Last spring my husband announced: “Our son needs some new trousers!” And off they went. The resulting haul included light-coloured dinosaur-print chinos; beige skinny jeans that looked more like a second-skin costume; and a blue linen-look pair with a weave so loose you could see my son’s pants through it. What was more, none of the trousers had an adjustable waist – a bit of a problem for my skinny boy. All of them soon ended up in my mending pile…
I love upcycling and being creative with clothing, but even I have to buy trousers for my son every two months on average, mainly because of shredded knees. When I set out to create my own children’s clothing brand, I did a little survey and discovered that almost 80% of my respondents buy children’s trousers every few months or more often.
This all adds up. According to Greenpeace, the EU alone generates 1.5-2 million tonnes of used clothing every year, much of it unsellable due to poor quality.
What a waste of time, money and resources (both parents’ and the planet’s)!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to singlehandedly rid the world of clothing waste. But there are some simple ways to make clothing last for several seasons.
I always look for a few specific features that help me identify longer-lasting trousers or leggings (for my daughter).
Firstly, avoid skinny-fit. Not only is it not really comfortable for children, it creates extra tension at the knees which makes the fabric rip quicker.
Secondly, check fabric quality. If the weave is loose – look for gaps between individual threads – then most likely the trousers won’t last long. This can happen in any price category. Fabric quality is generally on the decline, and sadly there is not much we can do about it.
Which brings us to the third tip: look for styles with reinforced knees, or reinforce the knees yourself (outside or inside) while the trousers are new. Glue-on patches tend to come unstuck quickly, so it’s a good idea to stitch them on as well. You can buy ready-made knee patches, or cut your own – just always reinforce with vlieseline on the back of the fabric. Reinforcements inside the trousers can be done with any piece of fabric you have handy and some double-sided vliseline.
Also, don’t forget to rotate what they wear (trousers last longer when they have a day off occasionally). And wash inside-out – this preserves the brightness of the colours and protects the fibres from extra rubbing.
These are just a few basics. With a little creativity and upcycling, it’s possible to prolong trouser and clothing life even further. Some examples here:
1. Replace the narrow waistband in jersey trousers with a wide one cut out of an old T-shirt. This works especially well with pyjamas, giving them up to a year of extra life. You can also insert a light elastic band inside if needed.
2. If sweatpants rip at the knees, cut the leg off just above the tear and sew in sleeves from an adult’s hoody or sweatshirt. This works a treat – it can give the trousers two extra sizes in length. So you get a nice pair of trousers for literally just two seams around the legs.
3. Outgrown, misshaped children’s vests or t-shirts can be combined with a “skirt” made out of an old adult t-shirt to create an easy, care-free summer dress. This is one where you can let your creativity run wild and reuse trims or decorations from your old t-shirt on the “new” dress. (Image at the top of this post)
4. If a knitted jumper or cardigan gets too short, crochet or knit a few extra centimetres onto the sleeves and around the bottom edge – or just sew on cuffs from an old jumper.
Maybe this all sounds time-consuming, but actually none of these ideas take much more time than shopping for something new.
Small changes like these can have a big impact. According to Greenpeace, doubling the useful life of clothing from one to two years could reduce CO2 emissions by 24%, saving large quantities of freshwater and significantly cutting the release of hazardous chemicals.
So next time you come to throw away yet another pair of trousers, give it a go – you’ll see how easy it can be to make clothes last longer. Plus, upcycled clothes will save some money, and you have the satisfaction of creating something (almost) new. Your children will thank you!