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How To Make Greener Fashion Choices

by Rachel Yeoh. |

“Wah nice.”

“Wah, got discount - 70% discount? This brand don’t usually have sale one.”

“Wah, if I buy this brand for this price, very berbaloi (worth it) leh.”

These are the conversations I have with myself (in my head) when I go shopping. You see, I have a strong affinity with clothes. It’s the design, the fabric’s texture, the fit, and the price that, when woven in harmony, brings a smile to my face (burns just a tiny hole in my pocket).

But who cares! I love clothes.

I feel very much for clothes because my mother was a seamstress and every day, I see piles of fabric strewn around the house. The electric sewing machine will be buzzing from noon till night and freshly steamed clothes will be hung around the house, awaiting their time to be alive on their owner’s bodies.

Magazines were stacked up till waist high and you would see me flipping its pages, looking at who is wearing what (there was no Google or Facebook then).

I would save my pocket money to purchase nice clothes from the mall during the weekend. I had so much (yes, I am adamant about using ‘much’ as the quantifier) I could barely see my room floor - nothing to be proud of here.

Then something changed. I got married. I had to move out. I am left with only half a cupboard.

I told myself, “Challenge accepted.”

This challenge led me to a Marie Kondo x Fashion Revolution x Charity frenzy - and voila, I became a greener fashionista!

I am writing this so you, too, will jump on the bandwagon!

1. Clothes Swap

Image: The Swap Project

This is so easy!

First, you’ll have to go through your clothes and set those that you have not worn over the last 6 months aside. Go by section if you have too many clothes, it would be ideal if you can fill up a medium-sized paper bag per section. This can be done over a few days.

Remember, if it is not your size, that piece goes into the swap bag. If your fashion preference has changed, dunk it in the swap bag. If it’s ‘OMG, I still have this?’ that goes into the swap bag too.

Get your girlfriends to do the same and just SWAP!

Swapping is not just good for the environment (because you will not head out to buy more new clothes), it also allows you to be creative. You are given a ticket to explore other styles that you would not have bought otherwise. Leather skirt? Flapper-napper dress? Sequinned jacket? Green dungarees? Why not? Fashion is all about experimenting.

If your friends are not up for it, search up swap parties around your area. It’s fun, makes you feel fabulous, and most importantly, it is free!

2. Buying preloved / vintage

Thrifting is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. When I was a teen, I got my dad to buy a 100kg bundle of used clothes from Japan. It cost me RM20 for that vacuum-packed bundle. I had my friends over to unravel it and oh my goodness, the pile of clothes still scares me today but the good news is, I got clothes (some with tags on and wrapped in plastic) that will last me the year.

Today, I am wiser. No more attempts to battle the bundle anymore. I visit thrift shops (it can be bundle stores or just your local Salvation Army) and slowly go through the clothes, and only purchasing ones I really like.

To date, I have purchased a gorgeous ZARA tweed jacket for RM20, an Anna Sui silk dress for RM7, and persuaded my friend to purchase a wedding dress made by a local designer for RM50. Buying preloved or vintage is always a win-win situation. You get it for cheap, encourage recycling, and support a charitable cause. I also love the adrenaline rush I get from finding a high-quality piece at 99% off the original retail price. It makes me feel very accomplished.

In these stores, you’ll never know what you are going to find. It’s a treasure trove of fashionable possibilities. So keep an open mind and visit the nearest second-hand shop near you!

3. DIY something old

You know that favourite white shirt you have that has got curry mee stains on it because you are a messy eater? What about that pair of jeans that are worn and ripped?

Looks like you can’t swap or resell it - but that does not mean you should throw it.

Stained shirt? Redye or tie-dye it.

Ripped jeans? Make it a tote.

Dad’s old shirt? Make it a wrap-around bow skirt.

Out of season tee? Make it a crop top and add embellishments.

I’ve shortened my old pair of jeans and added sequins to them and birthed a new pair of shorts. I used ribbons "loaned" from my mother to engineer a waistline of an A-line dress, making something old, something new.

4. Buy high quality

If you are looking to buy new clothes, always opt for high-quality ones. The quick turn of trends these days creates a conducive environment for fast fashion.

What is fast-fashion?

It is the creation of trendy clothing for cheap that you can purchase almost immediately after you catch them on the runway or red carpet. The material used and the working conditions of those who made it are ethically questionable.

How do you feel about supporting illegally cleared cotton fields that use large amounts of pesticides to make your clothes? How do you feel about supporting sweatshops where poverty-stricken workers are tasked to put together your clothes in unhygienic workshops that are fire hazards for 12 to 16 hours every day?

Not great, right?

That is why I would encourage you to buy higher quality (and if possible, produced and tailored ethically) clothes that can last more than 30 spins in the washing machine.

How do you spot good quality apparel? Here are some guidelines:

  • Read the tag. It tells you information about how it is made and material used.

  • Stick to natural fibres. Choose cotton, wool, cashmere, linen, or silk. They last longer than synthetic ones.

  • Check the stitches. Held together by threads, clothes with good quality have neat and strong stitching. It won’t snap or unravel with tugging.

Keep a lookout for the use of Tencel fibres. They are fibres produced by environmentally responsible processes from sustainably sourced natural raw wood. They are durable, soft, highly flexible, and biodegradable. More and more brands are incorporating the use of TENCEL fibres into their designs. Among them are H&M, The North Face, Wacoal, Levi’s, Ted Baker, and ASOS. Just remember to read the tags, or if you are buying online, click ‘Information’ and get to know more about what it is made of before carting it.

Sure, high-quality clothing can cost more but if it lasts longer, don’t you think that is a better investment? The trick is to buy high-quality wardrobe staples because you’ll keep re-wearing them.

5. Start renting

Image: @rentadress_kl on Instagram

Big event coming up? A wedding dinner or company dinner to attend? Or maybe a charity ball?

Here’s my advice. Don’t buy a brand new dress.

I mean, the sparkly gown that is on a discount for RM700 will make you feel like the belle of the ball but after that event, it will be collecting dust balls in your closet. Will you wear it again? Highly unlikely, because trends change.

Instead of buying, rent! Sashay into the event in a dress that costs just a fraction of the price tag. Plus, it won’t take up real estate in your home. Choose from long gowns to short cocktail dresses, traditional clothes to off-the-runway designs - there is no shame in renting!

I admit. I have been an irresponsible consumer when it comes to clothes. All I wanted was to buy and hoard. Something new always appealed to me. As I got older, I started to consider my actions (my husband shaking his head about how much stuff I had) and realised that all these things do not elevate my standard of living. The need for more begets the need for much more!

Here are a few places you can check out: Rent a Dress, Glam Edge, LoLa Gown & Dressaville.

What we need to do to conserve our environment is to consume less.

I read a study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology that artefacts retrieved from the RMS Titanic wreckage more than 100 years after it sank, included clothing articles such as vests and silk robes. That is how long clothes can live - underwater!

After going on this lifestyle change, I realised that I became more creative with my dressing. It is not about following trends, but making trends work in your favour. It benefits my personal development, the environment, and my pocket. I get to be a part of something much bigger than myself through an indirect involvement with charity and reducing the demand for fast fashion.

Ladies and gentlemen, I guess green is now the new black.

You can also find out more about the writer on Instagram.

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