How Often Do You Wear Your Clothes Before Washing Them? | AD

This post on how often do you wear your clothes before washing them is paid-for content, in association with BAM, and contains affiliate links.

Whilst making new clothing is undoubtedly resource-intensive, did you know that it has been estimated that 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions created during the life of a typical cotton t-shirt are made at home? It’s true, the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions from a cotton t-shirt doesn’t come from growing the cotton, transporting it, or manufacturing it. These instead come from washing and drying our clothes. This really makes you think, doesn’t it?

As well as the environmental impacts of laundry, overwashing also shortens the lifespan of our clothes. Washing can be damaging to our clothes, even on gentle cycles. From fading and fibre erosion to shrinkage, overwashing and overdrying can reduce the lifespan of our garments. This means we have to buy more clothes more often, using yet more resources. It makes sense to only wash our clothes when we really need to. But how do we balance that fine line between acceptable to wear and unacceptable to wear? Let me share with you my experiences and tips.

BAM’s Dare To Wear Longer Campaign

washing machine

I’ve been writing about looking after your clothes for years. This guide to how often you should wash your clothes is really helpful, for example. I refer back to it time and time again, and I thought I had it all together when it came to washing habits. But then ethical clothing retailer BAM* challenged me, through their Dare to Wear Longer Campaign, to see how long I could wear an item of clothing before needing to wash it. Why? To highlight the environmental impact of washing our clothing after every wear and challenge the assumption that we need to.

Let’s just say, I was on board, but also nervous. Would I be a stinky, dirty mess by the end of the challenge? I kept a daily diary, so let’s find out!

About BAM

First, let me tell you a bit about BAM. BAM is an ethical clothing company that is investing in greening its supply chain and treating its workers fairly. In the last two years, BAM says they have “traced our suppliers’ suppliers’ suppliers’ suppliers’ supplier to systematically identify all our growers, factories, plants, and manufacturers“.

By understanding and knowing their entire supply chain, has allowed BAM to green their operations. Now they only work with responsible producers. For example, they only work with bamboo fibre producers who use safe and responsible chemistry and waste treatment practices, and who are committed to investing in the technology needed to further improve their practices, processes, and chemistry where necessary.

By knowing all of their suppliers, they are also able to ensure that their suppliers are paying their staff above the national minimum wage and offering good working conditions throughout the entire supply chain.

You can read more about BAM’s work on sustainability in their 2021 sustainability report*. This sets their current impact, their immediate plans, and their ultimate goals for the next ten years.

The Dare to Wear Challenge

Wendy wearing BAM's bamboo top in the dare to wear challenge.

BAM sent me their long sleeve bamboo top* in black to wear for the duration of this challenge. A wardrobe staple, I felt confident this would go with anything in my wardrobe. Ready to see how I got on? Here’s how it went:

Day One:

I went about my business today in my lovely BAM top. I was doing really well until dinner time. I seem to have inherited a family trait that makes it almost impossible to eat a meal without some kind of spillage. My sister and my dad both have the same condition! So, inevitably, straight off the bat I ended up with a bit of bolognese sauce on my top. Rather than putting the whole top in the washing machine, after dinner, I immediately spot cleaned the bit where the sauce was and before the food had a chance to set. I then hung the top up on the washing line for a little while to dry, and this had the added bonus of refreshing the top with fresh air.

Day Two:

In the morning, the top looked clean. I then gave my top the sniff test, and it smelled fresh, so it was good to go for day two. I was working from home today, so apart from a lunchtime stroll, didn’t do anything that was particularly strenuous. By some miracle, I also made it through the day without spilling any food on me.

By the end of the day, the top looked visibly clean. Just to be sure it would be fresh for the morning, I gave it a spray with my homemade clothes refresher. I make this using vodka and essential oils, and it really does neutralise any odours. The smell of vodka dissipates as soon as it dries, so you don’t walk around smelling like a pub. You can make this using witch hazel too if you don’t like the idea of using vodka.

