Here’s a quick thought experience. In your closet, what is the item you’ve had the longest? No cheating with wedding dresses or sentimental baby clothes – it needs to be an item you can or do still wear. I have a pair of flannel pajama pants I’ve had almost half my life, but for everyday wear it’s a Daniel Hechter wool jacket that I picked up at a clothing swop when I was 16. Now consider your item: Is it quality made? Made from a natural fibres like wool, silk, cotton etc? Timeless or at least not ‘dated’? Well loved? Mended? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you’re well on your way to buying and dressing to last.

One of the selling points of fast fashion is instant gratification

One of the selling points of fast fashion is instant gratification; items so cheap that you sacrifice practically nothing to gain them and thus, hypothetically, hold no spending guilt if you only wear them once or never at all since ‘Oh they were so cheap anyway’. This is understandable.

Behavioural cconomics teaches us that we love a bargain and are irrational with our spending logic.  But this mentality hides a false economy (an action that saves money at the beginning but, over a longer period of time, results in more money being wasted than being saved) where over time, the bulk buying of cheap items that don’t last costs more than investing in fewer, more expensive but well-made products. This is why shopping, buying and wearing to last is important.

BuyMeOnce was named one of 2017’s most disruptive companies by Real Business

In 2013, inspired by the heirloom quality of a gifted Le Creuset pot, “former spendthrift and advertising executive” Tara Button began working on what would become, a site dedicated to featuring and showcasing long-lasting products from clothing to homeware to toys and appliances. Since then, the site has exploded and now features more than 2000 carefully selected and vetted products, fueled (and co-produced) by consumers who are tired of badly made items and who are keen to buy more sustainably. BuyMeOnce was named one of 2017’s most disruptive companies by Real Business.

My favourite products featured are the gorgeous Elvis & Kresse bags, made from decommissioned fire hoses, Burberry leather offcuts, old auction banners and reclaimed parachute silk (I’ll take a Post Bag in red, if anyone’s offering).

There are plenty of local brands producing well-made, quality items

“But they’re UK based!” “That’s a first-world luxury!” “We don’t have brands like that!” I hear you yell. Don’t fret. Some of the brands they feature are available in South Africa, either new or through the second-hand scene. I’ve picked up a pair of brand new LK Bennett courts at a second-hand sale before, at a fraction of their original cost. But there are also plenty of local brands producing well-made, quality items. ROWDY Bags even carry a lifetime guarantee for example!

You don’t have to go to the extreme by only buying items that will last the rest of your life. You can begin small, buying consciously, buying well and taking care of the items you do have. And certainly don’t trash the items you currently own that don’t live up – wear them as much as you can, then pass them on responsibility – upcycle, recycle, donate, restyle etc.

So what to do? How can you buy and dress to last?

  • Look out for reputable brands and be prepared to invest a bit more for quality pieces (it will pay off in the long run I promise!);
  • Check seams, buttons, zips, linings, pockets and hems for quick indicators of quality – if a garment is finished well, it’s a good sign for it’s longevity – buttons should be securely attached, seams and hems densely stitched but not messy, linings and pockets well fitting and situated, no loose threads or unfinished edges;
  • Clothes that fit well are less likely to distort, split or stretch over time;
  • Where possible, buy natural fabrics as these tend to age better;
  • Know how fabrics and finishes last. Distressed items won’t last like their more complete counterparts and certain synthetic knits are more likely to pull and pill over time;
  • Mend as you go! Don’t let a small rip or snag become a bigger problem later on. This also applies to shoes. Resole pairs earlier to get the most life out of them (I have a pair of 10 year-old well-trodden boots that have been resoled at least twice, and reheeled once and they’re good as new).
  • Store your clothes properly! Fold or hang on padded or wooden hangers – don’t squash into drawers or hang on sharp hooks
  • Try to minimise how often you wash items, if you can help it, and be sure to follow washing instructions when you do. This will reduce the wear and tear
  • Buy smart for your personal style – a black wool coat may be classic, but if you’re not one for dark colours and you’ll never wear it, that’s no good either. If you can match a bright pattern or quirky style with the rest of your wardrobe and you’d be thrilled to wear it regularly – do it!
  • Look into building a ‘capsule wardrobe’ to get the most out of fewer pieces;
  • If you are an absolute slave to fashion and need to always wear the current trends, try building up a wardrobe of strong basic and versatile ‘hero’ pieces and use accessories or smaller items to stay trendy;
  • Check out the BuyMeOnce blog for more resources on how to live and buy sustainably, you can even get an excerpt chapter from Button’s new book “A Life Less Throwaway” here

In December we’ll be broaching the topic of using post consumer and recovered materials in clothing and feature some awesome local South African brands working with these innovative textiles!