Australians buy an average of 27 kilograms of new textiles each year and then discard about 23 kilograms* into landfill – and two-thirds of those discards are manmade synthetic/plastic fibres that may never breakdown.
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.
“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.
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.
Divergent 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.
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.”
After more than a decade of ‘disposable’ fast fashion, there’s growing interest in ethical and sustainable clothing with a good story to tell.
The Slow Clothing Project is about people choosing to make or upcycle their own clothes – read our maker stories here.
The Slow Clothing Project aims to spark a national conversation about clothing use and reuse by creating a digital collection of stories and garments handmade by local makers. The focus is on natural fibres, textile reuse and making our own, where possible. The garments – made between February to November – each tell a different story about mindful and sustainable resource. These stories reflect 10 actions to enable us to thrive in a material world. Continue reading →
“In the same way we’ve become aware of our food – we are becoming more conscious of our clothing.
Today you are either wearing natural-fibres – or synthetic fibres derived from petroleum. I’m wearing a shift created with rescued wool suits that were one step away from becoming landfill. As a natural-fibre champion with a background in issues-based communication, I am seeking to help create a more sustainable clothing culture.
Thank you for this opportunity to raise the matter at this Brisbane City Council meeting.The past decade has seen a transformational shift in where and how our clothing is made – which raises ethical issues such as:
Consumption increase – in two decades, individual annual fibre use across the globe has doubled from 7 to 13 kg each
Fibre change – a decade ago, half of new clothes were natural fibres and half synthetics. Now 2/3 of new clothing are synthetic – and research shows they shed microplastic particles with every wash.
People use double the clothing they did two decades ago, with average global apparel fibre consumption* rising from 7 kilograms each in 1992 to 13 kilograms per person in 2013.
This has occurred as part of a transformational shift in the way we source clothing and the substance from which those clothes are made. Most clothing is now produced in factories for global supply chains and two-thirds of it is made using synthetic fibres derived from petroleum, according to Jane Milburn of Textile Beat.
Did you know that synthetic fibres derived from petroleum now dominate the clothing market at a time when research finds these plastic clothes each shed 1900 microplastic particles into the ecosystem with every wash?
The trend towards cheaper synthetic materials accelerated during the past two decades with biodegradable natural fibres making up half of global fibre apparel consumption in 1992 then declining to about one-third by 2013.
A troubling consequence of the rise of synthetics is 2011 shoreline research at 18 sites across the planet led by ecologist Dr Mark Browne which found the majority of accumulated plastic pollution was microplastic fibres that matched the materials found in synthetic clothing.
Clothing consumption figures collated from the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Fibre Report (see graph below) show in 1992 natural fibre consumption of 22 million tonnes from a global apparel fibre total of 39 million tonnes – compared with 2013 and 32 million tonnes of natural fibres from the global total consumption of 92 million tonnes. These figures reflect in increasingly bulging wardrobes, with average individual consumption rising from 7kg/person in 1992 compared with 13kg/person in 2013.
Dressing is an everyday action that defines us. Clothes envelop our body to provide protection and privacy. They do for us on the outside what food does on the inside—nourish, warm, engage body and soul. Preferred garments vary with our age, stage, work and wallet—they impact how we feel and how we present to the world.
Clothing changes over time as new designs, techniques and materials become available. We expect a modicum of change in the product itself: that is fashion. Yet in recent decades, the transformational shift in the process of sourcing and shedding clothing has brought changes to substance as well as style.
Most clothing is now made in factories in developing nations where supply chain transparency is limited and workers can be exploited. Fast, cheap food influenced dining in the same way that fast, cheap fashion has changed dressing. As there is rising interest in home cooking and food growing for health and wellbeing, there are pressing ethical and ecological reasons for rethinking our approach to textiles and fashion. It is time to look more closely at where our clothes are coming from, question why they are so cheap, and consider what actions we can take to dress with good conscience. Read more in the Journal of the Home Economics Institute of Australia Journal Vol. 22, No. 1, 2015 Milburn, Jane FINAL Making a material difference
At Textile Beat, we love natural, simple, handmade things that don’t cost the Earth. We are endlessly refining the message about mindful, thoughtful ways of dressing that align with our values of authenticity and individuality. In the same way we endlessly upcycle our clothes, here’s the latest version of our slow clothing manifesto!
Textile Beat founder Jane Milburn was invited to present a WOW Bite session at the recent Women of the World Festival in Brisbane. Below is an extract from her speech.
Today you are either wearing natural-fibre clothes – or more likely plastic clothes derived from petroleum or coal. Only 1/3 of new clothing is natural and 2/3 is synthetic, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation figures. It’s changed from half and half two decades ago. I’m wearing natural fibres that I’ve refashioned – turning a $4 wool blanket from the opshop into a poncho. This is my style of slow fashion – there are many other ways.