Creating a sustainable fashion future

I love style.

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With its life-altering potential, vibrant colours, bold patterns and intoxicating beauty it has always been an integral part of my life.

"Fashion is one of the greatest polluters of our planet and it is incumbent on us all to help find solutions."

My sense of style came early in my childhood from watching the icons of Hollywood’s golden era (1930s – 1960s) – such as Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn. Throughout the years, I’ve also come to believe style has magical healing powers to uplift and change lives.

In this strange era where clothes are cheaper than chips and perceived as disposable, it’s a real shame so many amazing, reusable items end up in landfill. Globally, a little under one hundred billion garments end up in landfill each year. In Australia alone, that figure is over 200,000,000 kilograms a year.

The power of sustainability and styling came to me during a eureka moment I had when I was 15 years old. I started mixing vintage and contemporary clothes to create my own style, look and vibe. Little did I know at the time that it would become my future career

That moment and realisation started my personal styling career – where I creatively mix vintage and contemporary clothes.

As much as I adored the unique experience of op shopping, I couldn’t help but notice too much of the unwanted clothing from western countries was being shipped off to African countries for aid and for profit.

This was contributing to visible mountains of trash as these second-hand clothes had not only become an environmental hazard, but they were destroying the local fashion industries.

My passion for sustainable and ethical fashion came into effect. Fashion is one of the greatest polluters of our planet and it is incumbent on us all to help find solutions.

Quick solution for a sustainable wardrobe:

Through the years of teaching sustainable fashion, I have found restyling is the top tip to help people move their personal sustainability metre closer to net zero.

In addition to clothes being cheap and accessible, part of the reason we overconsume is because we don't think about reusing the garments we have in multiple ways.

People find it easy to stick to the same clothing combinations, for convenience or whatever it may be. I encourage readers: instead of buying something new, take something you already have and be creative with it.

In the image below, I used a gold dress to style it in three different ways for different occasions. The most interesting thing is most people won’t even realise this is all the same dress.

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Although consumers can do a lot, fast fashion is a powerful force which carries significant financial weight. The big change needs to come at a policy and regulation level. 

Regulating manufacturing

Currently in the world of eight billion people, there are about 150 billion garments manufactured each year. It is clear why 87 per cent of all clothes end up in landfill or incinerated.

We can't keep destroying the environment and contributing to the extinction of animal species just so that we can buy new clothes that ultimately get dumped. If we are to transform the industry we need to regulate the manufacture of wearables, particularly the use of synthetic materials.

The detrimental shift from natural fibre fabrics to synthetic fibres in today's fashion not only harms our environment but also poses risks to our health, according to Anthony Chesler, CEO of Thread Together. His charitable organisation rescues new, unsold clothes from landfill and provide them to those in need.

"On average, we unknowingly ingest between 14,000 and 68,000 particles of microplastics or microfibers each year, equivalent to the size of a credit card in our lifetime,” Chesler notes. “We do this simply by getting dressed and washing our clothes."

“A natural shirt would be 100 per cent cotton. But typically, we are building into the garment a little bit of stretch to make it more flexible, which is the synthetic fibre.”

“That synthetic fibre is made from a fossil fuel which means that product is at its end of life and doesn't have anywhere to go.”

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Round goes the world, so should our fashion

We must base laws or regulations on the principles of circular design, with rules about waste and how we can re-introduce old fabrics back into the economy.

“Most organisations have a linear business model. They take valuable resources out of the ground. They manufacture beautiful clothing and then dispose of that clothing at end of use. As a result of being incentivised to sell more clothing, they're producing more,” Chesler says.

Businesses big and small should think how their products will age over time. MUD Jeans, a Dutch company, has engineered their clothing to last a long time and offers free repairs for life. And customers can bring their old pair of jeans to be recycled to their stores.

These are exactly the type of circular economy principles we need to follow if we are to make the modern fashion industry more sustainable over the long term.

Nina Gbor is the Director of the Circular Economy & Waste Program at The Australia Institute and a Sustainable Fashion Educator.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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