Photo Credit : 45R
For those on the outside, zero waste can seem like a pretty daunting idea. It’s easy to get scared by the intensity of an idea like ‘zero’, or feel overwhelmed by the amount we’d love to change. I think some of this comes from human tendency to think dualistically; reducing concepts to black and white thinking leaves us seeing zero waste as the all encompassing challenge of removing each and every piece of plastic from our lives, only able to touch things if we know they biodegrade, and feeling intense guilt if we ever make a mistake. If this is the image people get when they think of zero waste, of course it’s a hard sell.
But for those of us on the inside, we know that this isn’t the case. If I could have my own way I’d love to rebrand zero waste as ‘low waste’, as this is a much easier idea to get people on board with and a more realistic reflection of what the lifestyle looks like (after all, it is essentially impossible to produce no waste across our lifetime). I don’t quite wield the ability to rename an entire lifestyle movement however, so instead I love to use this platform to share the stories of organisations and ideas the truly embody the ideals of zero waste as I like to think of them.
I believe a real, achievable type of zero waste is one that embraces a more holistic way of living. Whilst on a practical level it can look like replacing items and eliminating plastic, especially at the beginning of the journey, it’s also about extending the lives of the things we use, and finding ways to utilize every aspect of the resources and materials that are offered to us.
There’s a Japanese word, mottainai, which I think sums up the fully realized idea of a low waste lifestyle. It’s a term used to express regret or distaste for wasted resources, but at the same time it encompasses a deference for nature and a gratitude for what it supplies us with. You’ll often hear the sustainable community talking about the R’s (refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot) when it comes to eliminating waste, but mottainai adds a sixth element, that of respect. The aversion to waste and tendency to recycle has a long history in Japan (the upcycling of kimonos has been around for centuries), whilst the regard for nature is rooted in shinto beliefs that all objects have a soul and should be respected. But even without this belief in animism, I think we can all benefit from taking on this spirit of reverence. By cultivating gratitude and acknowledging where our items come from we are more connected to the stories of our possessions, and we are often more willing to work to protect our resources.
– Francesca Willow
I was wondering about how the mindset of zero waste extends into closet building. ( Is it only about buying second hand garments in natural fibers ? Or can this mind set be extended to the ENTIRE life cycle of the garment ? How they are made ? How they are worn and cared for ? Are they really worn out ? How they are up-cycled or down-cycled ? How did they rot ? Designing this entire cycle is a fantastic problem to take on. I am glad that mankind is paying attention to it. ) Her words struck a chord.
I have a wardrobe filled with mainly secondhand or sustainable, ethically made items, all of which have either already proven themselves to be durable, or are deliberately designed to be. And because I haven’t grown since I was maybe 14, some of these items stretch back a decade or more. In fact, I just rifled through my wardrobe and can specifically name my oldest items. In reverse order: a vintage jacket from Ebay that I’ve owned for 12 years, a vintage faux fur coat handed down from my grandma that she got in the 1950s and a 100 year old winter coat/kimono that I got in Nara, Japan.
And you know what, I’m actually really good at wearing everything in my wardrobe. I make a deliberate effort to rotate through my clothes because it’s a better way to care for them, and for every minimalist simple piece I’ve got a fun little pattern or print somewhere, so I’ve got something for every season and mood. Because most of my pieces were discovered, and because I have a ridiculous memory, I can also put a story and place to everything. Want to see the blouse I got in Paris at a vide de grenier 5 years ago? How about the four pairs of secondhand Nike shoes I’ve acquired since 2013 (I’ve never bought directly from them) from thrift stores in Seattle, Chicago, Brooklyn and Stoke Newington respectively. The shirt I got from a Methodist charity shop and wore the first time I went to winter wonderland, the vintage jacket I found the first time I went to Kyoto, the mom jeans I bought in Houston when Air France lost my suitcase. I could literally go on for every single thing I own. I look at my wardrobe and I see a wealth of stories, my life lived out in the clothes I’ve worn and where I’ve found them. And I think, this is really what fashion should be.
