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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.”
Melbourne-based Tamara Russell knows firsthand that handmade is so much more satisfying than a quick purchase. For many years, she has been remaking, revamping and reworking her own clothing from other people’s hand-me-downs or op shop finds.
Tamara Russell made a signature wool cardigan from rescued materials for The Slow Clothing Project.
She believes the slow, meditative process of sewing, knitting, crochet and stitching is great for body and soul, slowing one down to enjoy life around them and to be proud of their own creations rather than a quick purchase to follow ‘fashion’ and then disposing of items as they go ‘out of fashion’.
Paisley Park was raised to be conscious of all that surrounds her, including food, clothing, impacts on people and the environment. As a child her clothes were either made by her mother, hand-me-downs or from charity shops. She was never been interested in fashion, and the idea of creating comfortable practical clothing that can be worn for years appeals greatly.
Paisley Park in the dress she created from organic cotton offcuts for The Slow Clothing Project. Photo by Jo Hammond.
“I am fascinated by neuropsychology and also its impact in regards to sociology so I could write a book on my perspective of consumerism. In short though, we need to be educating the younger generations and allowing them access to develop empathy over the way that things in our lives are created from growing food, to the production of our power, electronics and clothing to name a few,” Paisley said.
Slow clothing is way of life for Miriam Gillham. She says sewing is a wonderful means to express unique individual style, to create clothing that is considered, thoughtful, necessary and valuable. She’s made clothes for her family, altered men’s formal wear suits for a part-time job, designed and sewn special occasion gowns, dance and theatre costumes, curtains and soft furnishings. And she makes soft sculptures, textile art embellishment pieces and soft corsets which are embellished with embroidery, beading and fabric manipulation.
Miriam Gillham with the supersized dress she repurposed for her daughter and The Slow Clothing Project
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
There is a slow coming to consciousness about the exploitation of people, places and planet that our current clothing culture engenders.
This revolution in fashion was sparked by a Bangladesh factory collapse two years ago when thousands were killed and injured making cheap clothes for Western bods. April 24 has become Fashion Revolution Day.
While global supply chains are churning out clothing choice for the masses – thoughtful consumers are alive to the fact that quick easy on/off-trend fashion comes with invisible price tags of waste, contamination and human suffering. Continue Reading →