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Have you ever found yourself deliberating over a new dress and wondering: Am I really going to wear this? Adding an item to your mental wardrobe and calculating all outfit combinations can help you decide whether to add to cart or exit the browser.
For years, the benchmark has been 30 wears. This grew out of the 30 Wears Challenge, first conceived by ecological age co-founder Livia Firth and journalist Lucy Seigle in 2015. “It was a very different fashion landscape because there was a lot less awareness and fewer brands that were also doing sustainable work,” says Livia Firth. “So many people would come up to me and say, ‘Where do I shop? What do I buy?’ Since then, slow fashion activists have used that number as a minimum standard for buying new clothes.
“Back when it was coined, it was definitely a useful phrase because it made people think differently about how they consumed,” says Emma Slade Edmonsonsustainable development consultant, writer and host of the Mixed Podcast. Over the past seven years, sustainability has become much more of a hot topic. These days, Edmondson says, “conversations have definitely gotten smarter, more thoughtful and layered,” when it comes to sustainability in fashion. “People are starting to think in terms of sustainability and intersectional values when it comes to making buying decisions and knowing where their old clothes go,” she says.
Although public awareness is improving, the fashion industry is still plagued with problems. Overproduction and overconsumption of cheap, disposable clothing is rampant, there is still a lack of effective end-of-life infrastructure to divert clothing from landfills, and clothing manufacturing is extremely carbon, water and chemical intensive. This begs the question: is the 30 wears rule still a useful gauge for conscious shopping?
Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Fashion Revolution and author of Last liked clothes, believes that the natural evolution of Firth and Rye’s idea is to emphasize greater responsibility for the longevity of our garments. “I makeover my clothes all the time, so for me, 30 wears is not enough. I prefer 3000 wears! But longevity isn’t fixed by a number – it’s not necessarily about how much you wear it, it’s how long you intend to keep it,” she says. “Until fairly recently, we could almost track the end of life of our clothes, but now we’re allowed to take no responsibility for the clothes we own. Surely, ownership entails responsibility.
That doesn’t necessarily mean we have to save unused clothes until our closets are full to bursting. Our tastes, lifestyles and bodies change as we age, so realistically we can’t expect to wear the exact same pieces forever. Fortunately, there have never been more options to help us extend the life of our clothes. This could include modification or repair using platforms such as Sojo and sewingrent your clothes on peer-to-peer rental services like Ready and By rotationresell on Depop Where Communal changing room, or swap and gift clothes offline. With so many circular economy solutions at our disposal, 30 Wears might just be the start of our clothes’ lifespan.
To do this, it is essential to buy quality items and take care of them properly so that they stand the test of time. “For fashion to be sustainable, it has to do what the word means: last over time,” says Firth. “It’s a matter of knowledge,” adds De Castro. “You need to understand what you’re buying, what’s in your clothes, what your clothes are made of, so you can treat them in the best possible way. All of this innate information that we have for so many other things in our lives, we need to apply to our clothes.
“What we do with our clothes is actually our heritage,” says Edmondson. Sure, it takes a little more time and effort to find creative new ways to extend the life of our clothes, but the payoff for our wardrobes and the planet is well worth it. “Like anything worth doing in life, you have to practice it.”
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