Category Archives: reuse

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

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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The numbers on textile waste

20161124_sydney_textilerecovery-final-webAt the Circular Textiles Workshop in Sydney, Jane Milburn presented on the waste consequences of fast fashion.

Watching the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh unfolding on television in April 2013 opened my eyes to fast fashion, industrial supply chains and modern-day slavery. I’m a member of Fashion Revolution – a global movement in 80 countries working to increase transparency along the clothing supply chain. And I’ve set up Textile Beat as a vehicle to talk about slow clothing.

Journalist Lucy Siegle says 80 billion new garments are produced globally every year and fashion is the second-most polluting industry after oil. Clothing is so cheap it is almost disposable, discarded after only a few wears.

The United Nations reports at least 1/3 of food produced is never eaten – it is likely a similar amount of clothing is wasted too. There are ethical issues – impacting on people, places and the planet.  Continue reading

Upcycled with love – Deborah Palmer

Deborah Palmer believed the 50th anniversary year of the Battle of Long Tan was an appropriate time to move along the regulation shirt and jacket her father Damien Gainer wore in Vietnam during service to Australia.

Helen Gainer wears the especially meaningful garments upcycled by her daughter Deborah Palmer.

The serviceman’s uniform had been retained unworn through the intervening years and after Mr Gainer passed away two years ago, their only purpose was in holding memories of what had been.

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Making feels good – Julie Livingstone

Although it may not be practical for everybody to go back to making everything for themselves and being completely self-sufficient, Western Australian Julie Livingstone believes it is good for our mental wellbeing to be able to create something.

Julie Livingstone wears a vest she recreated from op-shop-found denim for The Slow Clothing Project.

Julie Livingstone wears a vest she recreated from op-shop-found denim for The Slow Clothing Project.

This is part of what’s described (in Womankind Magazine #9) as ‘living directly’ or facing the world in its raw form, rather than through mediated experiences. Examples of living directly are cooking, sewing, chatting to others in person or patting the cat – whereas mediated living is experiences where someone else (film director, advertising executive or social media tools) is shaping the reality for you.  Continue reading

Aussies send 85% of textiles to landfill

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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