Eco Habits: Repairing Clothes

I had an a-ha moment at the car wash last week.

I was sitting at a counter, flipping through a recent issue of Lucky magazine (it was a light reading kind of day, you see) when I came across journalist Kayleen Schaefer’s personal essay, “Does a Perfect Wardrobe Equate to a Perfect Life?”

The piece chronicles her obsession with having the contents of her wardrobe repaired—a habit that has her running from her tailor to her shoe repair place (actually, she “rotate[s] between a few shoe guys for resoling and de-scuffing”), as well as to her jewelry polisher, dry cleaner and even a reweaver.

“At all times, I have a list on my phone titled ‘to fix,’” she writes. “I spend at least $100 with my repair crew every month.”

It’s an honest and dizzying account of behavior that borders on obsessive compulsive (see: “I believe, somehow, that if my clothes are perfect, my life will be too”). But I took something important away from it that I don’t believe the writer intended. In her story, I spotted a gaping hole in my eco-friendliness: I’m too lazy to take items to be repaired. After shamefully lengthy periods of wearing ripped, scuffed or otherwise battered clothes, I give them away or retire them as rags. As for clothes that never fit right in the first place, they languish in my closet, unworn reminders of what could have been.

I’m far from the perfectionist Kayleen Schaefer is, nor do I want to be so bound to the cycle of tiny adjustments at the tailor and the buffing of every scuff on my shoes. But she’s on to something that I now realize I should grow up and embrace. Because why waste a garment when it can be fixed? Why replace it with another item that will also fall apart someday instead of making the small trek to the tailor? 

It all ties into another aspect of green wardrobes that I’ve been pondering lately: investment pieces. Schaefer writes that she keeps a fairly minimal closet comprised mostly of timeless investment pieces. It makes sense to repair expensive items that you’ll still want to wear (and that will still be stylish) 10 years from now. When it comes to investment pieces, a bigger upfront cost in the present means a bigger payoff in the future—and less waste. As I advocate for moving away from “fast fashion” (cheap, poorly made clothes that we use up and toss out like a cup of coffee), well-made clothes that will last longer—thus slowing the waste cycle and diminishing our closet’s environmental footprint—are a sensible replacement. And to help these items last well into the future, we can take a page from Schaefer’s story and visit our local repair shops. Not as often, perhaps, but that’s probably for the best.