Could you do ‘slow fashion’ for a season?

15 Aug 2019

Spring is well and truly making its presence felt in Brisbane. And a change of season means a change of fashion. The big brands are already teasing us with the SS19/20 collections.

But consider this: according to the Fashion Revolution — the global movement responsible for #whomademyclothes — Barnados UK conducted a survey that estimated over the summer of 2019, the UK is expected to spend £2.7 billion on over 50 million single-wear outfits. What?!?

And the UK is not alone in its slavery to fast fashion. In Australia we send 85% of the textiles we buy to landfill every year. In fact, Australia is second-largest consumer of new textiles after the US, averaging 27 kilograms of new textiles per annum. We buy it, wear it once or twice, get sick of it—or realise it’s gone out of fashion—and bin it only to begin the cycle all over again.

Collective action

Over on the collective action site CollAction, activist group Slow Fashion Season instigated the biggest crowd act to date to buy no new clothes for three months during 2019. Some 14,500 people signed up.

According to Slow Fashion Season, the fashion industry is responsible for enormous amounts of water consumption (32 million Olympic size swimming pools per year) and CO2 emissions (8% of global greenhouse emissions). They estimated that if 10,000 people participated in their campaign not to buy anything new for three months, it will save the equivalent of up to 300 million litres of water and 1 million kilograms of CO2 emissions. On 27 September 2019, Slow Fashion Season will open up their 2020 campaign, with a target of 25,000 participants,

Is it enough?

Some researchers suggest that while admirable, these acts like reducing your fashion consumption only delay garments ending up in landfill, but do not address that the scale of fast fashion. While long-term strategies exist for green technologies such as electric cars, similar strategies are needed for the fashion industry, researching technologies such as synthetic biology technologies and sustainable dyes.

Fast fashion companies such as H&M have developed recycling initiatives where consumers can recycle used clothes to prevent them from going to landfill, instead recycling it into new clothing. H&M’s 2018 Sustainability Report shows a positive trend towards creating their garments from recycled materials, up from 20% in 2015 to 56% in 2018.

However, using publicly available figures, investigative journalist Lucy Siegle estimated that it would take 12 years for H&M to use up 1,000 tons of fashion waste, which roughly equates to the same amount of clothes a brand of this size creates in 48 hours. H&M’s Sustainability Report concedes ‘there is not yet a viable technology for recycling of blended fibres at scale, which means we cannot make new products from as many old products as we would like’.

We are yet to see research into sustainable fashion practices on the scale of Silicon Valley start-ups or major green technology companies such as Tesla.

Consumer power

And yet consumers are not powerless. Some fashion houses are using artificial intelligence to analyse microtrends to deliver what their consumers want. While this statement is suitably vague and most consumers are savvy enough to understand that is probably means the demand for jewel colours this season overrides the demand for more recycled materials, voting with your dollars can make an impact, however small.

What can you do? 


BECOME AWARE: Organisations such as Fashion Revolution produce Fashion Transparency Indexes that shine a light on how transparent major fashion brands are with their sustainable production methods. You can also increase your awareness by watching The True Cost, screening at the Global Change Institute on Wednesday 21 August at 12pm as part of UQ Sustainability Week.

THRIFT: If you have a fancy event that seems to demand a new look, thrift, vintage and secondhand clothes are an affordable and low-impact option. Also, thrift shops are often run by charities, so you are also helping to run programs to help people in need. During UQ Sustainability Week, Oxfam with have a Sustainable Fashion Pop Up Shop in Room 271 in the Global Change Institute.

BORROW OR SWAP: Why not raid your friend’s wardrobe? And then let them raid yours? 

RENT: The Barnardos survey also found that 25% of people are is embarrassed to wear the same outfit to a special occasion more than once. If you know you aren’t going to rewear something, renting offers a solution for a temporary brand new outfit — and gives you the chance to wear something that you may not have been able to afford to buy. 

REWEAR: Contrary to the narrative we’re fed by Instagram and celebrity culture, clothes are meant to be worn more than once. The outfit you bought for a party last year would also look lovely at a wedding this

CONSIDER: Sometimes, the most important consideration we can make in impacting a garment’s footprint is not to buy. Could you go a season without buying anything new? 

 

References

Collaction, https://collaction.org/

Fashion Revolution, Instagram post, 11 July 2019. https://www.instagram.com/p/BzxRtF4BaMl/

H&M Group (2019) 2018 Sustainability Report, https://about.hm.com/content/dam/hmgroup/groupsite/documents/masterlanguage/CSR/reports/2018_Sustainability_report/HM_Group_SustainabilityReport_2018_%20FullReport.pdf

Liu. M. (2017) ‘For a true war on waste, the fashion industry must spend more on research’ The Conversation, 16 August, https://theconversation.com/for-a-true-war-on-waste-the-fashion-industry-must-spend-more-on-research-78673

Milburn, J. (2016) ‘Aussies send 85% of textiles to landfill’, Textile Beat, 16 August, https://textilebeat.com/aussies-send-85-of-textiles-to-landfill/

Petter, O. (2019), ‘Brits to spend £2.7 on outfits they wear once this summer’, The Independent, 10 July.

Seigle, L. (2016) ‘Am I a fool for expecting more than corporate greenwashing’?, The Guardian, 3 April, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/03/rana-plaza-campaign-handm-recycling

Slow Fashion Season, 2019 Collaction page, https://collaction.org/projects/slow-fashion-season-2020/174/details

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