Do you ever think about where your clothes come from? I don’t mean just the country where they were produced, or the company that made them. I mean, did you think about the people behind the product? The effort that was put into your piece of clothing? The toll it took on nature? Basically: do you think about what it took to produce the item you’re wearing? I’ve been starting to do just that, and it changed my perspective on (buying) clothes.
This is the third time I will be participating in the O-Swap event. I remember the first time I was going through my closet to decide what I was going to give away. And I can tell you, it wasn’t easy. With each item I came up with reasons for not putting it in the “swap” pile. Sometimes it was a certain memory that was attached to the piece of clothing. Sometimes it was the “I might wear this someday!” excuse (even though I knew I really wasn’t going to).
About half a year later I participated in the second O-Swap event. At that moment I realized I didn’t even miss, or sometimes couldn’t even remember the clothes I handed in last time. So sorting through my closet the second time around was a lot easier.
No excuses, that became my motto for giving away clothes. But at that point my buying habits hadn’t changed much. I still bought clothes at stores which are known for not respecting nature or the people who created the clothes a whole lot. But giving away some of my clothes was a start to a new way of thinking, so I decided to make some small changes. I tried never to buy an item at first sight. I always asked myself the question: do I really need it? Think before you buy, that is one of the most useful things to do when shopping. This is something which Tjitske, one of our O-Swap organizers, sees as essential when buying clothes: “Think critically before you buy something. If you have one favorite black dress, you don’t need four, because it’s probably the favorite one that you end up wearing. I am not saying you shouldn’t buy anything at all, but it’s better to buy a few items you really love and that will last longer”.
As I began buying more consciously, I also started thinking about the story behind the clothes. It’s not like I wasn’t aware of this before, but I sometimes felt I was being guilt-tripped into not buying cheap clothes. I wanted to change because I wanted to, not because someone else told me that I’m an awful person for buying clothes from high street stores. This voluntary change came when I fully realized that people make the clothes I wear, and that it would be very unappreciative to toss aside an item of clothing after wearing it just a few times. As Uvsa chairwoman Lisa puts it: “It’s important to become conscious of how clothes are made, and to realize that there is someone who made the piece of clothing”.
There’s a documentary called “Lawyer of the Earth”, in which lawyers Baltasar Garzón and Polly Higgins claim that because the earth can’t defend itself there should be attorneys who do so. The clothes we wear always take a toll on nature, which is another reason why it’s good to think consciously before you buy. As Jorien, who works for RuG’s Green Office, puts it: “Think of the following things when contemplating buying a piece of clothing: Who made it? What did it take to make this? What am I going to do with this item? Is there another way to get this item of clothing or something similar?”. Jorien also points out the importance of being self-reflective when buying: “If you buy an item in a high street fast fashion store, think about your personal standards and values. Can you still face yourself when buying a certain item?”.
As I said, I’m not one for guilt-tripping. But in the past few months I have refrained from fast fashion as much as I can. Fortunately it leaves me with plenty of other options. Mijn Tafel, for example, is a Finnish concept which allows people to rent a space in the Mijn Tafel store. In Groningen, you can find Mijn Tafel at the Oosterstraat, and they have a big collection of second-hand clothes. Another great option for second-hand clothing is the “Clothes & Accessories in Groningen” Facebook-group. And there are of course many stores in Groningen which sell new ecological clothes. Yes, I know, these clothes are usually a lot more expensive. But here’s some great advice from Linn, who initiated the first clothing swap event in Usva: “Find your own style. Don’t buy items that are not you, which you purchase just because they’re in style at that particular moment. Invest in a good basic wardrobe. It might be more expensive, but it will last longer. If you find your style and stick to it, you’re less likely to throw things away”.
Inspired? Usva and Green Office Groningen will host their fourth clothing swap event on 1 July. If you feel like swapping before that, why not organize your very own clothing swap event with friends? And of course it’s always a good idea to give away the clothes you don’t wear anymore to friends or charity. There’s one piece of advice I’d like to finish with: it’s not always all or nothing, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Start small and make bigger steps as you keep going, and you’ll see that shopping sustainably becomes easier by the day.