s in vogue.
  • Browse all of the racks; men’s, women’s and children’s wear – I’ve often found women’s clothes in amongst the kids clothes!
  • Bring the kids too as they can browse the books and toys without worrying they will damage them/unwrap them. I let Peanut buy something with her piggy bank money as most kids stuff is under $5 and it’s not such a drama when these items are sent back to the op shop when she’s finished playing with them – kind of like a toy library.
  • Don’t give up – it gets easier! The more you op shop, the more you’ll start to get a feel for fabrics and brands you like and how they usually fit your body. Finding them amongst the chaos becomes much easier. 

Rent It

As jeans are a daily item I don’t think you’d rent them, but if I was on the lookout for something to wear for a special occasion I’d definitely consider this option. As I’ve never tried this before I can’t recommend any sites but I’d probably start with this list provided by Eco Warrior Princess.

Can I Make It?

Jeans – a hard no. But earlier this year I did make a wrap skirt from an old sheet – not bad for a rookie?!?

Buy New But Ethical

It’s a bit of a minefield trying to workout which brands are ethical and sustainable. There’s a lot to consider and I’m no expert, but here are a few things I like to look for:

  1. Where are the clothes made? Are they made in Australia? If they are, I make the assumption that the worker’s wages are somewhat fair given our legislation around fair work and pay (compared to a developing country that is). I also consider the closer to me they’re made, the smaller the carbon footprint.
  2. What are the clothes made from? I talk at length about textiles in my post, Project 333 and the Clothing Debacle, but I generally look for recycled fabrics such as Econyl, linen or organic cotton.
  3. Do they make it onto the Ethical Clothing Australia list of brands?
  4. What score do they get on the Baptist World Aid index of ethics and sustainability?
  5. Are they a certified B Corporation?

Unfortunately I don’t always tick all these boxes when I buy new. The modern slow fashion movement is still in many ways in its infancy and hasn’t made it to mainstream yet. I can’t always get exactly what I need to be all these things. For example, during lockdown, when all the op shops were closed, I needed new t-shirts. I bought some from Kookai who score an A- on Baptist World. They’re not organic cotton (bummer), but they’re not synthetic either. They’re made in Fiji, fairly close to home so have a lower carbon footprint but not a guarantee of ethical labour. I went with Kookai because I was purchasing online so I knew what sizes to get and I knew the style and fit is pretty timeless (they’re still making the same style I purchased 12 years ago). I probably could have done better, but I also could have done worse. And full disclosure here. A few days ago upon his request, I bought an item of clothing for Dear Husband from Kmart. Hypocrisy I hear you cry! Kmart score a B+ on Baptist World. They are not made from organic cotton but they are apart of the Better Cotton Initiative. Lastly they’re made in China, meaning a bigger carbon footprint than if made here. But I’m now asking myself, how can a pair of cotton pants only cost $8 and the people at the other end are not being ripped off? I should probably heed my own advice, get a refund and source something more sustainable.

Swimwear made from Econyl

I’ve started a sustainable shopping guide so you can see some brands I’ve tested 🙂

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