Going Green: An Eco Clothing Guide (2)

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by Professor Rebecca Earley

Part 2: Extending Life


In many senses how you care for your clothes is almost more important than what you bought in the first place. Between 50 – 80% of the environmental impact of a garment will come from the washing, drying and ironing stage of its life – so its crucial we do a few things to limit this. When we do go out for a browse around the shops at the weekend, think about visiting the local charity stores first. It’s all about making more of what we already have an abundance of. Finally, if we make an effort to keep clothes in use for as long as humanly possible we will be doing ourselves and the planet a huge favour – we can save money, virgin materials and valuable resource use, and also enjoy a sense of creativity and family fun. Extending the life of fashion and resources is as much about our mindsets as our purchases.


Give a little extra time and thought to how you care for clothes at home by following these guidelines.

1. Live a Low Launder Life. In short – try to wash clothes less often. Quite often we run around picking up things (after the children have thrown them off!) and we put them in the laundry basket as a matter of course. Take ten minutes and a small sponge to remove spots of dirt, and hang things back up. A quick iron can refresh things without having the full washday experience. (This advice is not for underwear of course!). When you do wash, select 30 degrees – as often as you can. Don’t tumble dry – line dry if you have the space. Invest in a low energy drying rail for the winter months. And really – don’t iron. Our grandmothers wasted their lives spitting and hissing with a hot iron.

2. Be Your Own Stylist. You pretty much have what you need in your wardrobe – so invest more time in sorting through it and trying out new combinations. Styling sessions with friends, music and a little wine are not just for teenagers! For the kids you can make it quality family time, and build their confidence, knowledge and creativity at the same time.

3. Upcycle. Cotton, silk and wool items can be over-dyed – it’s easier than you think. Buy dyes for the washing machine from Dylon, or get crafty and make your own natural dyes. Onions, dandelions, berries and a bucket. You really don’t need much more than that! Fabric pens and fabric paints with a homemade card stencil can go over stains, and an iron sets the print for washing.

4. Make Mending Cool. Kids love to learn to sew, and mending clothes can be a great way to teach them about the planet and ready them for a life of conscious consumption. Invest in embroidered badges and patches – John Lewis have a good selection or buy online. Being able to mend and sew puts kids in a good place – for being an impoverished student in later years, and as a way to de-stress around exam time.

5. Make Your Own. If you really get into good wardrobe stewardship, then try to make your own stuff from scratch. There are lots of classes, kits, youtube tutorials and even websites these days that can act as a private tutor. Get help with knitting cardigans from Wool and the Gang (woolandthegang.com). Take the kids to special sewing workshops like Little Hands Design, littlehandsdesign.com and see if you have the next Vivienne Westwood on your hands!

To indulge your interests further, look for upcycling design enthusiasts online. Check out Mini Magpie, run by a lady who makes amazing kids clothes from old cashmere knitwear, which you can buy from etsy (etsy.com). She is based in East London, has a shop and runs workshops teaching mums to make upcycled clothes themselves (minimagpie.com). The cashmere jumper sleeves transformed into baby leggings photo tutorial is well worth a look. My mums also love Christa Davis for her exceptional eye for vintage fabrics (christadavis.com). There are so many designers out there – go seek for yourself and get you and your family some truly original clothes to cherish.


When you are in the mood for something new and don’t have the time or energy for your wardrobe makeover, then think about a Saturday afternoon charity shop treasure hunt with the kids. I give mine £3 each and off we go to the most easterly end of Chiswick High Road. We start our hunt in Mary’s Living and Giving, which is where Mary Portas has created a new model for how second hand goods can be sorted and presented. We have found amazing kids clothes there – a Harrods linen blazer for £25 is the best buy so far (and a £30 Biba jacket for me). From there we head west to Oxfam Boutique – the second best for carefully curated content. Head up Turnham Green Terrace for Fara Kids as well as Trinity Hospice, Barnado’s, Oxfam Books and a number of other great little shops to rummage in. If the kids have any spending money left, and the ability to carry on walking, the final stop on the High Road is always Cancer Research.

A bit further afield there is of course TRAID in Shepherds Bush, Westbourne Grove, and Kilburn High Road. My friends say vintage gems can often be found in Trinity Hospice on Kensington Church Street; they have a specialist in children’s clothing there. West London has no end of charity shops – it’s the mindsets and sense of adventure we all need to embrace. Let’s do it for the kids!


I appreciate there is a lot to think about and do each time you want a new outfit for your kids, but there is also a much bigger choice out there than heading for Gap. All of the mums I spoke to spend a good deal of time with the five bags I outlined in part 1. If you are really canny you can even make money by keeping your wardrobes edited – reLIKE.co.uk offer a great bundle selling service – and you can get size specific bags of clothes delivered to your door too. The bottom line is many of us have slipped into shopping for clothes as quickly and cheaply as possible – but much like the food that we eat – what takes a little longer and costs a little more is often well worth it – for our wellbeing, for our kids and for the future of our planet.

Further Reading

Greenpeace reports, greenpeace.org

What is the Bangladesh Safety Accord, and what brands have signed it? bangladeshaccord.org, just-style.com

Laundry Guidelines, loveyourclothes.org.uk

Dye Your Own Clothes, nhm.ac.uk, theecologist.org


A big thank you to my list of eco experts and parents:

Dr Kate Goldsworthy, tedresearch.net

Kate Black, magnifeco.com

Roxy Housmand and Joss Whipple, therightproject.org

Georgie Hodson, georginahodson.com

Holly McQuillan, hollymcquillan.com

Louise Kamara, ecodesignfair.co.uk

Ashley Phillips, glartique.com

Ella Doran, elladoran.com

Lucy Jane Batchelor, lucyjanebatchelor.me.uk

Clare Farrell, goodone.co.uk

Emma Jeffs, emmajeffs.co.uk

Zoe Olivia John, engagebydesign.org

Alanah MacAspern, made-by.org

Sarah Dennis, etsy.com/shop/magpieandhen

Emma Rigby, heretoday-heretomorrow.com

Dr Jen Ballie, jenballie.com

Bridget Harvey, bridgetharvey.co.uk

Emmeline Child, Northampton University

Georgia Keepax, stellamccartney.com

Laura Marsden, lauramarsden.com

Zoe Norton, sustainable-fashion.com

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