The Monthly Mend: The Myth of Dry Cleaning

This I Wear | Dry Cleaning Myths

Dry cleaning may be one of the biggest mysteries in life. You drop it off to someone whose business name changes every couple months, your clothing disappears to an unknown location for a few days, and then it comes back with a big price tag. It is perhaps just as much as mystery that once you are an adult, suddenly everything in your closet “needs” to be dry-cleaned.

I never used to question the reasoning behind those itchy care labels inside the garment. Then I found out that the biggest environmental impact of our clothing’s lifecycle is once we’ve taken our clothes home from the store and started caring for them (Water! Chemicals! Energy!). I also learned that it’s actually the law that clothing manufacturers include these, which set off my “bullshit” radar. Does “dry clean only” really mean just that? Or are clothing manufacturers just protecting themselves? Considering the cost, the scary chemicals, and now these new facts, it seems like there is an opportunity for something better here for our clothing, our health, and, yes, the environment.

The Past

Care labels didn’t exist until 1971 when they became mandated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in order to protect consumers and took on their current form in 1984 after said consumers reported that the labels were believed to be “incomplete, inaccurate, and inconsistent.” The rule is that the care label must include at least one (and therefore, usually only one) method of recommended care, as well as warn against any method that might damage the garment. If a customer follows the recommended method and the garment is damaged, then the manufacturer or brand is held responsible. Obviously, if you make clothing, it is in your best interest to put the absolute safest method of care so you don’t have customers requesting replacements for their damaged clothing or reporting you to the FTC. (source)

And because of these rules, a lot of garments that can be washed by hand at home or in cold water on your washer’s gentlest cycle are marked “dry clean only.” In fact, the laundry mavens behind The Laundress suggest “90% of items labeled “Dry Clean Only” are actually washable.” (source)

These labels also come with their own language. I never knew that the above symbol of a circle and cross meant “no dry cleaning”, but perhaps that’s because this symbol never actually appears on a label. Instead of silly symbols, I’d like to advocate that we just get to know our clothes a little more intimately and perhaps even get a little handsy.

The Future

If you’ve been dry cleaning everything, consider what your future dry cleaning-less life will include: money savings as you wash more things at home and less at the dry cleaner, longer clothing life since you’ll be sparing your clothes from all of those toxic chemicals, healthier life for you, laundry workers and everyone else on earth as we decrease these chemicals in our homes and environment, and hopefully some energy savings as you opt for more hand washing and air drying to keep your clothes looking new.

This is a win-win situation for all as long as you take some time to choose the right method for the garment.

Here’s a few tips I’ve picked up a long the way:
1. Don’t over-wash clothing. More washing = more wear. If a garment isn’t truly dirty, refresh it instead of washing it. Air out the garment or hang up in the bathroom during your steamy shower and that will likely be all you need to keep it fresh for a few more wears.
2. If a garment truly needs to be cleaned, read the fiber content label to decide whether it can be cleaned for at home. This chart from the experts at the Laundress details the temperature and treatment for some of the trickiest fabrics. They recommend their own specially formulated detergents but doing a little research can likely reveal some cheaper options. For example, Dr. Bronner’s is apparently a great detergent for silks.
3. Learn how to handwash. I wouldn’t start handwashing with your absolute favorite silk shirt, but start with something simple like a sweater. Here’s a great how-to from Martha herself.
4. Skip the dryer. Dryers and their hot air can be particularly abrasive on fabric and fade colors. The safest method of drying is always air-drying. For my wool sweaters that I used to dry clean, I now wash them with a gentle detergent on the “woolens” cycle in cold water and lay flat to dry to help them retain their shape.
5. Get the professional look without the chemicals. If you’ve been dry cleaning everything for the perfect finished look, consider having them washed with the rest of your clothes but professionally starched and ironed for the crispy dress shirt look or using an at-home steamer to get those wrinkles out of delicate garments (or use the steam function on your iron). I’ve heard this steamer is amazing.

