Any fashion fan trying to make their habit more sustainable knows the three tenants central to the movement: reduce, reuse, recycle. It’s estimated that the average item of clothing in the UK is only worn for 2.2 years, which is a huge waste of the natural resources and labour that went into making it.

Here are five ways to help the clothes you buy stay in your life for longer:

  1. Don’t buy it because you like it, buy it because you love it.

Your relationship with an item of clothing begins when you’re in the store. Imagine your clothes at home – everything in your wardrobe, your drawers. How does it look? Choosing what to wear in the morning should be a treat, not a chore. Aim to curate a selection of clothing that makes you feel like your best self, and don’t fall into the trap of buying something that will only make you feel that way for one season. Are you buying it because it’s what everyone on Instagram is wearing right now? If so, it’s pretty much guaranteed that this item will not make you feel good for very long. Will you still think it’s cool in five years?

And buy quality. You know the saying, ‘Buy cheap, buy twice. Buy expensive, buy once’? It couldn’t be more true when it comes to clothes. Synthetics like acrylic and polyester can quickly bobble and become misshapen, while natural fibres like wool, cotton and bamboo will outlive you if taken good care of. Think about when you want to wear it: good quality wool is warm, while cotton isn’t good at insulating but gets better and better with age and is great for keeping it cool in summer.

  1. So, you love it. You bought it. Now, help it live longer by looking after it.

Don’t bunch things up in the back of closets or cram too many hangers in the wardrobe – remember that you want to curate a selection of clothes that feel good to browse and reflect how you want to be seen by the world. Let your clothes breathe and store them carefully, away from damp and pests. Invest in good hangers (wooden ones are best) that will help clothes keep their shape – and always fold heavier items in a cupboard so they don’t stretch themselves out.

  1. Wash less.

Most of us are guilty of washing our clothing way too much. The heat, chemicals and agitation are stressful to those fibres and all contribute to wear and fading. Check things are actually dirty before throwing them in the wash – no shame in the sniff test – and try challenging yourself to wearing something three times before it becomes laundry. Some items, like thick trousers and jeans or jumpers, rarely, if ever, need washing. Hanging outdoors in fresh air or 24 hours in the freezer to kill funky smells (especially for denim) can do the job instead. Invest in some stain removal pens so you can skip the wash if you get a small mark on something.

  1. Wash better.

Read the labels and learn what those symbols mean. Wash it on the coolest setting you can to keep your clothes (and the planet) stress-free. Cold washes are a lot more effective at cleaning your everyday items, like underwear and T-shirts, than most people think. Try using less laundry detergent and softeners – it all contributes to water pollution. Always buy biodegradable and check out detergent alternatives like the Eco Egg (everyone I know who has one is evangelical about its life-changing effect).

  1. Mend it.

Does that thing you bought and used to love never get worn any more because it’s now too tight, too loose, too long? Did you squeeze into a skirt in a vintage shop that you had to have, but it’s rarely in rotation now because you can’t sit down in it? How about that tiny moth hole in that jumper, or that coffee stain on the pocket of that shirt (see also: stain removal)? There are two solutions; a: fix it yourself, b: pay someone else to alter or mend it for you. They both have their merits: brushing up on your sewing skills and taking the time to DIY is super satisfying, while paying someone else to do it feels like a treat (and probably doesn’t cost as much as you think). Ask around for repair shop recommendations, and when you find a good one, treasure it. Patch over that stain or hole, hem those hems, re-button those buttons – and never throw a good item away. Give it to charity even if you think it’s beyond wear and the shop should be able to make sure it ends up in a recycle stream rather than landfill.

Words: Tsouni Cooper

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