Tender Loving Fabric Care

Tender Loving Fabric Care

The term ‘fabric care’ is laughable when so many of us abandon garments at the sight of a snag, consume clothing like toilet paper and over-wash them clean of colour. How we currently ‘care’ isn’t necessarily sustainable or ethical for the garment or the environment. With a new initiative aiming to show how we can make a difference, NJAL’s Fi Anderson investigates the consumer’s integral yet overlooked responsibility in the clothing life cycle and how to really care for our wardrobes.

With so much emphasis placed on sustainable design and manufacture, it’s easy to forget a garment’s life doesn’t end at the point of purchase. Yet, a report by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), shows 25% of the carbon footprint of clothes is a result of our haphazard habits of washing and maintaining our clothes. In fact, extending the life of clothing by an extra nine months of active use would reduce their carbon, waste and water footprints by a startling 20-30%. That’s a huge difference, and it takes just a few simple gestures that we can all adopt and action. 

How can consumers be motivated to take more care of their clothing though when the UK population alone is still chucking 350,000 tonnes of it in landfill every year? AEG, the global supplier of home appliances is pioneering a solution. The electrical innovators are taking up the challenge with its Care More Initiative. It aims to raise awareness amongst both consumers and independent fashion designers about improving product choices, fabric care and disposal methods to extend the life of a garment. It makes sense. NJAL believes that independent fashion designers are not just the vanguard of contemporary fashion today, but the ambassadors of our creative future. 

While you might think AEG is closer to the kitchen than the catwalk, the German giant has proved itself far more than a mere appliance manufacturer. In 2014, AEG produced The Next Black, an inspiring documentary about the future of fashion and the industry itself. While viewers were wowed by Studio XO’s bubble-producing dress for Lady Gaga and Adidas’ health wearables – the key message was about reconnecting with clothing in a passionate and personal way, and finding solutions for a more sustainable future through a tactile, tangible love for fashion and its wild and winding creativity. 

AEG is encouraging people to produce and consume quality over quantity – a difficult task with the juggernaut of fast fashion in full swing. However, countless brands and emerging designers are already reacting against the rails of mass production by returning to traditional crafts, experienced artisanal production and quality fabrics for slow fashion consumption. Just take man-of-the-moment Tom Cridland who has garnered a great deal of attention recently with the T-Shirts and jackets he guarantees will last thirty years.

“We believe there is an accelerating shift away from what we call fast fashion. Clothes are made to look great on the sale rack but fall apart after a handful of washes,” Bayard Winthrop, founder of American Giant, recently said. In maintaining full control with local production, the Made in America brand has amassed a growing fan-base for its high-quality basics. “Our customers want great clothes first, and that’s what we’re focused on.”

Independent and emerging designers, as found on Not Just a Label, are more likely to produce locally and by hand, paying more attention to detail and quality. Latvian duo Linda Blanka and Martins Blanks of BlankBlank not only offer timeless styles but produce all pieces bespoke and manually in their studio. Ala Mairi guarantees expertly made pieces and the preservation of traditional crafts by working with embroiderers in Pakistan and handloom weavers in Scotland. 

It may be early days but technological advances such as 3D printing also aim to create customised garments that fit our exact body shape and lifestyle, thus becoming indispensable in the process. After all, few of us are so quick to throw away tailored pieces.

Such consideration is redundant though if we go on to damage our clothing through overwashing and neglect. Wash temperature and the question of dry cleaning may not be quite as captivating conversations as Kim Kardashian’s latest selfie but they are crucial ones. Most of us are cooking our laundry at too high a temperature when it doesn’t even need washing.

It was found as much as 82% of energy use and 83% of CO2 emissions in the lifecycle of a blouse comes from washing and drying. It takes 3,781 litres of water to produce a pair of 501s but Levi’s life-cycle assessment still found “a big portion of the water consumed over the life of a pair of jeans is during consumer care, specifically when it comes to laundering.”

Considering AEG has found almost a third of consumers interviewed across 16 countries run their washer at least seven times per week, there are significant savings to be made. For designers, it can seem simpler to label elaborate garments or fabrics as dry-clean but this is often unnecessary and actually a deterrent for potential customers wanting to avoid the cost and effort. 

AEG is proposing we wash at lower temperatures and to avoid dry-cleaning where possible. The manufacturer has created washing machines that are more gentle than handwashing and can even detect the size of the load to adjust the wash cycle accordingly and save energy. Most washing machines also have specific settings for different materials such as wool and silk in order to protect delicate garments and preserve quality. 

If you do decide to make space in your wardrobe, though, there is an ever growing array of options for disposing of clothing responsibly. A garment’s lifecycle doesn’t need to end with you now the market for upcycling and second-hand are growing. Online startups such as Vinted promote second-hand shopping and enable people to get money from their cast-offs. While big names such as H&M and Marks and Spencer encourage the recycling and donation of old garments in store. 

Reusing clothing and material have become a major movement in sustainable design. For designers such as NJAL’s very own (re)vision society and Fade Out, upcycling is the basis of their creative approach as well as their ethos. “Recovering raw materials and bringing them back to life is a gesture of love of which we designers benefit first,” says Andrea and Nicola of Fade Out. “Sustainable fashion is the only alternative we have to improve the quality of the world and therefore the quality of our lives in it.” 

If endless talk of sustainability and saving the planet has you feeling green fatigue, AEG is quick to point out becoming an environmental superhero is not the only benefit of looking after our clothes. Consuming fewer garments and washing powder as well as avoiding the dry cleaners makes perfect financial sense. Extending the life of clothing by an extra nine months of active use would save £5 billion in resources used to supply, launder and dispose of clothing.