My wardrobe has been compiled and curated over multiple years, thanks to a totally coincidental combination of factors, so for me to now have a capsule wardrobe just doesn’t make sense. In order to do that I would have to get rid of a lot of stuff, just to fit into a lifestyle concept. It seems silly to create waste in order to live a lifestyle that might seem more outwardly sustainable, but in reality wouldn’t be. And at the end of the day, why would I want to get rid of all the stories and memories I see every time I open the doors to my wardrobe, just to fit into what sustainable fashion ‘should’ look like?
Instead, I do my best to not purchase much, only getting something when it is really necessary or really, really loved. When I do buy things I make sure they can go with things I already have, so as not to create a need for more consumption, and I just enjoy my clothes. Instead of thinking capsule wardrobe, I think durable wardrobe. I consider longevity, with the full confidence that everything that I currently wear, I will also happily wear in ten years time.
And that, for me, is a type of conscious consumption that fits my context. I never want to create more problems in order to fit the aesthetic of ethical, eco-friendly living. Instead of trying to fit myself into a mould created by someone else, I find a way of living sustainably that actually makes sense.
– Francesca Willow.
( The word respect is not often used when referencing clothes. We don’t discard our past in a second and go searching for the next best thing. Perhaps Lemaire had that in mind when he said ‘treat clothes as friends’. )
Do check out Francesca’s blog : Ethical Unicorn.
* indicates second-hand
Possible Axioms of a Zero Waste Closet :
- Stop with this whole aggressive counting of garments. Get out of the buy and cull cycle.
- Want a minimalist closet ? One doesnt become a minimalist by constantly throwing their stuff out but by keeping the stuff out. Stop shopping. Too much emphasis is put on decluttering side of the story in the current culture. Remember that clothes wear out. Even the well made ones. Throwing some stuff away to repurchase again after a year or two is wasteful. Think of a long term strategy. Shop your own closet. Store some clothes for the time being and bring them back when something wears out.
- One can have a zero waste closet without maxing out on minimalism. As long as you don’t waste things, it doesn’t matter if you have 20 more garments than the most popular minimalist on the internet. In fact, I will argue for owning enough garments to let each garment rest between wears. Clothes/shoes do last longer if they are not worn back to back.
- Wear the clothes till they fall apart. Mend them. Wear them some more. Don’t get rid of them at the earliest stain or scuff. Wearing the garment 30 more times has a significant impact in reducing the emissions its responsible for.
- Clothes made by fast fashion companies ? Someone probably suffered to get that garment into my closet. Show them extra love. Don’t reserve the love just for the designer pieces and the upgrades that one can make. Once a purchase has been made, I am responsible for it. I need to respect it.
- I put on some weight in the last year. Two of my shift dresses pull at the hip. My black leather jacket just about fits me. I can no longer zip it up. This may be the last year I can wear them before I spill out. Wear them as many times as possible before they have to be retired. I call this the mom-frugality axiom. When I was a child, my mom would stack up my clothes in the order in which I will outgrow them. The shortest and tightest garments were on top. She wanted us to get the maximum use out of the clothing before she passed them on to a younger cousin.
- Buy second hand. Buy natural fabrics in durable weaves. Buy recycled polyester if its needed ( I own a camping tent ). Buy traceable down feather goods for winter needs ( I own a sleeping bag for backcountry camping ). Reduce usage of leather products.
- Support the designers who take steps towards reducing their environmental footprint. Stella McCartney for example, releases a environment tax report every year. She talks about the switches she made in introducing solar energy in her factories, how much of recycled fiber was introduced into the fabrics that made the garments, conservative usage of cashmere, using alternatives to leather, technological advances in weaves, pattern cutting with least wastage, carbon footprint of transporting her raw materials, etc. And every year, she beats the goals achieved during the last year. Every step of the cycle is being optimized constantly. Engineering and mathematics when applied to fashion == makes me very very happy ! Amour Vent, Christy Dawn, Everlane, People Tree, Elizebeth Suzanne, Eileen Fisher, … have been trying hard to move the needle. Support the designers who design for durability. Support the designers who chase quality and improve their own garments by the year.
- When buying a garment, think of the entire life cycle. Will I love it after the year ends ? Will anyone want it if I tire of it after 3 years ? How do I plan to recycle it ? Do not buy if there is no chance of a long life in your closet.
- Buy simpler garments that are versatile, are easy to pair and wont get tiring on the eye. They are easier to recycle too, fabric wise.
