Aussies send 85% of textiles to landfill

Australians buy an average of 27 kilograms of new textiles each year and then discard 23 kilograms into landfill – and two-thirds of those discards are manmade fibres that take decades to rot.

Sustainability consultant Jane Milburn said Australians are the second-largest consumers of new textiles after north Americans who annually buy 37kg each, and ahead of Western Europeans at 22kg while consumption in Africa, the Middle East and India averages just 5 kg per person. These figures are sourced from north American magazine Textile World.

Textile World graphic of per capita consumption

“There’s been a transformational shift in the way we source, use and discard our clothing which has major social and environmental implications. Fast fashion produced from global supply chains is driving purchasing of excessive new clothing, often discarded after a few wears,” Ms Milburn said.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures indicate 500,000 tonnes of leather and textiles are discarded each year, amounting to 23 kilograms each, and only a fraction of this is being recovered through charitable recycling.

Waste management by material ABS 2013 report

“Most of our discards are just buried in landfill, so we can continue consuming without guilt. In a finite world, we can’t keep pretending this doesn’t matter. Queensland is the only state (with Northern Territory) that doesn’t have a landfill levy. We all have to be accountable for the waste.”

Ms Milburn said average global annual consumption of textiles has doubled from 7 to 13 kg per person in two decades – and in Australia is double again at 27kgs per person – and the majority of new clothing is now made from synthetic fibres derived from petroleum.

“Ecological research by Dr Mark Browne has shown synthetic clothes like polyester are shedding microplastic particles into the wastewater stream with every wash and then enter the food chain.

“In the same way we are aware of what we eat and want to know more about cooking and growing food, we are becoming more conscious about what we wear. We need to at least know the basics about how clothes are made, and how to make simple repairs to extend their lifespan.”

Textile Beat has developed a Slow Clothing Manifesto to inspire change in the way we engage with clothing for the good of ourselves, society and the planet. The manifesto is based on 10 actions: think, natural, quality, local, care, few, make, adapt, revive and salvage.

Brisbane residents have a unique opportunity to immerse in reuse and upcycling at the inaugural Revive pop-up second-hand fashion festival run by Brisbane City Council at South Bank cultural precinct on Friday August 19 from 2-8pm. More details here

Jane Milburn addressed Brisbane City Council on November 24 about the potential to create a more sustainable clothing culture.

Eclectic sustainable style – Kate Fletcher

Kate Fletcher from Tasmania has been involved with making and recycling clothing as long as she can remember. For the past 10 years she has organised a sustainable clothing show at the Local Sustainable Living event in Hobart, motivated by growing awareness of the environmental and social impacts of the global clothing industry.

Tasmania's Kate Fletcher wears her story-filled garment hand-stitched as part of  The Slow Clothing Project

Tasmania’s Kate Fletcher wears her story-filled garment hand-stitched for The Slow Clothing Project

Kate’s individual style is influenced by people at home and abroad, many of whom she is connected with through the volunteer program Willing Workers on Organic Farms.

“My favourite thing about my clothing is that it is a conglomeration of different makers who have lived or wwoofed at my house and members of our Tassie Dyeing Divas mob, plus things I have traded with friends at clothes swaps,” Kate said. “Apart from undies and thermals, the only new purchases I make are from local designer-makers – most of whom are known to me.

“I am always darning, patching and dyeing fabrics and garments. I often have a number of wwoofers and we create garments together. At this moment, Nina is creating a garment using a Japanese pattern and a sheet she dyed with plants, and Aden is overlocking several wool tops made with fabric from the op shop.

Kate Fletcher in her backyard using dyeing as one of her making techniques

Kate Fletcher in her backyard in Tasmania using dyeing as one of her making techniques

“My motivation is doing whatever it takes to keep garments looking great, in circulation and away from landfill. I also enjoy networking and sharing ideas, skills and resources.”

