Permission to do less

Stella Lange 

Every day, every one on earth gets dressed. For many of us, getting dressed each morning combines selfcare, our sense of identity, consideration of the families and communities we are part of, and sustainability. Our clothes need to be comfortable, physically comfortable (taha tinana), spiritually comfortable (taha wairua), mentally comfortable (taha hinengaro) and socially comfortable (taha whanau). The UN Sustainable Development Goal #12 Sustainable production and consumption provides a prompt to consider how we can consider small changes as part of our wellbeing.  

Barely a month goes by without a news story on mountains of discarded textiles causing environmental problems or of the social issues of unfair working conditions in textile production. Working in fashion design education I see our ākonga respond to these challenges, they step up and develop zero waste garments, reusing discarded textiles, researching best practice in material selection. Their designs become our clothing, and that is taonga. The earth’s resources provided the materials and energy, the hands and minds that caused each garment, all of this deserves our respect. Designers in New Zealand working to make a better future, like Mindful Fashion, provide part of the solution, and we as wearers of clothes need to consider our role. Leaving this important work to others is uncomfortable, all of us have a role in sustainable production and consumption.  

Experts tell us modern laundry machines abrade our garments and introduce micro fibres into the waste water – something that most laundry appliance manufacturers are very quiet about. Kate Fletcher calculated that the bulk of the environmental cost of a garment lies with the owner. As owners of clothing we need to consider how we can best care for our garments. Living in a time before washing machines and tumble driers, our Tipuna had worked out airing, brushing and vodka were simple and effective ways to keep clothes clean.  

Figure 1: Traditional wardrobe maintenance, involved airing, brushing away dried dirt and spritzing with vodka to remove odours. Source: Stella Lange (2022). 

The way we care for our clothes, can make a very real difference to how we feel about our garments, about how we feel about ourselves, and how much we contribute to waste streams. Simple changes, considering what items need washing and what need simple airing or brushing, provide opportunities to save water, save energy and even save our time. There is something lovely about airing out clothing, of brushing down a sweater or coat, something mindful of taking time to check the condition of a garment before putting it away ready for another day. If a garment needs a clean, there is something considered about leaving dirt to dry and then brushing it off, or something fun, almost subversive about spraying it with vodka to freshen it up.  

There is a relief knowing that the clothing in the washing machine is only the clothing that needs a wash because it is dirty. And there is a double relief knowing that in hanging up yesterday’s clothing to air, that we are saving water, and saving the textiles, saving energy, and in a not so small way protecting our planet.  

Stella Lange teaches and researches in the School of Design at Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, a craft maker, whose practice is informed by historical traditions of textile maintenance. As maker of textiles, she understands the sheer volume of labour that is embedded into each garment.  Stella has won textile awards for her embroidered masks, and is co-president of the Costume and Textile Association of New Zealand.  


Fletcher, Kate, and Lynda Grose. Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change. Reprint, Laurence King Publishers, 2012. 

Goodwin, R. How to Be a Victorian. Viking, 2017. 

Leave a Reply