Starting Sustainability

“The Common Threads Initiative addresses a significant part of today’s environmental problemthe footprint of our stuff. This program first asks customers to not buy something if they don’t need it.”

Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia founder & owner

Since releasing their Common Threads Initiative back in September, Patagonia has been receiving a lot of attention about asking their customer base to buy less.  Yes, buy less, not more.  In an NPR interview, the company’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, said that he’s not trying to grow the company as much as possible each year, but that he is just fine with organic growth.  The bottom line is not the answer, rather, “…Whether we make money or lose money on this, we don’t care, “says the Jessica Clayton of Patagonia PR. “We absolutely had to come up with a way to get our customers to buy used and take care of our products so they last a long time—it’s one of the most powerful things consumers can do for our planet.”

Chouinard’s well-publicized take on and participation in consumerism is much more eloquent than anything I could have said, but the message is one I identify with.  Our family buys almost everything second-hand via Craigslist, our local consignment shop, estate sales, etc.  Sure, it’s less expensive than buying new, but the part that mattered more was feeling like something hadn’t been specifically manufactured just for us to take it home and use it until it breaks and that it had already lived at least one full life before making its way into our home.

Of course, not everything can be bought second hand. Prior to launching our business, I would wait patiently every year until Christmas for my inevitable stocking gift of adorably patterned wool socks. They were cute, warm, and free (to me!). Sadly, by Christmas time the next year, all of my socks had worn down in the heels and I needed more.  Last year, I noticed something during this tragic cycle:  my camel wool socks had somehow made it through 4 years of wear before the heels had started becoming threadbare, compared with 1 year for my other wool socks.

Now, perhaps I’m just ridiculously hard on my socks since I never did any special laundering but I have since given up that habit.  Still, the idea that something consumable can last 4 times as long as its competitors gave me pause.  Socks are in fact a consumable item, as is most clothing, but if our investments in our clothes could last 4x longer, what would that look like in the bigger picture? Americans send at least 10.5 million tons of clothing to the landfill EVERY YEAR, while only 15% of manufactured textiles are recovered for reuse purposes. The amount of worn increasing every year due to cheaply made, fast fashion industry where manufacturers are charging the lowest possible amount for clothing by compromising quality.

To get yourself on board with sustainable textiles, we at least have a clear guide line that even any elementary school student knows:

Reduce the amount of cRecycledSockslothing you consume by buying pieces that last.  Helpful strategies include having a solid capsule wardrobe, investing in the basics, and proper laundering. You can also reduce waste by washing only when necessary, as the amount of water and products used when laundering dramatically increases your clothing’s footprint.

Reuse clothes by buying second hand or repurposing them into something that’s newly useful and on trend.  Even better, get involved in your community and host a naked lady (or fella) party and swap out your old duds with your friends.

Recycle clothes by donating. Even though the Goodwill bin may be the most convenient or inviting, there are other options out there.  If you’re in the Portland Metro area, PDX blogger Enviromom has compiled a good list of options. If you’re not, you can check the Council for Textile Recycling for what’s near you.  Keep in mind, though, that only 15-20% of donated clothing ends up in second hand stores, which is why those other two Rs are so important.

Sure, the advice is cliche, but it has stood the test of time.  As an admitted clothes horse, reducing consumption is my hardest of the three, but hey, we are approaching a new year and it’s never too late to change.  For now, my first step will be darning my old socks.  It’s not as exciting as an option I might find on Pinterest, but it’s an easy start to sustainability and it’s practical. What’s the hardest R for you? What can you do differently? When can you start?

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