Grow a sustainable clothing culture

Jane Milburn outside Brisbane City HallJane Milburn spoke on a matter of public importance at the November 24 meeting of Brisbane City Council: (download Minutes or read speech and response_24_nov_2015)

“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:

  1. Consumption increase – in two decades, individual annual fibre use across the globe has doubled from 7 to 13 kg each
  1. 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.

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Towards a sustainable clothing story

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.

During this National Recycling Week (9-15 November), Ms Milburn will discuss our clothing story as guest speaker at the Keep Australia Beautiful Australian Sustainable Cities 2015 Awards in Brisbane on November 13. The awards are running in tandem with the Recreate handmade market and Paper Fashion Parade in King George Square.

Global apparel fibre consumption vs population growth Continue Reading →

Two-thirds of new clothing is plastic

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.

world apparel fibre consumption graph web