I have a confession to make: I’ve been wearing the same black T-shirt every single day for two weeks now and I haven’t washed it yet. Anybody who knows me will realize this is very out of character. I’m a laundry addict. I get inordinate pleasure out of transforming my toddler’s mud- and applesauce-covered clothes into freshly laundered, neatly folded piles.
And yet, I may hold off on washing this T-shirt for another few weeks. It miraculously looks (and smells!) like it was just cleaned. This $65 T-shirt is made by a startup called Unbound Merino, founded in 2016, that creates wool travel clothes that can go weeks without being washed.
While the brands I have featured in this story have made less frequent laundering a core part of their design and marketing , there’s a growing awareness among consumers over the last few years that we may be over-washing most of the clothes in our wardrobe. In 2017, the nonprofit Fashion Revolution, which promotes sustainability and social justice in the fashion industry, launched a major campaign called the Care Label Project to educate consumers about the environmental impact of over-washing their clothes. The organization partnered with the washing machine manufacture AEG to help 14 designers incorporate labels that said “Don’t Overwash” into 18,200 styles of clothes.
The point of the project was to make the case that the current system of care labels on clothes are antiquated. The symbols we find on our clothing tags were first invented half a century ago, and often they aren’t very carefully thought through. One designer who contributed to the project, Doriane van Overeem, believes that many fashion brands just don’t want to go through the hassle of educating the customer on the most eco-friendly way to clean garments themselves. This is why they ask the customer to dry clean them, a process that is not very sustainable but frees the brand of any responsibility should a garment get ruined.
This new generation of wash-less brands are contributing to the broader effort of helping consumers better understand the environmental impact of caring for their garments. In the end, as Bishop says, it takes time to change someone’s behavior and psychological outlook, especially after years of being told that they’re unclean if they aren’t wearing freshly laundered clothes. All three of these brands believe that the best way to get the message across is for the customer to have a good experience with their clothes. “Once the clothes are in customer’s hands, you’ve already won half the battle,” says Bishop. “They’ll suddenly realize they haven’t washed their clothes in a couple of weeks and it still feels fresh.”
I’m now on week three of wearing the black T-shirt. It’s so versatile, I’ve worn it with shorts, skirts, and jeans. It kept me cool through several sweltering days when I took my kid to a theme park. And as promised, it still looks crisp and smells fresh. (Believe me, I’ve sniffed it a lot.) It might just be enough to convert a laundry junkie like me to back off from my beloved washing machine.