Day Three:

We had a mini-heatwave. Seizing the opportunity, I cast aside jeans and long-sleeved tops and wore a dress. In mid-September in Scotland, you can never tell if this is the last time you’ll be able to wear dresses and bare legs until next year, so the challenge went out of the window today. In the true spirit of the challenge, and even though the weather made for an excellent laundry day, I didn’t wash the top. Instead, I left it hanging up to air in my bedroom like my grandmother always did with her clothes.

Day Four:

The weather went back to normal service, so the top went back on today – still smelling and looking fresh (I got my partner to double-check!). I was working again today, so nothing exciting to report. My partner and I don’t work for the same company, but we do work from home together. During our lunch break, my partner and I took a mildly strenuous walk – we try to aim for 10,000 steps in a day. We don’t always manage it but it’s good to have a target. Afterward, I wasn’t sweaty, but I was conscious I had been wearing the top for three days. As such, I bust out my clothes steamer in the evening and gave the top a good steam. I then hung it up to air in the bedroom overnight.

Day Five:

I’m really not used to wearing a top for four days without washing, so I admit, I had doubts about pulling the top on this morning. However the steamer had really worked wonders, and there weren’t any odours. I did a sniff test, and again, I got my poor partner to do a sniff test too. The things you do for love!

I was all fired up today and was sure I was going to get to the end of day four. That was until I realised I had judged the weather all wrong. I thought the day was going to pan out to be a cold one. It had certainly started off that way. However, by lunchtime, when I was out and about, things started heating up and fast. Oh, September, you trickster! This meant, as I was walking to pick up my kids from school I absolutely melted in the heat. As I walked home with them, carrying multiple backpacks, sweat trickled down my back, and I knew that no amount of airing, spraying, or steaming was going to save things. By the end of the day, the top was in the wash – challenge over!

What I Learned During The Dare to Wear Challenge

BAM’s Dare to Wear challenge really opened up my eyes to how often I wear my clothes before washing. Although I thought I was mindful of how often I wash my clothes, I realised that I have probably been sometimes overwashing my clothes. Whilst I might not always stretch a top to four days without washing, simple things like airing your clothes between wears, and spot treating any food spillages or marks can all go a long way in maintaining the freshness of your clothes in-between wears.

Top Tips To Prolong The Freshness of Your Clothes Inbetween Washes

If you are looking to prolong the freshness of your clothes, so that you can wear your clothes for longer before washing them then I’ve got some great tips:

  • Pick natural fibres over synthetic fibres. These are more breathable, and allow sweat to evaporate, keeping the bacteria responsible for creating bad smells away from your skin. 
  • Hang your clothes outside for a little while if you can to air them. If not, pop them on a hanger and hang them up near an open window.
  • Another good spot to hang clothes is in the bathroom whilst you shower. This allows the steam to refresh your clothes and take out any wrinkles.
  • Spot clean small stains rather than popping the whole item in the washing machine.
  • Do the sniff test – if it doesn’t smell then you’re good to go.
  • Wear a t-shirt under woolly jumpers or similar. This helps to prolong the life of your knitwear.
  • If you have one, then a clothes steamer can really help to remove odours and keep your clothes looking good for longer.
  • A homemade fabric refresher spray, made with vodka or witch hazel, really helps to get rid of odours.

How often do you wear your clothes before washing them? Would you take the dare to wear challenge? If so, let me know how you get on!

Fashion, Life & Style

What Is BCI Cotton and Is It Sustainable, Ethical or Organic?

Have you heard of BCI Cotton when you have been shopping for ethical clothing, but don’t know what it is? Let me break down what BCI Cotton is, and if it is actually sustainable, ethical, or organic.

