Living lightly in everyday practice

Clothes do not fall from the sky and meals do not gush out of the earth. Our food and clothing must come from our own labour: Master Zi Bai, Ming Dynasty.

This 14th century philosophy is far removed from the 21st century when many people order a look or a meal with the click of a finger on a phone. Global supply chains have become so efficient at meeting our food and clothing needs for a handful of dollars that we’ve lost touch with their source.

Fast food and fast fashion is convenient but ultimately unsatisfying. We’re concerned about the ethics and waste. There is growing hunger for something more substantial, something real, something crafted with our own hands and effort.

Jane Milburn at Lantau Blue studio and wearing handmade in Hong Kong

In The pleasures of eating, American author and farmer Wendell Berry described eating as an agricultural act and author Michael Pollan In defence of food outlined his eater’s manifesto: eat food, not too much, mostly plants. As our food systems have industrialised over time we—the eaters—have become more passive and dependent consumers. Through gardening, cooking and brewing, we gain increased connection with the source of our food.

There is a parallel story in clothing and fibres. I define a wearer’s manifesto: wear clothes, have few, mostly natural fibres. Dressing is an agricultural act if you want to wear natural fibres rather than plastic ones. Did you know that two-thirds of our clothes are made using synthetic fibres that shed microplastic particles into our ecosystem and oceans?

I’ve become a material activist, a craftivist, championing a more natural and hands-on approach. When we re-skill we have agency—to darn a hole and mend a tear to keep clothes in service. As we grow our skills we—the wearers—solve problems in our wardrobe and explore our creativity.

Effortless shopping from a catalogue of ready-made clothing engenders a culture of cheapness and churn, rather than care and connection.  Until we make something for ourselves to wear, we cannot appreciate the resources, time and skill that go into the clothes we buy.

Slow Clothing is a holistic, grassroots response to industrial production of cheap fast fashion which many consider to be unethical, unsustainable and unsatisfying. It is self-empowerment through resourceful thinking and individual actions.

Slow Clothing is a philosophy and manifests through 10 simple approaches to lighten our material footprint—think, natural, quality, local, few, care, make, revive, adapt and salvage.

It enables individual expression and personal connection to what we wear. We stitch to make our own mark on things, and to be mindfully engaged and productive. In return, we are liberated from commodification and an endless search for meaning through buying more things.

We have finite resources on Earth and everyday choices that show careful and considered use of those resources are required if we are to sustain our individual and collective future. Conscious consumers are now looking beyond visual appearances and understanding that planetary health is at stake here—our clothing choices don’t just affect our own health, they affect the health of others and the health of our planet.

This article was first published in Design Online, a publication of State Library of Queensland, by Jane Milburn, author of Slow Clothing: finding meaning in what we wear.

Slow Clothing book launches

Slow Clothing: finding meaning in what we wear presents a compelling case for wearers to change the way we dress and encapsulates a philosophy that is the antithesis of fast fashion.

Based on Jane Milburn’s five-year journey into natural fibres and upcycling, the book was launched recently in Sydney by ABC-TV’s War on Waste crusader Craig Reucassel and in Brisbane by ABC broadcaster Rebecca Levingston.

ABC-TV’s War on Waste crusader Craig Reucassel and Jane Milburn at The Happenstore.

Rebecca Levingston with Jane Milburn, photo left, and with Brisbane City Council’s Field Services Chairman Cr Peter Matic, Robyn Sheptooha and Peter Lewis at the Brisbane launch of Slow Clothing.

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Slow Clothing, the book

Slow clothing is following the lead of slow food as a way of responding to waste, pollution, and exploitation issues in the way we dress.

Australian social entrepreneur Jane Milburn, founder of Textile Beat, has spent five years studying the need to transform a culture of excess to a more thoughtful and engaged approach. She believes slow clothing is the antidote to fast fashion.

In her new book, Slow Clothing: finding meaning in what we wear, Jane presents a compelling case for wearers to change the way we dress so that we can live lightly on Earth.