- Do not buy things that are not worth repairing. Do not buy things that need upkeep that you are not ready to put in. Develop a mindset that repairs the things acquired cheaply too. 30 more wears, remember ?
- Improve the utility factor of the clothes you already own. I derive some happiness in wearing my favorite things all the time. Some of my garments go untouched for long periods of time. I want to use a circular queue sort of data structure to pick out the garments in the morning. I have the size of my closet under control. I want to increase the efficiency of wear. They say, if you haven’t worn something in a year, get rid of it. I would ask : why havent you worn it in the last year ? Find a way to wear the clothes instead of disposing them.
- Take care of the garments properly. Sweaters should be folded and stacked. Clothes should be washed as little as possible. I spot cleaning my silk garments for the most part. I make sure I do laundry every week and don’t let the body oils/sweat sit on the fabric rotting them faster. I hang my clothes inside out on a wooden hanger at the end of the day for it to air dry before next wear. I use a gentle detergent. We line dry our clothes. In the winter, I find a place to let the garments dry inside our small 400 sft apartment. In the summer, they dry outdoors. Store out of season garments properly.
- Learn some mending skills. I see rips and seams coming apart in my older garments. A stitch in time, saves nine.
- Clothes look their best just before they are worn out. Stylish people look their best when they wear their most beloved worn-in items. New clothes seldom look effortless.
- Explore the boundaries of what we call ‘old’. And stop treating the old as ready to be disposed.
- Push the boundaries of what we call ‘worn out’. Wear the clothes till the fabric becomes thread bare.
- Do not equate love of fashion with love of shopping. Fashion can be like a drug. Newer, faster, cheaper ! New purchases often give a high. Practice appreciation of the existing garments instead of constantly chasing the next thing. Pick materialism over consumerism. Experiment and do the additions responsibly.
- Know when to declutter. I have a 7 year old saree that I have worn 10 times so far. I can hold on to and might wear it once more 2 years from now. It’s not about how long one can hold a garment in the closet. It’s about how much wear it will get in the years it stays there. Every time I bring a new garment in, the likelihood of older garments getting worn goes down. Will it be useful to someone else right now and get worn a lot more ? Is there someone who needs it and is looking for it ? My letting it go might help that person find it on the second hand market. Do not hoard the clothes that hardly get worn.
- The pipeline should be optimized for the community, not just the one human – me. There are x resources and n humans. As n grows, x becomes more scarce. Stop thinking of just myself when it comes to saving for the future. The more I hoard, the less all of us have. Its a waste to buy or own things that get worn once a year but have to stay in my closet all year round. When we talk of waste, its usually form a view point of one human – me. Its also a waste to have things that don’t get used. Its wasting humanities resources.
- Stop accepting free products that you don’t like or need. Yes, most of us have these bourgeoisie values that we cant shake off. We feel the guilt of waste. We try to find ways to use things we don’t need. Its all valid. But with time, we can learn to be content with what we don’t need. I rather wear a worn out garment that I love than a new freebee that I was guilted into accepting.
- Never send the clothes to the landfill. Try to sell them. Or look for the right place to donate them. Or drop them off at a textile recycling facility if you can find one. From my understanding, they do not belong in the compost bin either since the fibers have undergone a lot of processing. Declutter responsibly. There is no getting rid of it even if it leaves our home. It’s our problem once we summoned it into existence.
- Make an effort to encourage lending and borrowing of garments in the community you reside in. A few of us have these clothes that we can only wear to weddings or the holiday parties. A few of us have friends who own a lot of clothes and friends who own very few clothes. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to share ? If we can find our sartorial tribe and rotate our garments, I suspect we would have more choice and hoard less.
- Train the mind to want less. Downsizing or decluttering doesn’t automatically make one shop less. That is all in the head.
( to be updated as I discover more … There is no one size fits all zero waste method. I am trying find a way to make it work for me. All these years, I concentrated on optimizing my closet to my whims. If felt good when I unloaded my discards onto the thrift stores. I felt good when my closet looked sparse. I felt good as I made upgrades. I let go duplicates that I repurchased again after the originals wore out. It was all centered around my short sighted impulses. It was all centered around a very selfish self. Going into the future, I want to optimize it for less waste on a long term basis. These are my closet resolutions for 2018 and beyond. )