April 24, 2010

The Zero Waste Closet

Last week was April 15th! For most it meant tax day. For me: Biannual clothes shopping day. The day I refresh my worn out basics and add some zing to my wardrobe. I wait and prepare for it for months at a time. I love fashion and I only shop twice a year: April 15th for spring-summer, and October 15th for fall-winter.

Before each spree, I visit the library and go through magazines to get inspired and educate my eye. This is a system that I have lived by for the past eight years.
But, please... don't blame me for being tempted by fashion, symbol of a disposable and ephemeral closet: I graduated from the London School of Fashion, and still enjoy expressing myself through dressing. And as long as my shopping habits follow my sustainable ethics, isn't it alright to be fashionable? What can I say: I do care about my looks, regardless of the Zero Waste lifestyle, sadly associated with careless / carefree clothing. Did I mention that one does not need to conform to a certain fashion style to be a Zero Waste advocate?…My personal fashion sense is rather about wearing exciting, one of a kind, USED pieces to make my everyday more exciting.

I can see some of you cringing at the idea of thrifting already. "I can't find anything in that mess", or "Oh! I can't take the smell in thrift shops", people tell me... It's true that the items in the shop have lost their smell of off-gassing plastics and that these shops don't have perfume in the air (department stores) to cover it up. Isn't it sad that most people prefer to shop in a store that reeks of plastic because the smell is associated with new things, the high of shopping and consumerism? You know what I am talking about if you have practiced department/new store abstinence before. It is like discovering the true smell of your house after a long absence... Well the true smell (or is it the phthalates?) of those new stores actually makes me nauseous. And if the term "used" bothers you, call it "vintage". Somehow vintage stores, although they also only carry used items, have a better reputation.

But what I love most about thrift and vintage shopping is the hunt for the unusual clothing, the minimal price tag (where I shop they use a piece of paper stapled to the garment as a price tag), and the carbon footprint redemption, of course… This is where you choose a garment for its fit, not its tag or brand.

Here is my system:
  • I stick to minimal closets: My boys, for example, have a set of 4 pants, 8 shirts, and a dressy outfit for each season. I'll spare you my wardrobe list.
  • I keep a minimal shoe closet: I have paired it down to just 6 pairs of shoes: slippers, boots, ballet, medium heel, high heel sandal, and sandals. For the kids, I buy athletic shoes second hand, and when worn out I take them to Nike "Reuse a Shoe" program. (At the rate that my little one goes through sneakers, we wait to fill a bin before taking them in). They also own a pair of dress shoes, flip-flops and slippers.
  • I own only a small selection (3) of purses: 1 everyday/evening wrist wallet, 1 small foraging messenger bag and 1 work bag (to fit my computer).
  • I keep an updated inventory of my closet, made up of neutral colors and exciting season-less essentials. On that same excel file, I highlight the items that I wore out (holes, tears or stubborn stains) and need to replace on the next shopping trip.
  • I shop twice a year: It avoids compulsive buys, keeps us out of the mall. (We actually only shop once a year for my husband).
  • I shop at second hand stores mostly: I believe in reusing before buying new organic clothes. This season, the new items I purchased were a pair of sandals (could not find a basic secondhand pair) and a bra. The rest I bought at the thrift shop for $40 (I can proudly say, it is a record low)
  • If I do get a new piece, I make sure that it is good quality, and only carries minimal tags (I leave the shoe box at the store). Patagonia, I hear, recycles some of their garments to make new ones.
  • I am ruthless on fit, it is as simple as: "If it doesn't fit, I must acquit!"
  • I bring a basket: Too often we think about the reusable bag at the grocery store, but don't apply it to other stores.
  • I put it back on the market before it goes out of style: If, for some reason, I do not wear a specific piece of clothing for a month, I give it to a friend or Goodwill. Otherwise I end up with a closet full of nothing-to-wear. Keep it on the market and share it while it's hot!
  • I keep some of my worn out clothes for rags (duh), but I label the rest as "rags" and take it to Goodwill for recycling. Call your local Goodwill to confirm their participation in the program.
  • With sewing, I have been able to save many outfits, with only a few stitches (shorten a hem, add an elastic or change buttons...)
  • I take it to the tailor, if something is out of my technical expertise (I recently had to take a coat in, the fabric is too thick for my machine)
  • I keep handkerchiefs handy in my closet and purses.
  • TMI: I keep vitamin E balm next to my sandals to add shine to my polish-free toes.
And you know what the bonus was on this last thrifting spree? Finding a two liter Le Parfait jar for only $2. Yoohoo!