Zero waste fashion

Filed in Blog by on June 8, 2010 8 Comments
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Little MIss Green sorts clothes for charity
Keeping up with the latest fashion encourages us to dispose of our clothing a few weeks after we have bought it.

Little Miss Green and I were sorting through her wardrobe last week, as we had a bag delivered from the charity shop for collection. In the same week I read that in the UK, the average person throws away 30kg a year of clothing; most of which go to landfill!

Our clothes purchases account for about 1,000kg of CO2 a year – roughly half that emitted by a small diesel car.

As we’ve mentioned on other pages on this site, when you throw biodegradable material into the landfill (such as cotton and wool in the case of clothing), they cannot rot because there is not enough oxygen or light, so they sit there producing methane instead.

I’m sure not one of us can claim hand on heart that we have never bought something, only to realise we have made a bad choice and never worn that item. It’s been hidden at the back of our wardrobe and comes out, a guilty reminder, a few years later, still with labels attached.

In my teens I was notorious for it. Things that look great in shop lighting when you have your friends to egg you on are a horrible mistake once you get them out into daylight and you’re not feeling so confident about your figure.

You can’t get away from fashion. The Sunday magazines are full of adverts and the latest trends – all of them urging you to buy more and keep up with everybody else. There is a lot of aggressive marketing tied in with the fashion industry. Clothing is designed to make us feel good, confident, slim us, give us curves, ensure we have pulling power, make us look chic, powerful or whatever it is you need in your life, the clothing industry will aim to give it to you.

Feeling depressed? Buy some new clothes. Feeling fat? Buy some new clothes? Got a date? Buy some new clothes. Split up with your boyfriend? Buy some new clothes…………..

According to Mark Liu, a London designer who has pioneered the concept of zero waste fashion, approximately 15 % of fabric is wasted in the pattern cutting process. Liu has pioneered techniques that minimise fabric waste during the design and production process.

With this in mind and images of the landfill full of our cast off cheap t-shirts, let’s look at some alternative ways of dealing with clothes that keep our ‘rubbish’ out of the landfill. With a bit of thought and forward planning there are heaps of options for both buying and getting rid of our clothes.


1- REDUCE. Buy fewer clothes of better quality. We’ve all bought cheap stuff that looks naff and most of us will have splashed out on a quality outfit that makes us feel, and look like a million dollars. We all know which gives us greater satisfaction and is the more eco friendly choice don’t we!? Opt for fair trade and organic options wherever you can.

. Gone are the days where charity shops are full of Granny’s cast offs. Now you can buy up to date, good quality and even vintage clothing from charity shops across the country. As the Rolls Royce of Charity shops, TRAID hand pick the best quality clothing for sale in their shops and their team of talented designers who provide cutting-edge customising skills. TRAID shops are the places to find designer bargains, exclusive one-off pieces, original vintage and high quality brand names.

3- SWISH. Swishing involves getting your friends together to swap gorgeous clothes and party at the same time. One girl’s rubbish becomes another’s treasure. Eat, drink and trade merrily whilst keeping clothes out of the landfill.

4- SWAP If you can’t get to a swishing party, or if all your friends are a different size to you, then you can take part on line through I Swap. For designer and more upmarket clothing, try What’s mine is yours.


1- RECYCLE. Don’t throw your clothing away. Take it to a charity shop instead.

TRAID (Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development) is a charity committed to protecting the environment and reducing world poverty through recycling and delivering educational programmes and campaigning within the UK. Funds raised by TRAID through the collection and sale of reclaimed clothing and shoes help to divert waste from landfill and fund sustainable development projects in some of the poorest regions of the world.

2- MAKE SOME MONEY. If you have decent clothes that no longer fit or are unwanted them why not recoup some of the money you have made by selling them? You can try online markets such as eBay or some towns have shops where you can take in your clothes for sale – the shop keeps 50% and you get 50% of any sales in most cases.

3- CLOTHING BANKS. If your clothes are really past their best, then take them to a clothes bank or textiles bank.

Here, nothing is wasted. The best quality items are re-sorted for sending to charities in the UK and for use in developing countries. Worn or damaged textiles are processed for use as wiping cloths and other materials are graded for fibre reclamation and filling products.

4- CLOTHING CREDIT. At swop2shop you can ‘sell’ your clothes for points instead of cash. You can then bank up your credit points and use them to ‘buy’ something you want from the site. You’ll find the latest trends, designer wear and something for the kids too.