Finally, there are some garments that are still too intimidating for me to wash at home, such as the fancy party dress and the fully lined winter wool coat. For these big or particularly delicate items, there are alternative to dry cleaning like liquid CO2 cleaning and wet cleaning available at “green” dry cleaners. Just make sure to ask them what “green” or “organic” means when it comes to the nitty gritty of what they’re going to do to your clothes.

This list of tips is just a start! I hope you’ll share your own tips and tricks for avoiding the dry cleaner in the comments below!

Goodbye Summer

This I Wear | Goodbye SummerPerhaps you know it’s Fall when your latest Vogue looks like they cut down an entire forest to print it, you’ve run out of vacation days, or just because you are finally ready to retire your jean shorts for the year.

Well, I know it’s Fall because my blog vacation has come to an end. It was such a lovely break for me, so thanks for hanging tight. As you can see above, my trip to Glacier National Park in Montana with Climate Ride was pretty epic. I’ve heard that they are going to host another hike next year, so if you’re interested in hiking, meeting other environmental enthusiasts, and fundraising for amazing environmental nonprofits, you can let them know by filling out this form! I imagine the next trip will fill up as soon as it is announced.

Coming back online has been slow, but I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things. I am also looking forward to trading my jean shorts and hiking gear for some cozy sweaters and coats. And since I’m in San Francisco for work this week and it is cold and grey, Fall does feel within reach!

While I was away, I kept up with my reading and I have to say that there were a lot of hardworking folks this summer, creating some amazing stuff. Here’s a few:

– I just purchased and downloaded Into Mind’s Personal Style & Perfect Wardrobe Guide. I cannot wait to work through this book as I’ve been loving Anuschka’s minimalist take on wardrobing via her Berlin-based blog for the last few months. Let me know if you’ve tried it yet or if you’ll be working through it with me!

– I still have a lot to learn about leather and this interview with the Horween Leather family on the Distance was really informative. A few really great tidbits on quality and how the leather industry works.

– If after reading the Horween article, you are craving more “heritage” brand stories, Alabama Chanin’s look into the history of the Scottish cooperative, Harris Tweed, is so good and perfect if you can’t get enough of textiles.

– Last week was an amazing week for books about women (and men) and the stories behind their clothes. Not one but TWO books – “Worn Stories” and “Women in Clothes” are now out. Read a review of both books here.

– On September 21, thousands of people will march in NYC to demand an international climate change treaty as the UN convenes to discuss the issue. I’ll be there and would love for you to join me! More info here.

Looking forward to catching up with all of you soon!

P.S. What’s on your Fall shopping list? I’ll be doing a few “if you need it” posts and would love to do a little shopping research for you. Tweet @thisiwear or email me with what you’re looking for.

Celebrating Two Years

This I Wear | Celebrating Two Years

Two posts in one week? Crazy, I know! But I thought I’d pop in for a moment and share some exciting updates.

So first things first, after mulling it over, I have decided to take a writing vacation for the month of August. Since things will be deceptively quiet here, I thought I’d share with you what I’ll be up to.

One of my hopes is that I’ll use my usual writing time to do a few site updates, especially around the pages.

TIW actually just celebrated its two-year anniversary on July 10th, which feels incredible because I am still bursting with ideas to share here. But I also know there is work to be done as both our community and I have grown – rethinking series, updating “About” pages, and doing some big picture thinking – all of which I’ve been wanting to do for awhile now but have been recently inspired to make time for.

My inspiration came in the form of Braid Creative’s Personal Branding ECourse, aimed at “creative entrepreneurs and bloggers (especially those of you who are both) who don’t entirely draw the line between work and life – and like it that way.” I was noticing a little identity crisis as my 9-5 and this blog overlap so much, which is such a blessing but at times is a source of confusion. I knew that digging into this distinction (and where I can continue the blur) would help me find better clarity for TIW. Not only did it do that, but it also gave me the courage to consider how I can share more of myself and my process here, and not just my closet.