Despite having always been a maker, Kate doesn’t remember learning to sew the way she remembers learning to cook or knit. “Sewing was just there, mum made everything and I can’t remember not sewing. I still have my homemade Barbie clothes and a patchwork quilt I made aged 21 which has squares from my teenage dresses, curtains and cushion covers,” she said.

“I mostly sew clothes, but also cushions, bags, curtains and a number of art pieces. I have a very eclectic wardrobe, mainly handmade, upcycled, recycled, second-hand clothing. I trade in these things so I have access to a wide variety of raw materials. My most typical raw materials are blankets, sheets, curtains, tablecloths and doilies. I prefer natural fabrics. My favourite unusual find recently was a cloth meat bag which covered a whole lamb carcass.

“I make stuff all the time and most often the way I acquire new clothing is when I make or dye something for our Salamanca stall and it fits me, so I keep it or one of my wwoofers makes or dyes something I like. I enjoy thinking about the people who made the garments when I wear them. For a day like the sustainable clothing show, I will often wear pieces stitched by a number of different people.”

The story Kate tells about the new garment in her wardrobe which we showcase here for The Slow Clothing Project epitomises the difference between slow clothing and fast fashion.

some ingredients“It is actually quite rare that I get to make a garment for myself, so when Jane encouraged me to make myself a garment for The Slow Clothing Project, I was really excited. I had some cloth dyed with privet which I had been going to make into a garment for about three years and then something happened which started me on a new journey. Christina a talented, quirky, fun-loving wwoofer who spent a few months at my place was caught up in the Fort McMurray bushfires in Canada. I was at a bit of a loss about how to let her know that I cared and that I was thinking about her. I got out my collection of beautiful ‘scraps’ and found quite a few that Christina had dyed so I started to stitch them together over the next month while Christina was racing down highways escaping bushfires, advocating for other evacuees and camping out in the back of her friend Rob’s truck. I was still stitching when I got to Alice Springs and my friend Caresse’s mum was leaving this mortal coil. I stitched with my friends at Friday darning, with Sarah, Nina and Aden and through a few footy games. I have ended up with a rich tapestry and a beautiful journey which money could not buy. It started life as a cream blanket and the thread I stitched it with is op-shop found thread which I dyed,” Kate said.

Christina and Nat, two of the wwoofers who contributed to the making of Kate's garment story

Christina and Nat, two of the wwoofers who contributed to the making of Kate’s garment story

“I was vaguely copying a garment I already owned and because I was randomly stitching pieces of fabric together, I did have some difficulty getting the final garment to hang how I wanted it to. In the end, I just embraced how it was.”

Reflecting on fast fashion and the culture of consumerism, Kate said it is sad and soulless. “I want people to think about this and give up believing that buying a new garment so cheaply that they can just throw it out without a care – that is not a smart idea and is not sustainable. One thing I am most concerned about is textile workers having a living wage.”

Slow living plays out in the lives of Kate and her colleagues in their cooking, cleaning and willingness to mend rather than replace. “We grow things to eat and we forage for the dyepot and the table. We network and share. For about 10 years now, I have organised a sustainable clothing show as part of the local Sustainable Living Event. We also have a clothes swap and a stall for local designer makers as part of the sustainable event, and last year a panel discussion. I am keen to educate people about the impact of the clothing and textile industry on the environment. I believe it is very high up amongst polluting industries on the planet and many, including environmentally aware people, don’t take it very seriously. I think this is changing.”

For some time, Kate has been entering exhibitions and competitions focused on sustainability and environmental issues. “I have encouraged the people I share my home with and other friends to be involved. As well as drawing awareness to the issues, it also gives me an opportunity to take myself on and to take what I create to the next level. I believe in modelling what I think is important and what works for the planet,” she said.

“The magic of my creative life is that I share it with people I love and I get to love them even more because of what we share. I host darning regularly on Fridays and when out-of-town friends come to visit, we can create together.

