Take a look at what you’re wearing right now; whether it’s a cute sweater from Zara or a classy, corporate dress from Cue, it will have a care label attached. Hardly anybody ever actually sneaks a peek at these little scraps of fabric sewn into our clothes, let alone reads them. Heck, some people don’t even realise they exist. However, care labels might just be the most important part of your whole outfit.
So, what are they there for? It’s all in the name: to explain to consumers how to care for new garments. The material your clothes are made of will also be listed on the label alongside instructions such as ‘do not bleach,’ ‘hand-wash,’ or ‘steam only.’ While your blazer might be a poly-viscose blend, your skirt could be made from the sustainable fabric Tencel, and both need to be cared for in different ways. The importance behind looking after your clothes correctly has everything to do with two big, scary topics: sustainability and the law.
If you disobey the care label, be warned: it’s not just your beloved blouse that will shrink, stain or rip. The environment will suffer, too. The biggest impact the fashion industry has on our big blue planet comes from the disposal stage of the life cycle garment. Read: post-consumer waste clogging landfills. In the US, 10.5 million tons of textile waste goes to landfill each year. Here, in Australia, we’re guilty of sending 85% of all our textiles to landfill every year. Destroying clothes that could live a long life, by simply disregarding the care label, only contributes to this growing ecological disaster.
If that isn’t enough for you, disregarding the care instructions could void your warranty or affect your rights as a consumer to a refund under consumer law. So by looking out for the environment, you are also preserving your legal rights.
One more reason to take a look at your care label is to find out where the garment is made. There’s nothing more ethically satisfying than seeing ‘Made in Australia’ attached to your clothes. That way, you can give yourself a little pat on the back knowing your purchase hasn’t exploited anyone in offshore factories and is supporting local businesses. With fast fashion tearing across the globe, anyone producing in their own country deserves a round of applause.
Next time you’re choosing between brands, check the care label. Where is it made? Is the material ethical, or at least natural (e.g. 100% cotton)? Can you machine wash it, or do you need to invest time by hand-washing? Who knew one little scrap of fabric could make all the difference.