27 September 2023

Saving in style: How to reduce your fashion footprint

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Lucy MacDonald* says Australians spend about $5 billion a year on fashion, which is having a massive impact on the environment.

So you’ve bought a reusable coffee cup, remembered to bring your bags to the supermarket and invested in some beeswax wraps.

But have you given a thought to the clothes you’re wearing?

According to the United Nations, the fashion industry is responsible for 8 to 10 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

As a nation, we spend around $5 billion a year on fashion and three-fifths of that is trashed within a year.

Australians collectively send 500,000 tonnes of clothes to landfill each year, which is equal to 6,000 kg thrown away every 10 minutes.

In 2018, fashion stakeholders came together at the UN and created the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, with the aim to achieve zero net emissions by 2050.

But while the top end of the fashion industry is working things out, there are things you can do at home to minimise your fashion pollution.

Look for sustainable fashion

If you are looking for a guilt-free way to add to your closet, it might be time to embrace sustainable fashion.

According to sustainable fashion academic Dr Lisa Heinze, the first step is to check what the garment is made of.

“There’s no silver bullet in terms of what is the best fabric or the most sustainable fabric,” she said.

“Like everything in the world, every material we make has some type of impact.”

“Natural fibres are a better textile to use because there’s fewer chemicals involved in the production of that textile and also it means that the textile can biodegrade at the end of its life.”

While no natural fibre is perfect — cotton, for example, uses lots of water — synthetic fibres like polyester and acrylic are far worse.

“We’re getting these teeny-tiny fibres coming off while we’re wearing the clothing and while we’re washing the clothing,” Dr Heinze said.

“It gets through filters and ends up in our waterways.”

Clothes made of recycled plastic have the same issue, but Dr Heinze said that was not necessarily a reason to disregard them.

“For instance, activewear uses a lot of synthetic fibres and there’s no natural replacement for what we’ve become used to in that space,” she said.

“So, is it better to dig up new petroleum to make that material or is it better to use recycled plastic?”

Sustainable fashion looks at the entire lifecycle of the garment — what goes into it, who produces it and where it ends up.

Meaning, it does not come cheap.

“We’re paying the cost that it takes to actually grow and produce a sustainable fibre and importantly we’re paying a fair price to the people who produce the clothing,” Dr Heinze said.

Embrace pre-loved clothing

Secondhand clothing adds to your wardrobe without contributing to the creation of new garments.

At op shops, you can find some very funky pieces for a great price.

But if the idea of sifting through some seriously daggy garments exhausts you, there are always vintage or secondhand clothing shops, which are more like a traditional boutique but full of pre-loved clothing.

They may be a little more pricey, but you are almost guaranteed to fall in love with a garment … or five.

“It’s a really fun way to express yourself and explore your unique style as well as being able to support a more sustainable way of shopping,” said Grace Thalman, the manager of a consignment store in Hobart.

She believes it is time to move away from fast fashion and instead celebrate individuality.

“[Secondhand fashion is] definitely on the rise,” she said.

“It’s expected that in the next 10 years, as an industry, it will exceed the fast fashion industry.”

There are also avenues for those who prefer to shop online.

In Hobart, almost 18,000 people use a Facebook group to buy and sell secondhand clothes.

“It’s a great way to see what’s available locally,” manager Susannah Slatter said.

“So, you can go, try it out, make sure you’re happy with it, but also you’re not adding to that fast fashion churn, which we know is destroying our planet.”

Shop your own wardrobe

Before you tap that card, ask yourself, do you actually need new clothes?

As a rule, we tend to wear 20 per cent of our clothes 80 per cent of the time.

That is where the concept of shopping your own wardrobe comes in.

ABC presenter Tahlea Aualiitia had always considered herself environmentally conscious, but her wardrobe was another matter.

“I have items where I look at it and go, ‘I can count on one hand how many times I’ve worn you and yet I’ve had you for maybe five years’,” she said.

She decided to challenge herself to buy no new clothes in 2020 — a journey she’s been documenting on Instagram.

“The biggest hurdle has not been putting clothes that I already own on my body, it’s been getting out of that mentality that I need something new to wear,” Aualiitia said.

It is a sentiment shared by sustainability consultant Jane Milburn.

“Often we’ve got what we already need right there in our wardrobe, but we might have forgotten about it, it’s in the back, we might need a button fixed up,” she said.

Ms Milburn is an advocate of upcycling — adding value by fixing or altering clothes.

“I’ve got things in my wardrobe that have been there for 20 or 30 years,” she said.

“Sometimes I might have to make them a little bigger or a little smaller depending on what’s going on in my life.”

She said people used to upcycle things because resources were scarce, but now they were doing it as a response to excess.

“These are some old-fashioned strategies that are new fashion now,” she said.

“They’re the kind of things that we need to be doing so that we’re not wasting resources.”

Proving everything old can become new again.

* Lucy MacDonald is a journalist in the ABC Hobart newsroom. She tweets at @lucy_macdonald1.

This article first appeared at www.abc.net.au/news.

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