“I have a network of over 300 wwoofers around the world and often when I create for the annual sustainable clothing show, I involve the current residents in the making. One year my creations were called the International Sewing Circle and the works I presented were stitched by a variety of people. Last year I had #Gatherlove and people from round the globe and local people sent me buttons, bunting, fabric which created a connection between us. I had serviettes from Swiss grandmothers, elastic from Estonian grandmothers and beautiful antique fastenings which were incorporated into garments. This year Sarah, Nina, Aden and I have produced numerous garments for shows, competitions and for the market stall which we have all worked on together. The energy of a group of people working towards a deadline together is divine.”

Thank you so much Kate (and friends) for sharing and caring about clothing and community – it was great to join in when I was in Hobart earlier this year! #slowclothing

Jane Milburn and Kate Fletcher at Kates home earlier in 2016 cropped

Jane Milburn and Kate Fletcher at Kates home earlier in 2016

Kate stitching in her studio filled with natural and found treasures

Kate stitching in her studio filled with natural and found treasures

Kate with a small part of her fabric stash

Kate with a small part of her fabric stash

Kate catching up with creative Tassie friends

Kate catching up with creative Tassie friends

Upcycling activism – Cathy Stuart

Cathy Stuart from Newcastle in New South Wales believes that the act of making something, particularly from reused or old stuff, can create a deep sense of satisfaction, achievement and self-worth for the maker. Resourcefulness and resilience are enhanced. Being able to re-use and re-purpose an object is, in Cathy’s view, a key skill in becoming more environmentally sustainable. It reduces our need to consume new resources as well as makes us responsible for managing our own waste.

Jasmine wears an upcycled couture creation made by her mother Cathy Stuart for The Slow Clothing Project

Jasmine wears an upcycled couture creation made by her mother Cathy Stuart for The Slow Clothing Project

Cathy is increasingly disturbed by the new ‘normal’ in how our society of planned and perceived obsolescence operates, driving totally unsustainable levels of consumption. “We are somehow lulled into believing that this is the only way our economy and therefore society can survive. I worry about the world my teenage daughters are growing up in, where cheap fashion is close to worthless one season after it is bought, and op shops are even now struggling to cope with the deluge of clothing and homewares they receive,” she said.

Continue reading

Shibori-dye revive – Denise Traynor

Brisbane-based textile enthusiast Denise Traynor believes that how we choose to spend our money ultimately has an impact on how things are made. “If consumers reject exploitative, wasteful production techniques, over packaging and excessive transport models by insisting on locally produced, fair-traded goods, we can lower our carbon footprint and reduce the demand for unfair wages and slavery used to produce them,” Denise said.

Mei models the dress and cardigan that Denise Traynor shibori-dyed to be a matched outfit for The Slow Clothing Project.

Mei models the dress and cardigan Denise Traynor shibori-dyed as a matched set for The Slow Clothing Project.

Denise also believes that reusing and remaking otherwise obsolete items helps to counteract the wasteful, mass production, mass consumption model that is causing so much environmental and social harm in the world. “I believe our disposable society has contributed to this harm. Plastic fibres, wearing clothes for one or two seasons, produced in third world countries with poor employment and environmental protection records, has made mountains of waste and other pollution.”

Continue reading

Creative eco-fashion – Mariana Kirova

Mariana Kirova is a professional upcycler, an eco-fashion educator and an agent for change. She  transforms rescued clothing into unique timeless pieces through her Perth-based business Eco Fashion Sewing which she established after studying fashion design in Western Australia.

Mariana Kirova creates an eco-fashion statement ensemble for The Slow Clothing Project.

Mariana Kirova wears an eco-fashion statement ensemble she created for The Slow Clothing Project.

Mariana said it is sad to see lots of fashion students graduating in Australia each year yet only a few stay and work in the fashion industry. “If Australian fashion brands have their production at home, this wouldn’t be happening,” she said.

Continue reading

Eco printing – Nina van Hartskamp

Nina van Hartskamp loves hand-made things and discovering natural treasures. “When you wear a piece you made yourself (or was made by a friend) it has a story. And I have a big love for natural fibres, which are expensive when you buy them new. Luckily there are op shops! I can spent ages in second-hand stores. It’s such a kick to find hidden treasures,” she said.

