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.
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 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.
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.
Brisbane-based textile enthusiast Denise Traynor believes that how we choose to spend our money ultimately has an impact on how things are made. “If consumers reject exploitative, wasteful production techniques, over packaging and excessive transport models by insisting on locally produced, fair-traded goods, we can lower our carbon footprint and reduce the demand for unfair wages and slavery used to produce them,” Denise said.
Mei models the dress and cardigan Denise Traynor shibori-dyed as a matched set for The Slow Clothing Project.
Denise also believes that reusing and remaking otherwise obsolete items helps to counteract the wasteful, mass production, mass consumption model that is causing so much environmental and social harm in the world. “I believe our disposable society has contributed to this harm. Plastic fibres, wearing clothes for one or two seasons, produced in third world countries with poor employment and environmental protection records, has made mountains of waste and other pollution.”
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.
Nina van Hartskamp loves hand-made things and discovering natural treasures. “When you wear a piece you made yourself (or was made by a friend) it has a story. And I have a big love for natural fibres, which are expensive when you buy them new. Luckily there are op shops! I can spent ages in second-hand stores. It’s such a kick to find hidden treasures,” she said.
Nina van Hartskamp wears an eco-print wool jacket she transformed for The Slow Clothing Project
When Nina was a little girl growing up in the Netherlands, her grandma used to make her dresses and she loved choosing the fabrics and looking through pattern magazines.
Rozalie Sherwood loves the concept of not having too much, especially too much clothing. She lived and worked in China for two years and during that period experienced the particular freedom that comes with not having too many possessions to care for. In addition, she particularly loves the potential for creating individual garments that become a statement we present to the outside world, as a reflection of who we are.
Olivia wears the jacket made specially for her by her mum Rozalie Sherwood as part of The Slow Clothing Project
Jackets – the outer garments worn by both men and women – are her favourite canvas. Rozalie’s jackets are a comment on our accumulative and acquisitive society; we buy many cheap items and end up with a wardrobe of things we rarely wear. Whereas one beautiful, thoughtful, meaningful jacket can be worn forever. Rozalie made such a jacket for her eldest daughter Olivia – which now features in The Slow Clothing Project.
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.
Saadia Thomson lists many reasons to value slow clothing – sustainability, creativity, self-expression, uniqueness, enjoyment, learning and honing skills, sharing and being happy. She has come to dislike the culture of consumerism or affluenza and believes people get so caught up in the next fad (fashion or otherwise) they lose sight of what’s important.
Erin Thomson wears an apron made by her mum Saadia from a rescued business shirt for The Slow Clothing Project
“Instead of collecting things – and getting into debt for stuff they neither need or really want – we can focus more on building skills, friendships, family connections and taking time to enjoy what they already have, being with family and friends; giving freely to others by sharing their skills and knowledge,” Saadia said.
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.”