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An Excess of Clothing and COVID-19

How much is in your closet? Why are we addicted to “fast fashion”? How much do you really need? What should you do with the excess that you no longer need or want?

All of these questions dance around in my head as I contemplate a spring closet clean out during my COVID-19 self-isolation. And I certainly am guilty as charged of having “too much” – just like everybody else.

Because I am not going out to work right now, I only wear my athletic clothes for my morning walk and then switch into my painting clothes so I can tackle an art project in my studio or a pair of sweatpants so I can write or binge-watch Netflix in comfort. My need and my wardrobe are pretty minimalist at the moment!

On the other hand, when I return to work I know that will want more variety again. But how much variety is just extravagance? This is  a great time to reconsider my needs and clear the closet of the unnecessary.

But what should I do with them?  I was looking for inspiration when I found this article: What Really Happens When You Donate Your Clothes – And Why It’s Bad.

I wasn’t surprised to find that in North America, we buy five times more clothing than we did in the 1980s. There is no doubt in my mind – from personal experience, seeing my friends’ overstuffed closets, watching Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up, and working in a clothing retailer – that we all buy too much clothing. And that’s because we live in a “throwaway” era.  It wasn’t always like that.

My mother was a dressmaker and my grandfather a tailor so my love of fashion and quality clothing probably comes naturally. In the past, I wore my clothes for decades, not weeks. A few new blouses could turn a navy suit into half a dozen wardrobes. I had one such classic suit that was threadbare by the time it was discarded. And I love to see that there are people like Kestrel –a storyteller & conscious style maven who believes fashion + ethics can jive, and maybe even thrive together – who encourages the dialogue about fashion on her website Conscious Chatter.

But I also wonder if things will change because of COVID-19.

As I sit here and write, the news on the radio tells us we need to restart our economy. They’re encouraging retailers to re-open. Soon folks will return to their downtown office jobs. Factories will start up again in hard hit Asia. Cotton pickers will be back in the fields.

There have been many people who have been in self-isolation for months – either working-at-home or unemployed from the economic free-fall. Many of them – just like myself – have found they can live with fewer clothes. But will they?

Because we’ve become enlightened about our real needs versus wants in life, will we become less wasteful?  Or will our need to “shop” prevail over common sense? If the common sense side wins – what will that mean to the economy that has shrunk more than 10 percent in many countries? As a result of this crisis who will make the difference and/or change the most – consumers or fashion giants? Will retailers and manufacturers struggle to make a comeback and possibly even fail? Or will they change their ways and move toward a more sustainable fashion industry?  In this podcast on Conscious Chatter: Building Resilient, Efficient + Sustainable Supply Chains Amidst and Beyond COVID-19, Dr. Hakan Karaosman says “Brands will be remembered for what they did in this crisis.”

Hakan continues optimistically to predict that: “Slow fashion is going to take over. Quality will be more important than quantity. … Otherwise nothing is going to change.”  He suggests that dumping half of clothing production into landfill in a year is not sustainable. I hope that he is right.

Donna Marshall, the other guest on Kestrel’s podcast warns that: “Getting back to being fundamentally “human” again” is essential to a sustainable industry. She says that “going towards authenticity and humanity again is such an old idea” and one that too many companies have lost sight of.

When you shop again it will be important to ensure that the brands you are choosing are ethical and contributing to a system that “puts people and the planet before profit” as Donna encourages.

Does the brand that you are wearing honor their contracts with suppliers overseas or did they cancel their orders and leave hundreds of low-wage manufacturing staff in distress? Are they looking at ways to mitigate the impact on the 60 million garment workers affected by COVID-19? Is the supply chain that you have been buying from  transparent?

And post-COVID – will either consumers or the fashion industry really change?

We all have a role to play in this crisis and in the future that we want. See this article about The Impact of COVID-19 on the People who make our Clothes for some ideas on how you can support the people who make our clothes during the current crisis, and also think about the question: ” what kind of world do we want to see emerge after this crisis is over?”

Today I am going  assess my closets and drawers and ask myself how I can support workers around the world while returning to quality and longevity in my wardrobe. While doing so, I will pare down what I need to keep for my post-COVID social and work life – and discard the rest. This pandemic has definitely raised my awareness of so many business practices that are not sustainable in the future. And in my mind the concept “fast fashion” is one that definitely needs reconsideration.

I know that many of you will be going back to work again soon. As you clean out your closets, think about how you can pass along things you no longer need (or fit)  to those in need as a result of lost jobs. As you start to “shop” again, ask yourself if the brands you are supporting are socially responsible. And, when you “buy” new items, take pleasure in knowing that you are helping a garment worker  recover from poverty. This virus has affected everyone – let’s help in “Shaping a new social contract through the pandemic”.

 

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