The oldest item of clothing in my wardrobe that I still wear is a German Army surplus shirt that I bought in the early 90s. You know the type – it’s an army surplus staple beloved of grunge kids and outdoor types. I presume it has something to do with the country’s compulsory military service of the time and a high turnover of personnel, but to this day military surplus shops the world over are stuffed with drab olive shirts with a little German flag.
It’s not an elegant item of clothing. It was scruffy and secondhand when I bought it and it’s no better now, but it is still going. It’s been my hiking, camping and gardening shirt, so it’s taken more abuse than any other item of clothing, but it appears to be more or less indestructible.
That’s what you’d expect from clothing made for the military, but they don’t have a monopoly on long lasting clothes. At the other end of the smartness scale, my Grandpa always bought quality tailored suits that would last for decades and could be repaired. There’s a vintage clothing shop not far from my London office that sells the sorts of things he wore – suits and coats that date from the 60s and 70s and are still perfectly wearable. They’re just that well made.
Outside of very high-end tailoring, we don’t make clothes like that any more. Consumer tastes have changed and we value novelty more than we used to. The idea of keeping clothes for years doesn’t appeal, and one survey earlier this month suggests that the majority of women’s fashion purchases are worn just seven times. I don’t know if things are really that bad, but as you can tell from the previous paragraphs, I’m not the guy to ask.
We know it’s perfectly possible to make clothes that last for decades. Given that you can buy them from vintage shops, it clearly doesn’t need some high-tech new fabric or innovative technique. It needs quality materials and attention to detail. Most clothing companies won’t find it worthwhile to offer long-lasting clothes – it’s a guaranteed way to cut off return business after all. But there ought to be a niche out there for basics, staple wardrobe items that are more or less timeless.
Tom Cridland thinks so, which is why he is offering his sweatshirt with a 30 year guarantee. “A lot of big fashion brands make their clothing knowing that it will fall apart, so that their customers will have to return to buy more” he says. “We’re going to prove that clothing can, and should, last a lifetime.”
His 30 year sweatshirt it currently on Kickstarter. It’s made from organic cotton and handmade in Portugal. If it comes to grief at any point in the three decades of its warranty, you can send it back for a free repair. And since people have been wearing cotton crew-neck sweatshirts since the 1920s, it’s unlikely to become hideously passé any time soon.
Making long-lasting clothing isn’t the only approach to sustainable fashion. Other companies have specialised in recyclable or biodegradeable items, which means there’s still room for changing styles. But for classic wardrobe items, Tom Cridland’s approach is a good one. Now, what colour to go for?
- Check out the 30 year sweatshirt Kickstarter campaign here.