The life cycle of a garment

We all love a touch of vintage. It’s a nice feeling to be enchanted by a piece of clothing with so much history. But have you ever taken the time to question the life cycle? What is the difference between mass production and vintage fashion? Well, hopefully we can shed some light on that.

The top-selling retailers, also known as the fast fashion industry produce about 100 billion garments per year, making it one of the most polluting industries in the world after the oil industry.

What is the reason for the high environmental impact?

Retailers are restocking their collections every 4-6 weeks, putting pressure on the consumer. In short: buy more, think less! This is one of the reasons why hundreds of tons of unwanted clothes end up in landfills every year. In the US alone, that’s about 16 million tons a year, of which most actually could be reused.

Let´s be more conscious

Of course, it is also possible to donate your clothes to charity shops or a clothing bank. There is a 1 in 3 chance that an unwanted pair of jeans will find a new owner, and a 2 in 3 chance that a pair of jeans will end up in a textile shop that will either ship them around the world or break them down into their fibres and reuse them.

Most of the reusable clothing finds its way to Africa, where it is sold by local vendors in the clothing market. This creates jobs in the short term, but there are debates about whether this trade is beneficial for local production companies and whether it would not suppress them. They are not in a position to compete with cheap imported clothing. On average, buyers pay about €3.50 for a pair of jeans and €1.75 for a T-shirt.

Vintage clothing

Within the industry, vintage clothing is widely classified as a garment that is 20 years old or more (if that piece survives more than 50 years, it can proudly call itself “antique”). The life cycle of this usually begins in a recycling clothes bank next to modern items.

After the item has been sorted out, it is packed into bales. These are then sold to companies who sort and sell the bales internally or act as suppliers to smaller companies who buy by the kilo. The purchased clothing is divided into categories A-C and priced accordingly. In the process, the clothes are salvaged or sold in various ways (reworking, dyeing, washing to remove stains). They are then steamed, photographed and measured before ending up on sales platforms. Alternatively, they are priced and offered for sale in shops.

In doing so, it is true that Vinatge clothing mirrors the world of the fast fashion industry to some extent, as there will still be textile waste. However, the life of the item is extended. Even though not all off-the-rack garments will make it, they will be put to good use. They are sold to textile traders who cut them up into rags or fibres and sell them on to upholstery manufacturers as filling material for car seats or sofas, for example. The used clothing industry therefore inevitably leaves a certain carbon footprint through transport. One way to reduce emissions is to transport them by sea rather than by air.

Opting for vintage can be a great way to buy new clothes while minimising the resources used. There are various vintage offers on the internet and it’s way more sustainable. After all, did you know that 2720 litres of water are needed to produce one single T-shirt?

In conclusion, we need to pay attention to what we buy now, so that vintage clothing can continue to exist in the future. Investing in quality clothes or taking the time to repair them rather than throwing them away is a good start.