Upcycling Your Closet: Use Your Power as a Consumer For Positive Change

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By Loren North

Did you know that the fashion industry is cited as being the second largest polluter after the oil industry? The water production for just a single pair of jeans is 2,900 gallons. The impact of the fashion industry on the environment and society is becoming increasingly well- known; fortunately, this knowledge can empower you to make more conscious wardrobe choices.

The pesticide use for cotton is so high that it is considered the world’s dirtiest crop. Cotton covers only 2.5 percent of the world’s cultivated land, yet cotton growers use 16 percent of the world’s pesticides. Data from 2012 estimates that the amount of resources used for fiber production every year equal approximately 145 million tons of coal and 1.5-2 trillion gallons of water. The average American also throws away more than 60 pounds of textile waste each year. Of the clothing that is donated, less than 20 percent gets sold IMG_20160302_142224through thrift stores. The clothing instead goes to a postconsumer waste stream or to facilities that are clothing processors.

Unfortunately, the environment isn’t the only factor; there’s a human cost, as well. In 1911, 146 workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City tragically lost their lives. The Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh claimed the lives of 1,129 people in 2013 – ironically fashion’s most profitable year of all time. The incidents of lives lost to this industry in between these dates are countless.

What can you do? You can make the most of what you already own, make it last, and restyle your clothes and accessories for new looks. Here is some guidance to get you started:


What look do you want to portray in professional and/or casual settings? Choose a celebrity or designer whose style resonates with you and use that as your guide. Browse magazines and the internet for inspiration. Also, consider what accessories help define the style you are targeting.


Determine which items in your wardrobe align with your style. Try those clothes on to WIN_20160302_152423ensure they fit properly. A proper-fitting garment should skim your body, meaning the clothing lays against your skin without excessive bagginess, gathering or length. It also should not be skin tight, pull or restrict movement. The clothing should not hide your natural shape or silhouette. If your clothes do not fit, either donate or consign them. If they are too big, consider alterations.


Consider the look you want to achieve and the pieces you have to get there. You bought them for a reason, so start putting together outfits that meet your goals. Also consider separating out your clothes by season – yes, we do have them here in Phoenix. For fall and winter, choose darker colors, shirts with longer sleeves, and heavier fabrics (wool blends, heavier cotton). For the spring and summer, look for lighter fabrics (linen, silk blends), sleeveless and short sleeves, and lighter colors. Add accessories to further enhance the style. As you create outfits, try them on and document with a camera so you can refer to these looks. At the end of all of this, your outfits should feel new to you.


You may have some gaps in your wardrobe that need to be filled. Before running to the mall, consider shopping second- hand stores or hosting a clothing swap event with friends or colleagues. By shopping second-hand, you are reducing demand for new clothing, therefore reducing all the resources that go into bringing that garment or accessory to market. Also, you are keeping that garment out of the landfill cycle for at least one more use.

To understand more about the impact of the fashion industry on people and the planet, view the documentary “The True Cost,” or read “Overdressed – The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion,” by Elizabeth L. Cline.

Loren North is a personal stylist and owner of Through the Closet Door. She has spent the past 14 years in the environmental consulting and software fields. Ms. North focuses her styling on reuse of existing garments and accessories and sourcing “new” items from secondhand and sustainable sources. For more information and to follow her, visit throughtheclosetdoor.com or contact her at loren@throughtheclosetdoor.com.

Find more fashion articles at greenlivingaz.com/fashion

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