Slow Clothing is being launched in Sydney by ABC-TV’s War on Waste crusader Craig Reucassel who revealed 6000kg of textiles are going to landfill every 10 minutes in Australia.

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Everything old is new again

I rescue natural fibres. I already have many, yet I bought a $2 wool blanket with holes at an RSPCA op shop recently. It has no label, just remnants of blanket-stitched edges. I know it is wool by the feel of the fibres which glow in the sunlight after I wash it. I admire the texture and beauty of the old woven threads. There is life there. I will upcycle this ‘dog blanket’ into a garment with a story to tell about how it came to be.

Jane Milburn with scissors

All my clothes are handmade or secondhand and they feel good on many levels. My clothes are imprinted with individual spirit, my kansei. I refashion existing garments to suit my body shape, or completely transform discarded resources into something of my own making. I buy almost nothing new, except underwear and shoes.

Even though I have bought secondhand on and off forever, I did not talk about it. There was a stigma of poverty, of less than, in secondhand although vintage was OK if slightly quirky.

That was before I stepped up, before I did leadership study and learned about self-actualisation, before I upcycled my career as a rural advocate and communications manager to found a start-up called Textile Beat in 2013. Now I champion slow clothing, raise awareness of textile waste and the potential for upcycling old natural fibres into new.

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Helping divert textiles from landfill

Textiles are the biggest product segment at Reverse Garbage Queensland, prompting the launch of Worn OUT as an exhibition to celebrate refashion and creative upcycling.

At the RGQ warehouse in Woolloongabba on October 28, Worn OUT showcased 35 refashioned garments made by a dozen creatives from around Australia.

Co-curators Jane Milburn, left, and Elizabeth Kingston, right with a Karen Benjamin plastic dress.

Coordinator Bill Ennals said textiles had easily become RGQ’s fastest-growing segment in the past few years with local businesses diverting excess stock to the warehouse for resale rather than sending it to landfill.  Continue Reading →

Revive style for planetary health

Brisbane is the first city in the world to host a pop-up secondhand fashion festival as a waste minimization strategy, to the best of my knowledge. I (Jane Milburn) checked with New York refashion academic Sass Brown and Sass knows of no other.  Do tell if you know of another.

Stiltwalkers showcase refashion at the 2016 Revive event in the heart of Brisbane. Photo by Brisbane City Council

Stiltwalkers showcase refashion at the 2016 Revive event in the heart of Brisbane. Photo by Brisbane City Council

Revive is in its second year and pops up again on 18 August 2017 at South Bank Forecourt from noon to 9pm. Hats off to Brisbane City Council, Cr Peter Matic and Cr David McLachlan for leadership. With textiles being one of the fastest growing domestic waste streams, fuelled by fast-fashion turnover, I am proud to have been in the room at its conception. Thank you to Cr Matic for acknowledging my contribution.

The advent of Revive followed a 2015 opportunity I had to address a council meeting on a matter of public importance.  Here’s the link to my 2015 address (including Hansard pdf) when I spoke of the need to develop a more sustainable clothing culture. Revive is a huge step in this direction.  Continue Reading →

Clothing changes too fast

By Ari Balle-Bowness

ariClothing of today changes faster than the weather. Buying clothes, wearing them once and leaving them in the cupboard is commonplace. This is not an assumption, it is a regular observation.

I am a 19-year-old journalism student at Griffith University sharing a male perspective on contemporary clothing culture and how to combat the fashion monster that has come to dominate our thinking.

My clothing choices are independent as I try to stay away from the fast-fashion options and prefer to develop my own style. My solution is op-shopping and second-hand stores which are increasingly popular among younger generations. For many my age, the vintage revival is booming and op shops are becoming trendy places which also happen to provide a more sustainable way to dress.  Continue Reading →

Rethinking clothing culture

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?

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Mendful, mindful 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 Clothing at 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 →