The fast-fashion industry is sending textile waste to landfill quicker than the factories can roll out latest-season styles with lower-than-ever price tags. Charities are bursting at the seams with donations of low quality clothing items, which are of little value to resale, and there is no sign of the fast-fashion industry slowing down.
The Circular Threads movement is seeking to reduce textile waste by implementing industrial ecological solutions. To understand how we’ve become stitched up in the fast-fashion cycle and what to do about it, we interview sustainable fashion guru, author and academic Lisa Heinze.
What are the main drivers of the fast fashion industry we see today?
It’s hard to define ‘drivers’ beyond the fact that fast fashion business models have been very commercially successful, and thus more brands are turning towards those methods. The business models privilege multiple style updates a season – where we used to see two seasons of fashion per year, a number of fast fashion retailers are now updating their stock monthly, if not weekly. This drives constant demand for new pieces amongst consumers. The prices are kept extremely low through cheaper materials, including a reliance on synthetics and synthetic-natural blends, and cheaper labour. Over the past twenty years, production of fashion has moved in drastic numbers to the developing South and East, and in many of these countries regulations are much less strict, and less adhered to, than in Australia, America or Europe, enabling sub-par work conditions for labourers being paid below the living wage.
How has the cost of clothing changed over the last few decades?[pullquote]We are paying less for our clothing now than at any point in history, even while we are buying more pieces than ever before.[/pullquote]The fast fashion business model has drastically influenced our spending habits. We are paying less for our clothing now than at any point in history, even while we are buying more pieces than ever before. Data from the US tells us that in 1950, 14% of household expenditure was on apparel, by 2003 that had dropped to 4%. In Australia we spend on average $2200/year on clothing (compared to $3000 on household furnishings, $8300 on recreation, and $10,000 on transportation). And the number of articles of clothing we purchased jumped from 40 pieces per person per year in 1991 to 69 pieces per person per year by 2005. The end result is that we are sending more clothing and textiles to landfill each year – up to 40kg/person.
How can you keep in fashion while reducing your environmental impact?
One of the best things to do is to understand your own style. It’s not about being “in fashion” so much as feeling well put together and dressed in a way that expresses your personality. Once you know your style, then buy the best quality garments you can afford, take good care of them, and you’ll look amazing at a fraction of the environmental footprint.
What role should the retail giants play in sustainable fashion?
Retail giants have a golden opportunity to make progress in this space by privileging sustainable fashion in their stores, including innovative fabrics and production methods, as well as supporting the many local Australian designers who have expertise in this space. Retailers can also help bring the value back to our clothing by stocking well-made garments and slowing down the change of seasons.
The global fashion industry is transitioning toward a more sustainable practice, and the Australian fashion industry could play a leading role in this shift if the major players agreed together to make it a priority.
Click here find out more about Lisa Heinze and her exceptional career in fashion, writing, research and innovation.