The Australians putting the brakes on fast fashion, fearing for environment
In a small shop along one of Sydney’s busiest
streets, Sarah Freeman is encouraging Australians to slow down and break
addiction to fast fashion.
Shocked by the speed at which Australians buy and throw away cheap
garments, she is trying to harness an ancient concept — libraries — to
persuade shoppers to rent instead of purchase clothes.
“Today’s society just seem to wear clothes like condoms. They wear them
once and they throw them away,” the passionate vintage-garment lover told
at her Clothes Library in the inner suburb of Potts Point. “That’s not how
clothes are supposed to be designed. The clothes nowadays
are manufactured for six wears, I think, which is terrible.”
Globally, clothing production doubled from 2000-2014, with the number of
garments bought each year by consumers soaring by 60 percent, according to
consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
A booming part of the industry, including in Australia, is fast fashion,
where catwalk designs are quickly turned into apparel sold at low or
prices and easily accessible via online sites.
In Australia, where the demand for textiles is one of the highest per
capita in the world, the fast fashion sector grew by 19.5 percent over five
years to 1.8 billion Australian dollars (1.4 billion US dollars) in
2017-18, research firm IBISWorld
A recent YouGov survey also found that almost a quarter of Australians
thrown away an item of clothing after wearing it just once, and four in 10
admitted they had binned unwanted garments, adding to landfill. They don’t
always see it as something that is a valuable product to keep
in your wardrobe,” Alison Gwilt, a sustainable fashion expert and researcher
at the University of South Australia, told AFP. “So already the mindset
from the very beginning when you buy that type of
product is that you think of it as something that’s short-lived.”
At the Sydney distribution centre of St Vincent de Paul Society, a major
charity recycling clothes, manager George Blakely has seen the longevity of
some donated items decline in recent years.
“Some products only last two or three washes, which is not favourable…
The volume they get through here is usually increasing, because people are
turning over products in their own home more quickly,” Blakely said.
Low prices, high costs
The rock bottom prices for consumers contrast with the high cost paid by
the environment. Tonnes of cheap clothes are churned out every year in
using up copious amounts of energy and resources and polluting waterways
factories with toxic chemicals.
The materials used are often synthetic and non-biodegradable, meaning
washing can be hazardous, with some textiles shedding plastic micro-fibres
that make their way to water catchments and oceans in consumer countries
In recent months, the devastating impact of waste has made headlines
China, Australia’s biggest market for recycling waste, cracked down on
Beijing’s restrictions on “contaminated” recycled materials including
fabric has forced Australians to think about how much waste they produce and
galvanised efforts to explore more sustainable approaches.
Producers have been proactive with natural fibres — Australia is a key
supplier of wool and high-quality cotton — Australian Fashion Council chief
executive David Giles-Kaye told AFP. Retailers including major player
Cotton On are pledging to make their
manufacturing chains transparent and ethical.
At Melbourne’s Deakin University, researchers won support from Swedish
mega-retailer H&M to develop “circular denim”, where old jeans are used to
colour new ones, reducing the impact on landfills and of dye run-off.
St Vincent’s has joined the efforts at the recycling level, examining
better ways to sort donated clothes into different fibre types and repurpose
garments to extend their life-cycle.
“We have to become a lot… smarter and really use technology to try and
break things down into their base form so that things can actually be reused
and we can become a true circular economy,” the charity’s retail development
manager Jacqui Dropulic told AFP.
Although the efforts could lead to significant change within the fashion
industry, Giles-Kaye believes the key to solving the issue ultimately lies
with consumers and their desire for even quicker and cheaper clothing.
“It’s still very much a fringe movement… When consumers continue to
more product at a lower price it really drives the producers into less
sustainable areas of manufacturing,” he said.
Freeman is convinced that if concepts like hers where shoppers can borrow
and return good-quality second hand clothes for a small monthly subscription
fee catches on, people power can make a difference in a positive
“Hopefully it will catch on and people will start being more conscious
just make an effort to not go out and purchase the fast fashion items,” she
said. “I mean if we stop demanding it, then they (retailers) have to stop
supplying it.” (AFP)
Photos: The Clothes Library Facebook