By the time you finish reading this, Australians will have disposed 1500kg of textiles and clothing, not for recycling, repurposing or repairing, instead ending up as bin or burn.
Our insatiable appetite to be decked out in the latest trends is readily supported by perceived affordability and convenience, let's be honest, many of us have bought fashion at prices 'too good to be true', believing we can easily dispose of it because it didn't cost the earth - but in truth, it does.
As glamourous and enticing as fashion can be, it's darker side is being revealed, this brings with it though, the opportunity for ordinary people like you and me, to use their fashion choices as an agent for positive change.
You are so forgiven for not making the connection between your fashion choices and it's wider social and environmental consequences, I was an economics teacher before I became co-founder of a slow fashion enterprise, my mindset was hugely in favour of systems based on 'efficiency', only now do I understand this often translates as sourcing the cheapest ways of making, selling and consuming things. Consequently, the fashion industry has a systematic bias where efficiency has trumped ethics, where cheap prices do not reflect the true cost, and being disconnected from how our clothes are made, means we can't quite see the impact of our choices.
Sustainable fashion describes an emerging segment within the fashion industry designed to address the extreme social and environmental costs of its alternative - fast fashion. There is no exact definition of sustainable fashion, it varies depending on which part of the fashion supply chain is being examined (or exposed), but at its core, sustainable fashion broadly incorporates creative, transparent and environmentally conscious design processes that enhance a dignified connection between producers and buyers. An important thing to note though, especially from the consumer side of things, sustainable fashion is more about common sense than complex solutions.
Choosing sustainable fashion is much easier if you are willing to broaden your perspective on what it means, as a society we have to cut ourselves some slack when it comes to sustainable living in general and allow for the small, incremental changes to be a great starting point. Sustainable fashion shouldn't be considered an 'either-or' scenario, that's too hard and impractical, transforming your wardrobe starts with transforming your mindset on what you think is doable.
"One of the biggest obstacles to choosing sustainable fashion is a belief that not everyone can afford it," Kath Davis, designer of a slow fashion label at The Possibility Project, said. "There are so many ways to do fashion sustainably that can actually save you money and the planet, but you do have to look at things differently."
Vivienne Westwood, one of fashion's loudest advocates for change puts it simply too, insisting we should "buy less, buy better and make it last" - common sense advice that would never make it on the economics curriculum.
One of the simplest solutions is second-hand fashion, it's important to remember second hand is no longer second best. Aided by technology and social media, there has been a surge in the market for interesting second-hand fashion, particularly vintage and luxury. It's true, the dumping of fast-fashion garments into op-shops has made it a little more challenging to find quality and originality, but there are still some amazing bargains out there.
While some of us have the skills and desire to make and mend our own clothes, or engage in clothes swaps to reduce our fashion footprints, most of us will rely on ethical and sustainable fashion brands to lead our choices. There is help at hand to sort out the genuine offerings. Many consumers are turning to apps that rate fashion brands according to sustainability metrics. Good On You is just one example, giving you simple access to ranking your favourite brands on their environmental and social impact.
Also look for innovative brands, ones that prioritise planet and people along with profit. There is a movement to circular design processes that aims to minimise waste. Seljak is an Australian brand of blankets made of recycled wool, at the end of life, the product can be returned to be shredded and spun into future blankets. Closed-loop models such as Seljak's, are the ultimate in sustainability. It puts pressure on the makers to create products consumers don't need to give back because it lasts.
Finally, have the courage to do a clothes edit, go through your wardrobe and ask a few simple questions, such as who made your clothes, do you love them, does it have positive meaning for its makers and does it match your values. When we are aware, we care, it's that simple. And most importantly, never underestimate the power of your choices, there are local ethical and sustainable businesses that can thrive with your help. Be the change (of clothing) you'd like to see in our world.
To learn more about sustainable fashion, join Kim Pearce in her free online workshop as part of the Eco Living Festival on Sunday, October 17. Part informative, part practical, the workshop will add some meaning, mending and creative re-purposing to your fashion choices. For more information, visit events.humanitix.com/make-the-creative-approach-to-sustainable-fashion
- Kim Pearce, social enterprise entrepreneur and co-founder of The Possibility Project.