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Redressing the Balance: Tips for a Responsible Wardrobe

Posted on 21 Jun 2017

Hannah Lane, co-author of 'Dress with Sense: The Practical Guide to a Conscious Closet', is at the forefront of sustainability in fashion and working to reduce waste in the fashion and textile industry. Here she talks about the positive changes that people can make to benefit their wardrobe, their pocket and the environment.

Hannah Lane, co-author of 'Dress with Sense: The Practical Guide to a Conscious Closet'

Seven years ago Hannah joined the NGO Redress, which works to reduce waste in the fashion industry, aiming to create awareness there, as well as among students and consumers, of fashion’s impact on the environment. Here are her top tips to help you get started.

Buy less: ‘There are a growing number of heavy books about working conditions or the environmental impacts of the industry and it’s easy to plunge into despair. Our book Dress [with] Sense is accessible to all; it’s about how to make a start, however small. If you reach just one person and they decide to buy ten tops instead of 20 over the course of a year then for us that’s a step forward, and if half of those tops are made of recycled cotton or are secondhand that’s even better.’

Buy better: ‘I’m on the fence about shopping at high street stores. Inherently those shops are part of the problem because they churn out new collections so often, but if you know you’re going to wear something a lot and you’ll look after it, then it’s OK. I’ve got an H&M T-shirt I bought 15 years ago, it fits me well and I still wear it – I’ve sewn up holes. It’s all about looking for quality materials, checking the seams, and asking, “Do I love it?”. Try not to buy it immediately, then come home to find you’ve already got two similar things. I have a 24-hour rule: if I’m still thinking about the item a day later, only then do I buy it.’

Fashion designer and campaigner Orsola de Castro is the founder of up-cycling label From Somewhere and co-founder of Estethica and Fashion Revolution. ‘The consumer is beginning to ask more meaningful questions about how the fashion industry operates’

Wash less: ‘I did a mini-survey asking people how often they dry-cleaned an item such as a cashmere cardigan. Because of the effort to go to the cleaners and the cost, they did so every ten to 20 wears, while if it was a machine-washable cardigan they were washing it after two wears or so. We’ve got so used to the convenience of being able to chuck our stuff in the washing that we don’t realise that it’s actually degrading our clothes. The more we wash and tumble-dry them, the more fibres are lost, not to mention the fact that polyester fibres pollute the water. If everyone in the UK washed their clothes ten percent less, there would be a 2.6 per cent reduction in the UK’s CO2 emissions.’

Yes, even sportswear: ‘There are all sorts of refresher sprays you can use to minimise washing. In the book we highlight a great brand called Mr Black’s Garment Essential, founded by Ash Black, who’s an advocate of only washing your jeans once a year – experiments have found there is not much difference in the bacteria found on jeans after two weeks and after 15 months. The Mr Black range even includes a spray for sportswear – a little controversial as people like to wash theirs after every use even though it’s only worn for an hour or so at a time.’

Recycle: ‘People tend to throw tights and underwear away because they don’t realise they can be recycled. Many textile banks now accept everything, any scraps of fabric, but so much of our clothing is still ending up in landfill. It’s good to delve into how donations are processed as some charity shops are not that careful about how they get rid of the clothes they can’t sell in store – some only sell about ten per cent of donations. People haven’t been asking these questions and it’s quite difficult to know how to do the right thing. Sometimes I choose the textile bank over the charity shop because that way I know the least amount is going to end up in landfill, and some textile companies will skim off the good clothes and re-sell them as second-hand.’

Be a conscientious consumer: ‘I strongly believe that the fashion industry needs to do more but I also think that to do so, it has to be hassled by consumers, because on the whole the industry thinks consumers don’t care and that’s why it’s carrying on as if it’s business as usual for the most part. But once you realise there is more behind your clothes than a fashion store – a mother in Bangladesh working all hours to support her children or a polluted water system in a village in China – you can’t come back from that. You can’t ignore it.’

Interview by Markie Robson-Scott

Dress [with] Sense

The Practical Guide to a Conscious Closet Christina Dean, Hannah Lane, Sofia Tärneberg