24-25 Jul 2024

The clothes off your back

May 25, 2018

Australia is a nation of clothes-lovers, so much so, that we are the second highest consumers of clothes (per capita) in the world. The average Australian buys 27kg of clothes every year, but because the stuff we buy often costs so little, we think nothing of chucking it away when we are sick of it. In fact, every 10 minutes, Australians throw out 6000 kg of clothing, making textile waste the fastest growing sector of household waste.

Cheap fashion, high cost

While our fast fashion fix is cheap to us, the true cost is borne by the people and places who make our garments. Oxfam reports that a large proportion of garment workers are paid less than the minimum wage. Those who create fast fashion frequently work in unsafe and exploitative environments. Child labour and slavery entrap vulnerable people in the sector.

The textile industry is the second most polluting in the world, after the oil industry. In fact, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s A New Textiles Economy report noted that in 2015, greenhouse gas emissions from textile production totalled more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Additionally, River Blue claims that toxic waste from textile producers in India, Bangladesh and China has killed rivers and poisoned the communities who live alongside them.

The environmental harm also continues after production. The washing of plastic-based textiles — polyester, nylon and acrylic materials — releases plastic microfibres into the ocean. If this current trend continues, it is estimated the amount of plastic microfibres between 2015 and 2050 could accumulate to an excess of 22 million tonnes. It is unknown what harm these microfibres will do to human or aquatic life.

Circular solution

There is something deeply flawed with our current ravenous system of wasteful, harmful clothing consumption and the fashion industry is starting to take notice.

Australia’s first ever Circular Fashion Conference was held in Sydney in March this year. Bringing together leaders in the fashion industry, the conference convened a dialogue around managing fast fashion and reducing textile waste.

Camille Reed, founder of the Australian Circular Fashion Conference said, “2018 will be a big year for Australian Circular Fashion as we build the country’s first industry-only body which will provide substantial, plausible measure, increase profitability and capture the untapped market share of sustainable practice.”

Examining future trends at the conference

The conference also threw a spotlight on the following trends:

  • Clothes sharing. Just as Uber and Airbnb have revolutionised the way we use cars and houses, clothing rental services are set to shake up the way we think about our wardrobes. Australian rental services such as Glam Corner,The Birdcage Stylist and Dressed Up offer designer dresses for special occasions. Renting rather than buying, has the added attraction of saving women both money and wardrobe space.
  • Quality will be prized over disposability. Craig Reucassel, ABC journalist from War on Waste, and speaker at the conference, said he wants to read reviews written years after purchase that tell him about the quality of an item. UK shopping site, Buy Me Once, has found a niche selling ‘the longest lasting products on the planet’.
  • Take back schemes will become more prevalent. H&M and Patagonia offer ‘take back’ schemes with incentives to draw customer back in stores.
  • Don’t wash. Notable brands such as Levi Strauss and Gap urge customers not to wash their jeans. Threadsmiths, a Melbourne company has developed a range of hydrophobic, stain resistant clothing, including t-shirts and shirts, for men, women and children. Asides from saving energy and water, not washing has the added advantage of extending the lifespan of clothing.
  • Circularity will become an inherent part of the value proposition of textiles. Sydney based, Kusaga Athletic wear uses a proprietary Ecolite fabric, which is made from a “unique blend of fibres that is biodegradable and compostable”. The brand says the  fibres are “grown with minimal intervention before undergoing a manufacturing process that ensures the least impact to the environment. The end product is a high performance material that has the versatility of cotton with the technical capabilities of polyester”.
  • Textile innovation will continue. US startup, Mycoworks, creates leather-like products grown from mycelium, the fibres that come from mushrooms. The textile takes only a couple of weeks to grow, as compared to the three years it would take to raise livestock for a piece of leather, and it is completely carbon neutral.

At its essence, fashion is about creativity, collaboration and the thrill of the new. Applying that creative talent to solving the problems of excess is not a great leap. The waste sector could seek to harness co-operation in that creative space to come up with mutually beneficial solutions to the growing waste issues that impact us all.

Find out more about the latest waste and recycling trends in Australia at this year’s AWRE expo kicking off 29-30 August at ICC Sydney, Darling Harbour – register free


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