Have you noticed the term BCI being used when it comes to cotton? You might be wondering what this means exactly. Is BCI cotton actually sustainable, ethical, or organic, or simply greenwash? Let me break it down for you. First I’ll explain what BCI means, if it is actually sustainable, and if not, what better ethical alternatives are out there when it comes to cotton.

What Is BCI Cotton?

Firstly, you might be wondering what BCI stands for. BCI stands for the Better Cotton Initiative. This is a global not-for-profit organisation, based in Geneva and London, that seeks to make the cotton industry more sustainable. They say their aim is to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in, and better for the future of the cotton industry. In fact, it is the largest cotton sustainability programme in the world.

There are seven principles that BCI farmers should follow:

  • Farmers should minimise the harmful impact of crop protection practices
  • They should promote water stewardship
  • They should care for the health of the soil
  • BCI Farmers should enhance biodiversity and use land responsibly
  • They should care for and preserve fibre quality
  • They should promote decent work
  • And BCI Farmers should operate an effective management system

In order to help follow these principles the BCI offers support to farmers. This support includes training cotton farmers to use water efficiently and to care for natural habitats. It also includes support on reducing the use of harmful chemicals, and in respecting the rights of workers.

Which Brands Are BCI Members?

Members of BCI that promote sustainable cotton production include global fashion behemoths. These include H&M Nike, Adidas, Tommy Hilfiger, Gap, Diesel, Inditex (Zara), Asos, Urban Outfitters, and Ralph Lauren.

Members also include big UK high street and online names. These include Next, Tesco, House of Fraser, JD Sports, Missguided, Sainsbury’s, Ted Baker, John Lewis, Fat Face, Aldi, Asos, and Boden.

What I found interesting about this list of brands that source BCI cotton is that they are not sustainable brands. And some of the BCI members, such as H&M, Zara, and Missguided, have been seriously questioned over their sustainability efforts.

Is BCI Cotton Sustainable, Ethical or Organic?

Image of white skeins of cotton with a blue text box that says "what is BCI cotton and is it sustainable or ethical?"

When it can take around 2,700 litres of water to produce the cotton needed to make a single t-shirt, it is undoubtedly important that brands source cotton that uses less water, and care for the health of the soil. However, BCI principles have raised some red flags for me around how sustainable its cotton actually is.

The first sustainability red flag is the use of the non-binding “should” in all of their seven principles. Having non-binding principles means you cannot know if farmers operating under BCI principles are indeed promoting water stewardship, caring for the health of the soil, or promoting decent work.

The other sustainability red flag is there are no direct principles on pesticide use. According to the Environmental Justice Foundation, cotton covers just 2.4% of the world’s cultivated land. However, cotton uses 6% of the world’s pesticides, and 16% of insecticides. This is more than any other single major crop.

And my third red flag when asking if BCI Cotton is sustainable, ethical, or organic, my question is why is BCI so popular with typical fast fashion brands? Why are ethical clothing brands not purchasers of this cotton? This immediately suggests that BCI principles cover the bare minimum of environmental requirements, at low cost.

I wanted to investigate these red flags and what I found only backed up my fears.

Driving Down Demand for Organic Cotton

In 2018 the Changing Markets Foundation published a report about the BCI. It said the rapid growth of the Better Cotton Initiative is driving down sustainability standards in the cotton industry. The report also concluded that of all the textile certification schemes that BCI is the worst.

This damning conclusion was drawn because, according to the report, the BCI scheme has undermined the market for the most environmentally friendly cotton option – organic cotton. Organic cotton uses 92% less water than conventional cotton, and uses no synthetic pesticides or fertilisers. BCI, meanwhile, tolerates the use of pesticides and genetically modified seeds.

As so many of the world’s largest fashion brands are sourcing BCI cotton, this has resulted in farmers switching from growing organic cotton to genetically modified, non-organic cotton. This answers the question quite clearly: BCI Cotton is not organic. And uptake of BCI cotton has made organic cotton harder to source. It’s quite a damning picture for BCI Cotton. But as BCI Cotton shuns the top tier of sustainable textiles, that being organic fabric, then the scheme is missing an important element in sustainability.

