Denim giant Levi Strauss & Co. has started a new initiative to recycle their clothing, citing their studies which indicate that Americans discard about 28 billion pounds of clothing year--about 86 pounds for every man, woman, and child. To draw a picture, that's about 50 pairs of mid-weight denim jeans each and every year. Or, for a more representative picture:
7 pairs of jeans and slacks (10 lbs)
12 pair of underwear (1-2 lbs)
12 pair of socks (1-2 lbs)
15 t-shirts and undershirts (15 lbs)
5 pair of shorts (4 lbs)
2 pairs of sweats (6 lbs)
1 coat (5 lbs)
9 sweaters (20 lbs)
2 suits (7 lbs)
5 pairs of shoes (10 lbs)
.....plus 5-7 lbs of miscellaneous items.
The significance of this is that this is.....close to my entire wardrobe, and I have yet to achieve Elizabeth Cline-greatness in terms of reducing the amount of clothes I own. Moreover, my jeans and slacks last from 3-10 years, and it is a rare sweater or coat that I own that does not last at least a decade. Apart from running shoes, shoes are a similar case. The same holds for the rest of our family--we give away a fair amount of clothing (much of which we are given), but we do not throw much away. Certainly not the 75 pounds per person Levi's suggests go into the dumpster.
But let us assume that Levi Strauss' numbers are correct, and that the average American throws away about as many clothes each year as I own. What then?
Let's consider the fact that all fabrics are made of yarns that are spun, and that fabrics hold together due to how the individual fibers "grasp" one another. So when you undo all that work....you will find that you've shortened the fibers and reduced their ability to be spun well. In other words, as anyone who has ever bought recycled wool products will tell you, recycling fibers tends to produce an inferior fabric that doesn't hang or wear well--and you will "recycle" (discard) even more clothing than you were throwing away before.
Or, put differently, if you want to be environmentally sound in your wardrobe, recycling isn't the way to go about it. Instead, buy good quality garments that are not at the bleeding edge of fashion, get them adjusted to fit you, mend them as needed, and wear them until they're fit for the rag bin.
Or, in the case of a pair of slacks I wore for a decade, you can make the remaining good fabric into cool pants for your three year old son. How many three year olds have pants made of Super 100s wool--pants that last, despite being made from 10 year old slacks, much better than anything we've gotten for him at the store?
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