Consumer Power

Five ways to make your wardrobe zero waste

In search of zero waste

There usually isn’t an aisle in the store marked “zero waste business shirts”. Every time I go clothes shopping I find myself facing lots of choices – all the wrong ones. I only buy new clothes when I feel my wardrobe is genuinely short, like I don’t have enough business shirts to last the week. What I’d like to get is organic cotton, minimum. What I end up being offered is non-organic cotton, at best. Or a polyester/cotton mix. Or even pure polyester.

This is what clothing stores are saying to me:

“buy us, it’s cheaper, it’s novelty, think how big your wardrobe will be”

This is what I want them to say:

“buy us, our clothes are zero waste and won’t hurt the Earth”

What do zero waste clothes even look like?

I need to know things like:

  • were any pesticides or fertilisers used in growing or making the fibres, that go towards the fabric in the shirt I am considering buying?
  • were the workers treated fairly and not put in any danger when contributing towards this shirt I am considering buying?
  • was anything dumped in the earth or in any waterways in the process of making this shirt I am considering buying?

No waste created. No chemicals thrown overboard, no materials dumped. Zilch.

Where am I going to find it?

Option 1: High Street giants – C&A, H&M. The guys who usually get our attention are the big guys, the guys with the money. These days that means multinationals.

Gold Level Cradle to Cradle Certified™ t-shirts by C&A

Perhaps surprisingly retail chain C&A was one of the finalists of The Circulars 2018. The Circulars recognise leaders moving towards the Circular Economy, where waste is reduced to almost zero. As you might imagine, this sort of change doesn’t happen overnight.

C&A has launched the first Gold Level Cradle to Cradle Certified™ garment in the fashion industry, a range of organic cotton T-Shirts that will compost in 11 weeks. This means:

1. All materials are certified organic, safe and non-toxic

2. 100% compostable

3. 100% renewable energy

4. 100% recycled water

5. 100% social fairness

6. 100% open source

I’m not sure what ‘open source’ means – I thought it was a geek thing. But I understand the others. Impressively these garments sell for between €7-9.

Also in the finalists were the H&M Group. Since 2013, H&M collected 54 000 tons (equivalent to 275 million t-shirts) of used textiles for re-use and recycling. They are major users of recycled materials, saving about 30000 tons of CO2 between 2012-16, compared to conventional alternatives. Worth a lot in one’s zero waste search.

Option 2: rent it, lease it

A rental business model is an important part of zero waste, and the Circular Economy. VIGGA.US is a start-up Danish baby clothes rental company, Finalist in Circulars 2018. What’s their business model & how zero-waste is it?

VIGGA send out a bundle of clothes to customers, who exchange these for larger sizes as the child or belly grows (that’s about every minute, if you’ve ever had a baby you’ll know). The returned clothes are checked for flaws, treated and repackaged. What a great idea! VIGGA subscribers could reduce their CO2 footprint by up to 80%, according to the Circulars website.

Mud Jeans are made with up to 40% recycled content. The remaining material is organic cotton. What’s even more interesting is you can lease them, meaning Mud Jeans own them and so are responsible for taking them back and reusing the material. Neat.

Mud Jeans

Option 3: buy used. I think buying used counts as zero waste, because when I buy it I haven’t added to any waste tip.

Charity shops are the tried-and-tested way. There must be at least four or five in every high street, at least here in the UK (maybe because everyone else is moving out?). There’s nothing like the satisfaction of knowing you’ve not only given something a new life, but also given money to a good cause – AND had a good time browsing.

If you are really posh, upcycle. Visit the Moral Fibres blog and see how some people (not me) can turn old scraps into something you’d see at an exhibition. Your kid will be the best-dressed kid at the party – at least until someone spills Coke all over it.

Option 4: use a zero waste fabric

Another finalist at the Circulars 2018 was Evrnu. Evrnu, brainchild of Stacy Flynn and Christopher Stanev, creates a high quality cellulosic fibre using post-consumer cotton textile waste. The process uses 98% less water than virgin cotton, and generates 80% less greenhouse gas emissions at factory gate than polyester.


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