What About Pesticides?

The BCI says that their principles are reducing pesticide usages levels. For example, the BCI says that in the 2017-18 growing season, BCI Farmers in Tajikistan used 40% fewer pesticides compared to non-BCI farmers. The exact figure or a comparison figure is not provided, which makes it hard to establish a baseline. BCI farmers, could, in this scenario, still be using 60% more pesticides compared to organic cotton growers.

What remains clear is that, unlike organic cotton farmers, BCI farmers still use pesticides. And a scheme that endorses and certifies cotton that can harm the health and lives of farmers and cotton pickers, as well as driving down the organic cotton market is categorically not ethical nor is a good thing for the environment.

Why is BCI Cotton Popular With Fast Fashion Brands?

According to India’s Economic Times, BCI cotton is popular with international fashion brands as it is less expensive than organic cotton. This is because, in order for organic cotton to be certified as organic, the entire supply chain – from the growing to ginning (the process of separating cotton fibres from their seeds), to spinning, right up until the product reaches the end-user all has to be traced and certified. In the case of BCI cotton, only the growing and picking level is important.

Meanwhile, standards for organic cotton are the toughest to follow. BCI, in contrast, offers the minimum principles related to water conservation, and soil health. This means it is easier and less expensive to follow for the growers. And as the biggest demand from fashion brands is for the cheaper, lower standard BCI cotton, then it’s no wonder farmers are shunning organic cotton in order to access larger markets.

Brands want to be seen to be doing something for the environment. However, when that something is the bare minimum, then there are dire consequences. The drive to the bottom caused by demand for cheap ‘eco’ cotton by fashion brands has meant that in India alone, the total organic fibre production of the country has fallen by close to 50%.

The dominance of BCI is, according to the same article, also driving down the availability of non-GM cotton seeds. The BCI is neutral when it comes to genetically modified cotton. This means it is harder for organic farmers to source non-GM seeds required to grow organic cotton.

BCI Links to Uyghur Forced Labour

As well as non-binding principles, the BCI has links to the alleged forced labour of the Uyghurs (sometimes spelled as Uighurs) in Xinjiang, China. It’s quite a complex situation, so I will break it down as best as I can.

What Is Happening To the Uyghurs?

Since 2017, human rights organisations have accused China of running forced labour camps for Uyghur Muslims living in Xinjiang, a province in northwestern China. Xinjiang is often referred to as Chinese-occupied East Turkestan – the name Uyghurs prefer to call Xinjiang.

Here, over a million people belonging to ethnic, cultural, and religious groups, including Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Hui, have allegedly been detained by the Chinese government in forced work programmes.

Beijing has repeatedly denied the accusations, despite drone footage of shackled men, with Beijing calling the camps in question vocational training centres. However, human rights organisations say that Uyghur men and women, as well as the other groups, have been forcibly removed from their homes and existing jobs to work primarily in the Xinjiang cotton fields. Here, they are paid at most 15 cents a day to pick cotton, with most paid nothing at all. This cotton is then exported around the world.  Xinjiang cotton accounts for 85% of Chinese cotton production, and 20% of the world’s supply.

BCI’s Response to Forced Cotton Labouring

In response to this information coming to light, the BCI announced in October 2020, in a now-deleted statement, that it had taken the decision to cease all operations in the Uyghur Region. Here they stated at the time: “Sustained allegations of forced labour and other human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China have contributed to an increasingly untenable operating environment, and BCI has, therefore, taken the decision to cease all field-level activities in the region effective immediately, including capacity building and data monitoring and reporting”.

China’s Backlash

However, China has attempted to fight back against forced labour allegations surrounding the country’s cotton industry.

