I often wonder how many articles of clothing are on the face of the earth right now. It’s estimated that we collectively consume 80 billion pieces of new clothing each year.
I can hardly wrap my head around a number that big, but one thing’s for sure, it seems totally unsustainable. If we’re making and consuming at such a rapid rate, we can hardly be surprised to learn of fashion’s devastating effects on people and the planet.
While I’m all for supporting local designers who prioritise ethicality and sustainability, I’m also curious to find ways to enjoy style without participating in the mass consumption of textiles.
So, is it possible? How can we appreciate fashion without contributing to these unhealthy statistics?
Well, many have postulated that the future of fashion will be a system by which consumers can rent and borrow rather than pay to own the items they wear. It’s called the share economy and it simply means that we don’t own what we use, we just pay to keep it for a time and then return it.
The thought of hiring clothing initially appealed to me, though as someone who had some seriously poor shopping habits, the idea of paying to borrow an item that I then don’t get to keep raised a few question marks in my mind.
Try Borrowing Clothes
I was never one to borrow clothes from friends. I don’t know that there was any particular reason for it, but my friends and I just never traded outfits.
A couple of years ago, I asked to borrow a pair of heels from a friend and she happily agreed. I wore them to a fancy event and immediately threw them in the back seat of my car as I drove home. The heel height and lace up detail had made for some sore toes and I was happy to get them off my feet.
In the morning, I went out to my car, opened the back door and one of the shoes rolled out and landed in the gutter on the side of the road. The gutter was deep and dirty and there was no way to retrieve it. I sheepishly returned one shoe to my friend, uttering multiple apologies and promising her a new pair immediately. My track record with lending from friends was off to a terrible start.
Since beginning a year-long shopping ban in April of 2018, I decided to give borrowing another try, promising myself and my mates that I’d be extra careful with their items, so as not to repeat the shoe-in-gutter incident.
When faced with a limited wardrobe and strict no-spend rules, I discovered just how useful and fun clothes swapping can be. Since my ban began, I’ve gladly borrowed dresses and skirts and tops from generous friends.
It’s been the perfect way to experiment with new pieces without spending a cent.
Clothes Swaps Are Awesome
Then, I upped the ante.
Whilst out one night, I noticed a sign advertising a clothes swap. It piqued my interest as I hadn’t participated in a large scale swap in a long time.
The rules were simple; clean out your wardrobe and bring with you the pieces that were in great condition, but that you no longer loved and wore.
On the night, clothes would be sorted into categories and at the appointed time, swapping would begin. No tokens, no limits, you were free to take what you wanted, so long as you could put it to good use.
The one rule? Swap generously.
The way the swap was run was entirely new to me and I was truly buzzing as it began. I went along with my mother-in-law and we both found a number of treasures throughout the evening. Not only that, but we met many fantastic women who were interested in enjoying fashion slowly and sustainably.
The items that weren’t taken were offered to women in need and then passed on to second-hand shops.
The experience reminded me just how much stuff already exists.
It’s completely possible that you have at least a couple of items in your wardrobe that you don’t wear. Imagine how those things could be put to great use in someone else’s closet.
For those who haven’t swapped before, here are a few tips for how to approach it.
1. Try It Out On A Small Scale First
Swapping doesn’t have to mean forever.
Maybe you have an event coming up and your friend has the perfect outfit for it. Borrow the item for a little while and be sure to take good care of what they’ve lent you.
While there are plenty of events that allow you to swap for keeps, there’s no reason why you can’t swap items with your mates for a little while, just to try something different.
The bonus here is that it brings back total high school nostalgia, think sleep overs where you’d have fashion shows and direct photoshoots. Ultimate fun.
2. Be Generous With What You Have
If you have pieces in your wardrobe that you don’t wear all the time, be willing to part with them – even for a little while – so that a friend can breathe a little life back into the garment.
Be willing to share. It’s one of the first things we’re taught as kids, to share our toys, and yet I know I’ve often found it difficult to unwrap my hands from the things that are mine.
I’m often overcome by a prideful sense of ownership and I don’t want others to have the things I have. It sounds pretty gross when you put it so plainly, but I’ve truly felt this way before.
I think that if you’re not willing to share, you shouldn’t borrow from others, you’ve gotta be willing to give as well as get.
3. Hire An Item From Someone You Don’t Know
If lending from a friend doesn’t excite you, there are more and more options available to hire clothing.
Most major cities will have small and large scale websites and shop fronts, that allow you to hire clothing for the short term. Many of these businesses have designer pieces available for a fraction of the retail cost.
The benefit here is that you’re not spending big bucks to own something you may realistically wear once or twice. This option is great for those extra special occasions where you want to feel a million bucks without spending that much (and without being wasteful with resources)!
While I look forward to the day I can commence shopping again (in a slow and mindful way), I am all the more eager to continue the habit of swapping. Sharing with your mates is fun and who doesn’t want access to a huge wardrobe without having to store all the clothes (or pay for them)?
Many Things Need to Change
If we’re honest with ourselves, it doesn’t make sense to sink a load of money into an item we only intend to wear a handful of times.
It’s not a sustainable habit and it’s not a good use of the resources that have been spent on the clothing production, even if you’re purchasing something that has been ethically and sustainably made.
If we’re going to create a more ethical industry, there are many, many things that will need to change. On a consumer level, the choices we make are significant and one thing we can practically do is to swap instead of shop.
Now, I’m not suggesting you should quit shopping altogether and never buy anything ever again, though that might be your jam.
What I am suggesting is opening our wardrobe doors and inviting our friends in.
Sharing what we have with those who can benefit from it. It’s hardly a revolutionary thought. But the consequences just could be. If we all opted to swap instead of shop, every now and then, how many less clothes would be needlessly purchased?
We buy because it has become our default habit.
We are too readily convinced that we have nothing to wear. If you search through your things and still come to the conclusion that you have nothing to wear, it’s highly likely that you’ll find something suitable in someone else’s closet.
Whether you swap some clothes with a friend for a few weeks, participate in a large scale swap-for-keep event, or pay to hire some fancy formal wear, the choice to borrow is one that allows for fashion fun without being wasteful.
Is this something you’re already doing? Do you and your friends share clothes? Which hire services have you tried and what would you recommend? Share your experiences below!