(Your enthusiasm about posts that I have loved but was honestly terrified to share like “I’m Not a Fashion Omnivore” has also been a huge source of encouragement.)

Some of my time will also be spent training for my epic hiking and camping trip through Climate Ride to raise funding and awareness for my selected environmental nonprofits. I have just three weeks to go, and though my hike in the Catskills last weekend was great (check out that photo!), I need to get serious about training. Yet I also realize that preparing for this trip is just as much about building up courage as it is about building physical strength.

I know I’ve got a lot of learning ahead of me this month. In the meantime, go outside and enjoy the summer! I will be back in September and hopefully sharing a few surprises.

P.S. I LOVED the Braid ECourse that I mentioned above and highly recommend it for other creatives, writers, and entrepreneurs. In fact, the next course starts August 22nd! Full disclosure: if you use these referral links to sign up for the course, I will receive a commission. I promise that any money received through this will be invested back into TIW, and I will never recommend something here unless I truly believe in it.

My Closet: Ask & You Shall Receive

This I Wear | Ask and You Shall Receive
A few weeks ago, I had a hunch that if I put out the idea of my ideal sandal to The Internet, it might magically send the sandals I had been looking for my way. It was a crazy idea that somehow a pair of properly made, high quality, non-disposable shoes might enter my life and save me from my minimalist lifestyle-induced problem of having only one pair of sandals that were on the brink of death.

So if you’re looking at the above photo and asking yourself “how is it possible that she had these shoes made from a sketch in the three weeks since she posted the illustration?” you would be asking a very reasonable question. Except that these shoes were bought straight off the rack. And very fortunately in this case, on the sale rack.

After I wrote that original post, I ended up purchasing a pair online from a reputable brand that were way too big and way too much “foot exposure” for work, so I headed back to the department store in person to return them. Now shoeless again and needing to kill some time, I popped over to the sale racks that seemed overflowing with shoes. In that moment, I realized that I never go to department stores – there were so many options in one place – for better or worse. But I also had no expectation of finding anything.

I did a once over and then was somehow compelled to walk through again. That’s when I found these shoes. It was the exact shoe that Mike had helped me draw out a few weeks ago. And on top of that, they were the last pair in the store and they were in my size.

I looked around expecting that someone was playing a joke on me. As if the people in the store follow my blog (pfff!) and they had planted this shoe here for me. But this was a fancy department store, and there are no jokes there.

After 20 minutes of walking around with them on and searching the Internet to learn more about the brand, I decided to embrace that this was serendipity.

So how do these actual shoes stack up against the criteria I laid out in my “Ideal” post? Actually, pretty good.

Timeless, work-appropriate design – Yes! In fact, these are made by a very traditional British brand known for their men’s shoes, so they do simple, classic design really well.
Vegetable tanned leather – Yes! I actually sent an email to the company’s customer service once I got home with the shoes to get the full details since I couldn’t find the pair anywhere online. And yes, the leather is vegetable-tanned, though I had no way of knowing this in-store.
Stitched insole + Leather sole – Yes! These shoes are sewn, rather than having the pieces of the shoe glued together. This means more durability and less toxic glues for the makers. It also means very durable construction, and the leather sole lends itself to infinite repairability.
Conflict Mineral Free Hardware – Not sure. I did not ask this question and actually I’m not sure how many brands could answer this. So for now, this remains unanswered.
Comfortable – Yes! I’m not sure how or why, but these just feel great on my feet and I knew it instantly.

A little something extra:

Made in Italy – While this is a historical British brand (who knew that Northampton has a tradition of shoemaking?), the customer service representative confirmed that the brand makes all of their women’s shoes in Italy (the men’s shoes are still made in England). Ok, it would have been cool if they had been made in this historic town known for shoemaking, but Italy has some higher standards than other countries, and they have a tradition of making leather products that count on highly skilled labor.

And with that, I promise not to talk about shoes again for a really long time.