There has been a huge backlash by the Chinese government and consumers about Western brands and their decision to ditch Xinjiang cotton. As such, in March 2021, China blacklisted brands associated with the BCI. Some companies’ online shops were blocked from the Chinese internet, and their stores vanished from some digital maps. Initially, H&M and Nike were the sole targets of this blackout. However, attention soon widened to include Burberry, Adidas, and Converse, among other global brands.

While H&M’s physical stores in China remain open, the BBC reported that in March 2021 it was no longer possible to hail a taxi to the shops using an app. Consumers in China were also unable to shop online with the brand.

BCI’s U-Turn

After the backlash in China surrounding Xinjiang cotton, the BCI then deleted all public statements on and references to their previously published decisions to exit the Uyghur Region. They have also not issued any clarifications or further updates on Xinjiang cotton. The only communication on the matter was that the China branch of the BCI found no sign of forced labour in the Xinjiang region.

In response, human-rights advocates have hit out at the BCI for their continued silence on the topic. Advocates say that this silence contravenes its mission statement to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it.

The End Uyghur Forced Labor coalition published a statement in May 2021. Here it said that: “in failing to be transparent and public on BCI’s rationale for exiting the Uyghur region, BCI is putting at risk any credibility it could have in its commitment to ensure that decent work is embedded across its global cotton sustainability program. BCI’s own website states that “BCI does not operate in countries where forced labour is orchestrated by the government.

By continuing to operate in China without being clear on its zero tolerance for forced labour and its rationale for exiting the Uyghur Region, BCI is allowing itself to be used by the Chinese government to claim that business can go on as usual and to deny the ongoing crimes against humanity, including widespread and systematic forced labour, in the Uyghur Region.

Further, continued silence by BCI taints all brands and retailers that use BCI cotton as an ethical alternative in an industry widely tainted by forced labour, as well as the farmers who trust BCI to take a stand for ‘better cotton’ production everywhere.”

It’s not a great look for an initiative already credited with driving down the organic cotton market.

What Should I Look For Instead of BCI Cotton?

If you are looking to avoid BCI cotton there are a few alternatives you can look for:

GOTS Certified Cotton

If you are looking for a more sustainable alternative to BCI cotton, then try GOTS Certified Cotton. GOTS certified cotton is cotton that has been certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard.

GOTS Certified cotton means that a textile product carrying the GOTS label must contain a minimum of 70% certified organic fibres. Meanwhile a GOTS product with the label grade grade ‘organic’ must contain a minimum of 95% certified organic fibres.

However, it is no panacea though. Organic fibre production is not directly covered by the GOTS certification system. This is because GOTS itself does not set standards for organic fibre cultivation. Instead, the cultivation of organic fibres falls under the scope of organic farming standards. As certification doesn’t apply to the growing, farming, or harvesting stage of cotton cultivation, this means there is still scope for forced labour and other humans rights abuse to occur in GOTS Certified cotton.

EU Eco-Label Cotton

The EU Eco-Label is a more sustainable alternative to BCI cotton.

To qualify for the EU Ecolabel, products have to comply with a tough set of criteria. These environmental criteria, set by a panel of experts from a number of stakeholders, including consumer organisations and industry, take the whole product life cycle into account. From the extraction of the raw materials, to production, packaging, and transport. It also extends right through to your use and then the end of a product’s life.

I admit I am finding it hard to find which ethical clothing brands use ECO Eco-label cotton. When I find them I will update this post.

Secondhand Cotton

One of the greenest things that you can do is shop secondhand for clothes. This bypasses the need to look for specific labelling. If you’re looking for some inspiration then check out my guide to secondhand clothes shops online.

The Cotton You Already Own

I can’t end this piece on BCI cotton without saying, that, as with anything when it comes to sustainability, the most sustainable item is the one you already own. When we are wasting the equivalent of one rubbish truck full of textiles every single second, no amount of eco-labels, however stringent, can dig us out of this hole. Those of us with disposable incomes really have to cut back on our clothing consumption to make clothing more sustainable.