The case for reusing and repairing your damaged clothing
Please ruin your clothes
Words— Marc Richardson
Do you have something laying around that you never wear anymore? Does it kind of suck, knowing how much you liked wearing that particular piece of clothing or knowing how much you paid for it? Well, what if I told you that the secret to having your clothes last longer was to intentionally ruin them? And what if I told you that the morally responsible thing to do was just that? I know it sounds counterintuitive, so allow me to explain.
One of my favourite pieces of clothing had been ruined for months. It was—emphasis on the past tense—a white work jacket that people told me I was an idiot for buying. White, after all, gets dirty really easily. But I have a penchant for white clothes, so I ignored what turned out to be rather sage advice.
Of course, on the first day that I wore it, I spilled coffee on it… There were some faint stains near the bottom and on the left sleeve, but that wasn’t even what made it unwearable. Instead, there seemed to be some sort of blotchy, yellowish stain that covered the entirety of the jacket—kind of like reverse bleach. I don’t know exactly when this mysterious stain appeared, but it was at some point after the coffee incident, but before I got chocolate on the cuff of the jacket. The blotch, as it was known, drove me nuts. It was weird. Most people didn’t notice it at first, but once they did, it was impossible to unsee. And with good reason—I mean, what would even cause that?
"...if you’re giving clothes away only to justify buying something new, are you really doing it for the right reasons?"
So, slowly but surely, I phased my beloved jacket out of rotation, relegating it to a hanger in the darkest depths of my closet. After a few months without wearing it, I was ready to get rid of it and replace it with something new. But, I didn’t need a new jacket. Instead, I hit the pharmacy and grabbed some fabric dye. I soaked the jacket in hot water, with the dye, for thirty minutes and let it dry overnight. I wasn’t sure what the finished product would look like. I hadn’t even done research about dyeing it before picking up the dye. I just knew that it couldn’t end up less wearable than it already was. The results were pleasantly surprising. The jacket came out a tie shade of brown and I’ve worn it regularly over the last few weeks—probably more than I had worn the jacket in the last year, combined.
That got me thinking about just how quickly we tend to give up on things. Not the nebulous kind, but actual, physical things—possessions. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with giving your clothes away to help those who are less fortunate. There are countless organizations that will gladly accept donations and make sure that your clothes get into the hands of those who need them most. But, the problem is that our culture of consumerism has taught us that if we get rid of something, we need to replace it. It’s a vicious cycle that has contributed to making fashion one of the most wasteful industries in the world—one predicated on seasonality and trends and constantly buying things that are new rather than extending the lifespans of what we already own.
So if you’re giving clothes away only to justify buying something new, are you really doing it for the right reasons? Is it even the “right thing to do”? Or are you just doing more harm by needlessly buying more?
What if, instead of constantly chasing new garments—and more garments—we decided to salvage the pieces that we seldom wear? There are dozens, if not hundreds, of ways to turn old into new. And, rather ironically, there are myriad examples of brands and designers selling the kinds of garments you can make for yourself.
Dyeing things that are stained is an easy way to start. Not only is it inexpensive—three boxes of fabric dye cost me less than five dollars—but it’s pretty easy to do, especially if the garment you want to dye is white to begin with. It also lets you make something that’s truly unique: In the month since I’ve altered my jacket, I’ve gotten more than a few “wow, I’ve never seen that colour on that jacket before, where did you get it?”
Have a pair of jeans that are a bit used? Rip them up and patch them up to create a Japanese boro look. Brands sell jeans like these for hundreds and hundreds of dollars, but you can get the same for maybe $20. Or, you can turn your jeans into shorts with a pair of scissors. If you’re going for a more “artistic look”, grab some paint and splatter it on pants or a jacket that you don’t wear anymore. It’s a great way to give something that you might find too basic more character. Heck, write something on the back of your jacket with paint if you feel like it.
Regardless of what you want to do with your old clothes, just do it. Yes, it’s a great way to get things that are truly unique or to create something that you had always wished existed—like capri jeans, perhaps (though I’m not co-signing that). But, more importantly, it’s a great way to reduce waste. Or, rather consumption. Shouldn’t our clothes last us more than a few seasons? If you invest in well-made pieces your clothes can last you years, not seasons. And if you invest the time and creative energy into giving them new life, well, they can last even longer.
And that means buying less and wasting less. But it also means that companies might get the message that we, as consumers, don’t want things that we always need to replace. We want a culture of sustainable consumption—one where inexpensive clothes don’t come at the cost of our future.
At a time when we’re all looking for ways to reduce our environmental impact, why not start by thinking twice before throwing perfectly good clothes by the wayside? Why not start by grabbing a pair of scissors or a paintbrush and giving your clothes a second life by ruining them?