While the coronavirus pandemic has made some aspects of zero waste living more challenging [such as refusing plastic bags, shopping from bulk bins, filling reusable cups, and the war on disposable plastics in general], there are some aspects of low waste living that are becoming more popular as a result of this unprecedented time [such as unpaper towels, cloth diapering, baking from scratch, sewing, and gardening].
Well, there is one more low waste principle I would like to recommend as being ideal in this situation: repairing our stuff rather than throwing it away and buying new. Since shopping malls are closed now and a lot of “retail therapy” has been exchanged for outdoor exercise [👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻], you might be forced to make do with what you have in your closet anyway.
Of course, there is always Amazon [and other online retailers] to order from, but why not give mending a chance? Especially at a time when everyone at least appears to be extremely concerned about their finances, now would be ideal to practice all those forgotten resolutions of not buying a bunch of crap we don’t need.
So, along those lines, here is my story of repairing rather than replacing.
[Don’t worry – it’s a short story.]
Before the stay-at-home order went into effect for Illinois [which was one of the earliest states to go into lockdown], I decided to have one of my boots repaired rather than throwing the pair away.
These boots are nothing special. They aren’t fancy. They didn’t cost very much money. But they are my only pair of black flat boots and I have worn them all fall and winter for the past five years. So when the sole ripped apart from the rest of the boot, I was bummed.
Brett immediately suggested throwing them in the trash – even offering to do the job for me since he knows it pains me to throw anything away [what a guy]. But I told him I would see about getting them repaired. Of course he laughed at this and told me that it would cost more to fix the boot than it would to buy a new pair.
Still, I liked these boots and I didn’t want to buy a new pair. I have developed a very strong aversion to new things as it is. Add to that my dislike of throwing things away and I knew I had to at least attempt to get them repaired.
I found a cobbler. [It took a while for me to even remember what the term is for someone who repairs shoes, my only knowledge of them coming from the old story about the elves and the cobbler…oh and the Adam Sandler movie.]
I have never been to a shoe repair shop. I had absolutely no frame of reference for what this might cost. They could have told me it would cost $75 and I wouldn’t have known if this was highway robbery or if shoe repair really is that challenging of a job. But when I told the man the problem, he said he could glue the sole back on for $10.
Ten dollars! What a steal!
I dropped the boot off that day and picked it up the following week, good as new. [Not really, it is still a worn-out boot, but at least there isn’t a huge hole at the heel anymore.] I am confident that I will get at least several more years out of these boots, and in the very likely event that another part wears out, I will return to the same repairman again.
So there you have it. These poor, innocent little boots would have been rotting in some landfill by now if the kind shoe repairman hadn’t fixed them for $10!
[Also, I don’t think I could buy a pair of new boots for $10 – so there Brett!]
The Moral of the Story
Our society has been trained to believe that everything is disposable – even our clothing and shoes. Oh, those pants don’t fit just right? That zipper is broken? The heel snapped off your shoe? There is a stain on your sweater? There is a hole in your jeans? Missing a button??? Well then, just toss it in the garbage bin and *POOF* it magically disappears and you can go buy another one [or two or three] at any time.
The problem is that clothing and shoes are NOT disposable. They are not meant to be treated like tissues, used once and then thrown away. Clothing has a very high price – in natural resources, in skilled labor, in transport and energy. And we keep churning it out and tossing it away like there is no end in sight.
Unfortunately, the end is coming. The clothing industry [as far as it stands in America] is not sustainable, and I’m not even talking about environmental sustainability. I just mean that it literally cannot go on like this. The model takes too much and abuses too many and creates an exorbitant amount of waste.
Even donated clothing has become a huge problem for non-profits and [even worse] impoverished communities to deal with now.
Do we really believe that we can keep creating and buying and discarding textiles to the tune of over 15 million tons of waste per year? Without something breaking eventually?
So, honestly, I hope that America makes a shift from buying cheap, crappy clothing on repeat and instead repairs and mends and tailors and darns and modifies and, heck, if all else fails, repurposes what they already have.
And I’m not saying this as someone who doesn’t have substantial skin in the game. My partner has been selling clothing for the past ten years. Our family’s primary source of income is clothing retail. But especially as someone who has seen the background of these businesses, I can promise you that the whole machine has been slowly grinding to a halt even before this pandemic. Big name clothing brands are shutting down stores, filing bankruptcy, continually missing sales projections, clearancing surplus stock just to get rid of it so that they can make room for the new collections that are coming in every month [or more frequently]. By dropping their prices, stores are training customers to wait for low prices, which creates a cyclical effect that is basically a death spiral for the clothing retailer.
This has been coming long before the coronavirus existed.
Anyway, how great would it be if we could trade fast fashion retailers for, say, a booming seamstress and tailoring industry? Or make thrift shopping the primary source of clothing rather than the shopping malls [which have also been on the decline for years now], so that resale shops around the country have to hire tons more employees and move to bigger locations to meet the demand? And what if cobblers become so common that everyone knows where their local shoe repair shop is, rather than wondering where to even find such a thing? And maybe people will start getting creative and turning their old clothes into new, unique one-of-a-kind pieces that they truly love, rather than having to search through racks of the same pants that fifty other people will buy that same day?
Sounds good to me.
Don’t worry – the clothing industry will never go away completely. We obviously will always need clothes. But imagine a world where we only buy what we need, then we would have money to pay more and we would buy better quality and clothing manufacturers wouldn’t have to be constantly cutting their costs to appease the American demand for cheaper and cheaper clothing. This would be a win for everyone.
For more information on the clothing industry, I highly recommend the following:
- Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline
- Wardrobe Crisis by Clare Press
- The True Cost [Documentary]