If you’re feeling lucky, tell the Internet what you really really want in the comments section and maybe your dream _____ will find you too.

Book Review: Let My People Go Surfing

This I Wear | Book Review: Let My People Go Surfing

I brought along the book, Let My People Go Surfing, from my Summer Reading List to the beach, and it quickly became covered in sand. After reading the book, however, I’m convinced that Patagonia’s founder (and the book’s author), Yvon Chouinard, would have wanted it this way as he is perhaps the most adventurous (and outdoorsy) businessman you might ever meet.

The outdoor industry of which Patagonia is an important leader does not view itself as part of the fashion industry and vice versa, even though both industries make clothes. So I can’t tell you how surprised I was that this book challenged my ideas of trends, quality and beauty, but it did.

Chouinard started off as a blacksmith making climbing equipment. At a certain point, he realized that the high quality, effective and popular climbing gear he was making was destroying the very mountains the climbers wanted to enjoy. So he got rid of the destructive model and improved on and then popularized a different, less damaging technology, and it sold like crazy.

He was also responsible for popularizing brightly colored outdoor clothing instead of the gray that dominated the market. But many years on, they realized those neon colors were full of damaging chemicals and so out went the neon colors and in came safer dyes (and absolutely no orange since no safe substitute could be found).

What if all of our trends came out of the pursuit of better technology, improved functionality and environmental stewardship? What if trends were about what is better and simpler rather than what is new and full of unnecessary frills? This idea is not just for climbing equipment but can apply to what we wear everyday. Perhaps the idea of a “timeless trend” is an oxymoron, but what would it be like if the latest thing was simpler and better in quality/design/sustainability than the previous version and that was somehow “trendy”?

Patagonia’s list of values includes the pursuit of product quality “as defined by durability, minimum use of natural resources, multi-functionalism, non-obsolescence, and the kind of beauty that emerges from absolute suitability to task.”

We don’t usually talk about beauty in that way, but I got a few goosebumps when I read that line. For Patagonia, that kind of beauty is the baselayers that save your life because they keep you warm and dry in the freezing cold. In fashion, this kind of beauty could be the perfect linen top that keeps you cool while you’re out on that summer date, the versatile dress that takes you from work to an evening out, the shoes that let you work a long shift without leaving you in pain, or even the suit that gives you confidence in a job interview. It’s beautiful not just because of the aesthetics but because it supports your lifestyle. It’s also beauty that comes from not worrying about whether your swimsuit will fall apart as you get out of the pool.

After what sounds like an intense debate, Chouinard and his chief designer decided that quality is objective and can be defined. This means that for Patagonia, quality does not refer to subjective taste and preferences but instead is a very tangible and objective state. The company’s list of criteria for a high quality product is extensive but a few of the most universal components include:

– Is it functional?
– Is it multifunctional?
– Is it durable and able to be repaired?
– Is it as simple as possible?
– Is it easy to care for?
– Does it cause unnecessary harm?

Chouinard quoted one of his own inspirations who believes that “to make a high quality products is a way to pay respect and responsibility to the customer and the user of the product.” And honestly, I’ve never thought of a high quality item as being particularly respectful, but I really liked this idea. If this is true, then it would be easy to say that Forever21 has no respect for their customers (or their suppliers) by producing such poor quality products. Obviously their goal, unlike Patagonia’s, is not the pursuit of quality, but it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that they disrespect the customer by negatively impacting the environment and world in which the customer lives and by selling her knowingly insufficient products.

And if we’re willing to buy such insufficient products, what does that say about respect for ourselves (and the environment)? I could write a whole post about just this.

Overall it is a great book and a fairly quick read. And more surprising than any of this is that the book itself is an incredible resource if you are thinking about starting a company that makes products, whether apparel or otherwise. If you read it, I hope you’ll share your thoughts here too.

What does beauty from functionality mean to you? How would you define quality if you were (or are) making products? Share your comments below or tweet @ThisIWear.

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