Textiles and sustainable living

A personal account about textiles, shopping, and sustainability.

Clothes, decorative and functional home textiles, accessories, textiles for cleaning, upholstery…  We’re surrounded by textiles and do need them in our daily lives, and we’re often used to them being way cheaper than they actually should be. The textile industry can—at its worst—be polluting and unsustainable both ecologically and socially, a factor that partially enables low prices for the products we seek. One might ask: is there a way to produce textiles in a way that is sustainable, ecological and local, and still affordable?

Well, in my view there is—depending on your definition of “affordable”, since with a quality product, the price comes with. It’s about values and choices: if you’re looking for product that is made ethically and/or locally and/or ecologically, it takes some research and budgeting. On the other hand, a quality product will hopefully last you a long time with proper care, and thus will decrease the need to constantly spend on buying new products.

Strategies for sustainable living

In terms of sustainability in my own life, I have four main strategies:

  1. Shop less
  2. Make it yourself!
  3. Re-use, repair, recycle
  4. When possible, buy from local, ecological and transparent companies

1. My biggest strategy at consuming textiles in a sustainable manner is that I deliberately avoid shopping—especially for clothes—since I’ve found that by not tempting myself by looking at new stuff or items on sale, I do not buy new things on a whim. This is a habit I’ve had for several year, and I’m still very okay with the selection of clothes I own! (apart from the occasional “I have nothing to wear!!”-moment…)

Then, when I really do need to shop for something, I always try to ask myself: do I really need this item? Am I going to make the most of this item? (= is it versatile?) Is it compatible with the rest of my wardrobe? Does it add someting to my wardrobe, or is it a near duplicate of something I already own in form or function? The same applies to about any other product I might buy, too. The last thing I want is items ending up hiding in a box somewhere somewhere because I’m not using them after all…

2. Making clothes by yourself takes a lot of time, but I find that once I make something myself, I really wear it often! It’s like a reward being able to wear something that you worked so many hours for… Plus, you can make things that really fit you! Making clothes or other items from second-hand fabric is also a rewarding experience, as you combine old and new to get a really unique look for your garments.

3. Buying used clothing, repairing broken ones and recycling those I no longer need are definitely good strategies to use textiles in a more sustainable manner. Some basic sewing skills go a long way in repairing a broken zipper, a hole or a broken seam, and that little repair can give your broken garment a whole new life! And if I don’t use a garment at all but it’s in okay condition, someone else might… so making use of donation bins is definitely on my list!

4. When buying new items, I try to pay attention to the company’s ecological footprint (if they have information on it available), as well as the place of production and the materials used. Some companies are very transparent about where their products are manufactured, and which materials they use, which is great. The textiles that match my hopes and values will inevitably be more expensive, but on the other hand I buy new things relatively rarely, and I use the things I own for a long time.

Of course, I’m not 100% perfect as a responsible and sustainable consumer, and I occasionally end up acquiring things that don’t match this criteria. Sometimes get annoyed at myself for doing so; however, I do think it’s worth it trying to think about these choices in my daily life and trying to live and make purchases accordingly as much as possible, since that’s something that’s important for me personally. And, with time, I find I get better at making those choices!

A wardrobe inventory

As I’m in Japan right now and only have a part of my wardrobe with me, I though it’d be an easy and a fun exercise to do an inventory of my clothing. It was quite useful, and very fast! While this year I’ve had a buy some new clothes (I realized that few of my clothes were compatible with Japanese summer, which is brutally hot and humid compared to Finland…!), there are some pieces I’ve had for a LONG time, over 10 years that is!

Here’s an overview of my current Japan wardrobe (tops, dresses, pants, skirts, jackets and sportswear):

57 pieces in total, of which…
16% are vintage/second-hand
11% were made by myself, a family member or a friend
7% are over 10 years old (bought new)
40% are 5 years old or more (bought new)
10% are 4 – 1 years old (bought new)
16% were bought in 2018 (bought new)

This was a really useful way to see (a) how long I’ve used the clothes in my wardrobe, and (b) to some extent where they come from (if they’re second-hand or handmade). In the future, I’d like for my wardrobe to include more pieces I’ve made myself, and more used items compared to new ones. Some goals for 2019-2020!

That’s my two cents on how I negotiate textiles and sustainable living. In what ways does sustainability direct your consumer behaviour and habits?

In this blog post, I talk a little bit about what my designer-self thinks about the topic. If you have a moment, do check it out!

© 2019 Elisa Penttilä

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s