Roll Ya Sleeves – The Sustainable Clothing Dilemma

Sustainable Clothing

Your sweater unravels and ruins the weave
But you might be OK with a hole in your sleeve.

I lifted my arm off the desk the other day and got an eyeful of my bare elbow – I had a hole in my cardigan! I quickly rolled up my sleeves – nobody is allowed to see my naked ‘bow.

The solution, of course, is to hide that raggedy little peephole until you get home, grab the spare sweater with the yucky gold buttons and wait for the new one to show up at the door. This time, I decided to try something new. For four weeks I’ve been wearing my snagged cardigan to work every day.

It might seem odd to wait when all I have to do is push confirm on Anthropologie’s checkout page. But since I’ve minimized my wardrobe, I don’t have the same desire to rush into any old sweater on account of elbow embarrassment. Instead I want to pause for a minute and think about and the purchase I’m about to make.

In a world where nothing’s easier than buying something, convenience comes at a cost. I don’t need to lecture you on child labor and global warming, but those factors did play a part in my decision to slow down and shop sustainably.

During my four-week quest I was able to get around successfully in my torn outerwear. There were moments of forgetfulness when I would lean my bare elbow on the cold desk and get a chill. On the way to the restroom I would realize that my sleeves were drooping and quickly push them up just as a coworker walked by. When my brother pointed out that I was still wearing my torn cardigan, I didn’t explain why. I just kept wearing it and hiding the fact that it was in need of repair.

It actually started to feel rather natural rolling up my sleeves every day. I got so comfortable that I stopped shopping for a new cardigan. I just settled into the hole that was now a lot bigger.

This new nonchalant attitude toward my not-so-perfect garment made me think even more about my relationship with my stuff. Sure, I could bask in your applause for the hours spent searching for the most sustainable sweater. But then again, I didn’t once consider not buying a new one.

So I have a little hole in my sweater. It still keeps me warm. Do I really need a new one?

It was easy to get wrapped up in the belief that as long as I “buy green” I can toss aside my torn cardigan. But it actually takes more than just buying free trade sustainable clothing. We can start by wearing our not so perfect cardigan and changing our relationship with how we consume stuff. This isn’t a revolutionary thought – others before me have talked about this and the discussion is ongoing. My favorite website, The Story of Stuff Project, breaks down the entire process of production and consumption. They also share the uncomfortable fact that many of the things we throw away are still perfectly useful. We have been convinced to just toss it because we can trade up for something shiny and new.

By the end of week four I’d worn a pretty large hole in my elbow and it was no longer serving its purpose. Instead of ordering my new USA-made, organic, free-trade, small business, vegan, recycled, natural dyed cardigan, I’ve decided to just use the worn out spare. As long as it keeps me warm, I’ll continue to wear it.

Further Thoughts on Sustainable Clothing

Let’s face it; I could have repaired my cardigan. I was talking to a friend the other day and she told me that she has rescued many sweaters by sewing those darn holes closed. However, she did admit that she only wears them around the house and would never be caught in public with a mended elbow.  Would you be embarrassed to wear a garment with patches or noticeable repairs? Why are we scared to reveal to the world that we mend our clothes instead of buying new?

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