Rethinking clothing culture and waste

By Jane Milburn Textile Beat founder and sustainability consultant

Textile Beat founder Jane Milburn clothed in wool garments given a second life using eco-dye. Photo by Ele Cook

Textile Beat founder Jane Milburn clothed in wool garments given a second life using eco-dye. Photo by Ele Cook

My campaign on clothing waste has been a lifetime in the making. It began as a child learning hand-making skills and continued as a student upcycling big old dresses and thrifted finds.

I made many of my clothes for decades then rediscovered op shops in 2011 after a Fashion for Flood fundraiser. I began visiting op shops and particularly seeking out natural-fibre garments – wool jumpers with a hole, linen shirts with a missing button. The waste of resources troubled me because I grew up on a farm and have an agricultural science degree. What was happening to our clothing culture I wondered?

I fixed and refashioned these finds into office wear for my day job as a communications manager.  After doing postgraduate study in leadership, I left corporate life in 2012 to found Textile Beat, a start-up re-thinking contemporary clothing cultures. The evident need for a more ethical approach to clothing was brought into sharp focus by the human tragedy of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, and the exploitative nature of fast-fashion supply chains was laid bare.

Through the 365-day Sew it Again project in 2014, I explored upcycling options and blogged every day for 12 months as a platform to explore and speak out about more sustainable clothing cultures. This evolved into a slow clothing philosophy to reduce our material footprint through behaviour change: think, natural, quality, local, care, few, make, adapt, revive and salvage. Textile Beat shares this message with individuals, teachers, creatives, community groups, sustainability groups, universities and governments.

Clothing, like food, is essential for health and wellbeing because clothes do for us on the outside what food does inside – nourishing, warming, influencing the way we feel and how we present to the world. Yet we may be too busy to think through the details of where food and clothing comes from because industrial supply chains currently deliver it so easily and affordably.

The transformational shift during the past two decades in the way we source, use and discard our clothing has major social and environmental implications. With rising international concern about the state of planetary health, it is time to consider ways we as individuals can contribute by living more sustainably.

Clothing is the cheapest it has been in history, mainly due to global supply chains accessing low-wage labour in developing nations. About 90 percent of clothes sold in Australia are now made overseas, mostly in Asian factories with the potential for exploitation of vulnerable workers.

Levels of consumption of apparel fibre have risen markedly as prices have fallen. Based on the annual global average, we now buy twice as much clothing as we did two decades ago, and Australians buy twice the global average. At the same time, there has been a major shift towards clothes made from synthetic fibres derived from petroleum. Two-thirds of new clothing is now synthetic, which research shows is shedding microplastic particles into the ocean with every wash. (Read more)

The outsourcing of clothing manufacture has led to a population-wide loss of knowledge of the making process and disregard for the time and resources involved. This loss of basic sewing skills means an inability to repair, even resew a button, leading to dependency and a lack of autonomy.

The connection between healthy-eating behaviours and teaching children to cook and grow food has been recognised by teachers, health groups, food leaders and governments. The rise of television cooking shows and cooking classes is providing some opportunities to re-learn these skills.

In a similar way, revaluing the skills of mending and making clothing can empower us to make something uniquely individual and reduce our footprint by extending the life of clothing already in circulation. This is the message we share through Textile Beat workshops and talks.

The Slow Clothing Project documents 40 maker stories about Australians choosing to sew something for themselves to wear. This 2016 Textile Beat project showcases a handmade approach to help advance the ethics and sustainability of our clothing story.

Anything old can be new again when we have the skills and willingness to invest the time in doing it. Perhaps we should stop using the term waste?  We need to think of fibre and clothing as resources and focus on reducing, reusing and recycling in the context of a shift from a highly consumptive economy to a circular one.

Craig Reucassel and the ABC’s War on Waste are highlighting fashion and clothing waste in the third episode of this series which airs on ABC 2 on May 30. Here’s hoping this light shining on how waste is impacting our planet will bring on more thoughtful choices.

#waronwasteau #slowclothing #slowclothingphilosophy #slowclothingmanifesto

 

Mendful, mindful, meaning in stitches

Mended garments carry a story of care. They reflect the triumph of imperfection over pretension while the act of mending itself brings transformation in both mender and mended.

By embracing repair as a valid and useful act we, the menders, are stitching new life-energy into something others step over in the scrabble onwards and upwards. To pause, apply creative problem-solving and add a mark of care to our clothes, we extend their life and bring meaning to our own.

The clothes we wear are a statement of values. We may go through stages of searching for newer, sharper images and think clothes, like makeup and leopard spots, can camouflage and attract the right sort of attention. Alas, the pipe dream.  Continue reading

Slow food and slow clothing TEDxQUT

TEDxQUT talkBelow is original script from Jane Milburn’s TEDxQUT talk on April 8, 2017.

This suitcase weighs 23kgs – it’s overweight if you’re flying. And it represents the amount of leather and textiles that each Australian sends to landfill every year.

Every one of us … every year.

We know about food waste and that a third of food is never eaten – clothing waste runs parallel to that.

Every day we eat and dress to survive and thrive.

Our clothes do for us on the outside what food does inside. They warm and protect our body – and influence the way we feel.  Continue reading

Textile Beat leads change

Few people sew their own clothes these days because factory-made options are cheap and plentiful, yet this trend creates a clothing surplus that requires creative solutions to keep it out of landfill.