Nina van Hartskamp wears an eco-print wool jacket she transformed for The Slow Clothing Project

Nina van Hartskamp wears an eco-print wool jacket she transformed for The Slow Clothing Project

When Nina was a little girl growing up in the Netherlands, her grandma used to make her dresses and she loved choosing the fabrics and looking through pattern magazines.

Continue reading

A statement jacket – Rozalie Sherwood

Rozalie Sherwood loves the concept of not having too much, especially too much clothing. She lived and worked in China for two years and during that period experienced the particular freedom that comes with not having too many possessions to care for. In addition, she particularly loves the potential for creating individual garments that become a statement we present to the outside world, as a reflection of who we are.

Olivia wears the jacket made specially for her by her mum Rozalie Sherwood as part of The Slow Clothing Project

Olivia wears the jacket made specially for her by her mum Rozalie Sherwood as part of The Slow Clothing Project

Jackets – the outer garments worn by both men and women – are her favourite canvas. Rozalie’s jackets are a comment on our accumulative and acquisitive society; we buy many cheap items and end up with a wardrobe of things we rarely wear. Whereas one beautiful, thoughtful, meaningful jacket can be worn forever. Rozalie made such a jacket for her eldest daughter Olivia – which now features in The Slow Clothing Project.

Continue reading

Mud Jeans are circular

Most thinking people know of the waste and exploitation involved in globalised fast-fashion consumption that annually generates up to 80 billion garments worldwide, yet few are in a position to step up with an alternative.

Bert van SonDivergent thinker, risk taker and change maker Bert van Son, right, has pioneered an ethical and sustainable model by leasing garments so that his European-based company Mud Jeans retains and recycles the raw materials.

After 30 years in the textile industry, Bert knows the downside inherent in the traditional supply-demand model. In the Netherlands alone, 135 million kilograms of discarded clothing are burned each year, diminishing these resources to ash while fuelling climate-change with more CO2 discharged to the atmosphere. An appalling waste that’s replicated around the world.

In 2010, Bert decided to use his experience, money and networks to fashion a kinder clothing model that values resources and people at the same time as reducing waste and pollution. How good is that? A circular model, like a wheel, with resources going ‘round and ‘round. Beginning with the end in mind.

Continue reading

Handmade goodness – Saadia Thomson

Saadia Thomson lists many reasons to value slow clothing – sustainability, creativity, self-expression, uniqueness, enjoyment, learning and honing skills, sharing and being happy. She has come to dislike the culture of consumerism or affluenza and believes people get so caught up in the next fad (fashion or otherwise) they lose sight of what’s important.

Erin Thomson wears an apron made by her mum Saadia from a rescued business shirt for The Slow Clothing Project

Erin Thomson wears an apron made by her mum Saadia from a rescued business shirt for The Slow Clothing Project

“Instead of collecting things – and getting into debt for stuff they neither need or really want – we can focus more on building skills, friendships, family connections and taking time to enjoy what they already have, being with family and friends; giving freely to others by sharing their skills and knowledge,” Saadia said.

Continue reading

A slow clothing approach

Jane Milburn at ABC 702

Jane Milburn wears eco-dyed merino at ABC 702 Sydney

A transformational shift during the past two decades in the way we source, use and discard our clothing has major social and environmental implications caused by increasing volumes, changing fibres and loss of repair skills.

These changes in clothing culture brought Jane Milburn of Textile Beat to Ku-Ring-Gai Council in Sydney on Saturday (June 25) to workshop more sustainable approaches, including reviving garments in your wardrobe.  Jane was also interviewed by ABC 702’s Wendy Harmer about slow clothing, audio link below.

“Local councils report that about 4 percent of the household waste is textiles and most people know they can donate unwanted clothing for charitable recycling,” Ms Milburn said.

“Charities says about 15 percent of these donations are on-sold through op shops, 15 percent are ragged, 15 percent go to landfill and 55 percent are exported into the second-hand clothing trade.”

Continue reading