What about you – what’s your favourite way to empty and fill your wardrobe the zero waste way?


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (8)

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  1. Julie Day says:

    I recently took a few clothes to the local textile bank, and I have a blouse that I will be taking to Oxfam. Another idea is to wear more and shop less, as Gok Wan tells you to do on his TV programme. He gives his participants several outfits that they can mix and match, so they don’t have to buy more clothes and accessories. He is great for this and I love his programme. Watch him tonight on his Fashion Fix at 8pm on Channel 4.

  2. Karin says:

    Some great tips, Rae. Buying good quality clothes that look good and less of them is definitely the way to go, but apart from the fact we can all be tempted by a ‘bargain’, we can also feel guilty spending a bit more on clothes when we could have more for our money. Sometimes this is not good economic sense if we end up with a wardrobe full of clothes we don’t really like and which wear out in next to no time.

    Organic options are a really good idea as the chemicals sprayed on crops like cotton are not only bad for the environment but also bad for the people who spray the chemicals and work with the cotton and may be bad for us too. I love cotton but until recently I had no idea how toxic it can be. Fairtrade cotton may have had some sprays used on it while it was growing, but Fairtrade should be fair to the people who grow the cotton and take care of the environment, so should not make the workers ill and their families ill or contribute to their premature deaths.

    One thing I am not sure about, and that is how good it is to take clothes to charity shops. A lot of clothes are clearly sold to us in those shops, but I’ve heard that some of them go to be sold in developing countries and then can then cause problems for local clothes manufacturers and retailers, upsetting the local economy. It can also result in the indigenous population swapping traditional dress for jeans and t-shirts, so losing their identity to some extent, although they might not realise it.

  3. Attila says:

    Having bought quite a lot of clothes last year because I was low on clothing, I have now recognised that I do have enough and have largely stopped shopping. I find this very liberating; money can stay in the bank for other stuff and when I see something really nice, I’ll be able to afford it. I do buy some in charity shops and get a few things passed on to me, but find it hard to find things in my size and that are to my taste. I have done quite a lot of alterations and repairs to existing clothing and have this in mind when I buy in charity shops.

  4. Diz says:

    Freegle is a good site for finding and releasing clothing, especially kids clothes. I’ve had a Harrods cashmere coat, a leather jacket, and got rid of some things a relative had slimmed out of.

  5. Alea says:

    Great tips! I was going through my attic and found a box of clothes from my 20’s (have no idea what I was thinking of when I boxed them up). My oldest child (now 20) saw the clothes and went shopping for some new clothes. what she couldn’t use will be going to a vintage clothing store. πŸ˜‰

  6. magdalena says:

    I am now sewing my clothes. I did buy a few things through eBay, which is a good source for the sort of clothes I wear – the Plain dress similar to traditional Amish clothing. I bought a high quality pattern, and will soon enhance my limited wardrobe with some cutom-fitted pieces. I am currently sewing clothes for the little girls in our life, and the fabric scraps are being saved for patchwork quilts and for shredding into stuffing for soft toys. I lay out my patterns carefully so that extra fabric can be used for other things. I also recycle clothing that has gotten stained or torn, by cutting it down into its componentsand using it like flat fabric. Two reclaimed fleece pullovers are about to become a bunting bag for a baby, an old blouse will yield its lace and buttons to trim a dress, and its remaining good fabric will be linings or bloomers.

  7. sandy says:

    I can highly reccomend swop to shop, a brillant site, I have had many a bargain.

  8. Mrs Green says:

    @Julie Day: Hi Julie, I love the work Gok Van is doing to promote shopping less; it’s very inspiring in our disposable culture and refreshing to have a celebrity supporting this.

    @Karin: Thanks for the info about taking clothes to charity shops Karin – perhaps we all need to ask more about what happens to the clothes. I agree that fairtrade and organic are great choices if we decide to buy new.

    @Diz: Great idea, Diz – thank you and so pleased you’ve had some bargains yourself.

    @Alea: How lovely to find those old clothes Alea – I bet you had fun going through those!

    @magdalena: Some wonderful suggestions, Magdalena – thank you for sharing πŸ™‚

    @sandy: Hi Sandy, so pleased you find the swop2shop site useful.

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