Textile Beat is celebrating four years of upcycling and helping influence a more sustainable clothing culture based on using natural fibres and applying traditional skills in innovative ways.

Jane Milburn of Textile Beat

Sustainability consultant Jane Milburn of Textile Beat

Textile Beat founder Jane Milburn said the Slow Clothing Manifesto identifies 10 actions we can take to thrive in a material world: think, natural, quality, local, care, few, make, adapt, revive and salvage.

“Clothes do for us on the outside what food does inside – nourish and warm our body and soul. Fast and processed industrial food has had a dramatic impact on health in recent years and similarly the shift to industrial clothing has social and environmental impacts we are only now learning,” Jane said.

Continue reading

Slow clothing philosophy

Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can. Using observation and instinct, Jane Milburn and Textile Beat join the dots and explore a science-based narrative about clothing.

Clothes do for us on the outside what food does on the inside – they nourish and warm our body and soul. In the same way that conscious eaters are sourcing fresh whole food and returning to the kitchen, conscious dressers are seeking to know more about the provenance and ethics of clothing and curious about how it is made. Every day we eat and we dress to survive and thrive, and it is not just the style that matters, substance does too.

War on Waste interview with Craig Reucassel web

War on Waste with Craig Reucassel, coming to ABC TV in 2017

Fast and processed industrial food has had a dramatic impact on our health in recent years and similarly there has been transformational shift to industrial factory-made clothing, the social and environmental impacts of which we are only now coming to understand.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that at least one-third of food produced is never eaten and creative solutions are emerging to divert and reduce that waste. In the same way, there is growing evidence a third of clothing is wasted, with much potential to upcycle and redeploy it. My purposeful work is bringing awareness to these and other material issues.

More than 90 percent of garments sold in Australia are now made overseas, mostly in Asian factories. Most people buy off-the-rack or online, with very few making anything for themselves to wear. As a natural-fibre champion, I am troubled that synthetic fibres made from petroleum now dominate the clothing market at a time when research shows these plastic clothes are shedding millions of microplastic particles into the ecosystem with every wash.

Continue reading

Engage in slow clothing

There is a huge excess of clothing in society due to the transformational shift in the way we buy, use and dispose of our garments these days, which is leaving us less engaged and wasteful.

We are buying up to four times more clothes than we did two decades ago, exploiting people and resources as well as creating environmental problems because of the trend towards synthetic clothes derived from petroleum.

We need to think more about whether we need new clothing, then choose to buy quality, natural, local and just a few.

Alternatively, we can get creative and learn to care, repair, adapt and revive existing clothing.

The Slow Clothing Manifesto is a summary of ways to thrive in a material world. Be more conscious about our clothing, in the same way we have become conscious of our food.

Slow clothing manifesto

More clothing, fewer skills

Australians buy an average of 27 kilograms worth of new clothing and textiles each year, two-thirds of which are made from manmade fibres derived from petroleum according to sustainability consultant Jane Milburn.

Ms 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.

jane-milburn-in-brisbane

“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 excessive purchasing of affordable new clothing often discarded after a few wears,” she said.

Continue reading

Lifestyles of simplicity – Dr Nicola Smith

During 2016, The Slow Clothing Project published 40 stories of people who make items of clothing for themselves to wear. It is fabulous to be able to conclude with a story from someone who has both personal and academic insights into our desire to make and create.

After five years of research into creativity and DIY, and many years of ‘hands on’ engagement with design-build projects, Dr Nicola Dawn Smith from Yallingup in Western Australia said her experience indicates the enormous personal and environmental value in becoming a bricoleur.

Dr Nicola Smith wears a comfortable and buttonless top made in her own style for The Slow Clothing Project.

Dr Nicola Smith wears her comforable and buttonless top made in her style for The Slow Clothing Project.

“A bricoleur (as interpreted in my study) is someone who uses whatever is to hand (not buying more tools/materials) with whatever skills they have (and can learn); someone who becomes immersed in the moment, the practice, the doing,” Nicola said.

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Making for meaning – Jennifer Bain

Jennifer Bain has been sewing most of her life. Her mother taught Jenny to sew and her Dad taught her to knit. And her commitment to sewing has become more earnest since 1987 when she took to patchwork.

“In 1987, I did a quilt-making course in Hunter Street, Newcastle where I made an Amish-style quilt – Sunlight and Shadows – and since then I have made more than 100 quilts. After discovering the Modern Quilt Movement, I have focused on challenging myself by sewing in meaningful ways,” Jenny said.

Jennifer Bain shows how she brings meaning to quilts and garments as part of The Slow Clothing Project

Jennifer Bain shows how she brings meaning to quilts and garments as part of The Slow Clothing Project

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Handing on skills – Michelle McRae

Michelle McRae from Orange in New South Wales believes handmade skills – such as sewing, knitting/crocheting, gardening, cooking – are important for many reasons. They provide an outlet for creativity and sense of accomplishment. In turn this improves self-worth, independence and resilience. They also provide a connection to others, family and community, as skills can be taught and shared. In addition handmade skills provide for a sustainable community, both financially and emotionally.

With help from mum Michelle, Grace McRae created her own overalls as part of The Slow Clothing Project

With help from mum Michelle, Grace McRae created her own overalls as part of The Slow Clothing Project

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