How your fashion choices can combat climate change

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been doing a lot of online shopping lately. Mid-semester procrastination, lockdown driven retail therapy and persistent social media advertisements have meant a few too many clothing parcels have been landing on my front doorstep. 

It’s no secret that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian e-commerce industry has experienced a dramatic growth spurt. Since the start of Sydney lockdown alone, there has been a 36% increase in online purchases. Shopping online makes us feel good and has also become our main purchasing channel when living, working and studying at home. However, when it comes to updating your wardrobe, the damage can be seen in more ways than just your bank account. 

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is defined as inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. As time and money poor uni students it’s only natural we are drawn to fast-fashion brands. After all, most uni students can barely afford their Netflix subscription with the change from their two-minute noodle grocery shop. By the way, if you’re in Bathurst you should hit up the clothes swap event at Rafters Bar!

But what’s wrong with cheaply made clothes, especially when you’re a little tight on cash after a Saturday night at the Oxford Tavern? Good question! Let me explain.

Water 

The clothing manufacturing process is reliant on the use of water. Not just some water, but a huge amount of water. 2,700 litres of water is used to produce just one cotton tee shirt. To put 2,700 litres of water into perspective, that is enough drinking water to sustain one human life for a whopping total of three years.

Not only are we wasting copious amounts of water on the production of cheap clothing, but toxic chemical wastewater is also killing the waterways of the world’s most vulnerable nations. Developing countries are responsible for 60 percent of the world’s clothing exports and it is common for textile factories to discharge wastewater directly into local waterways and rivers. This is devastating and down right dangerous for the communities that rely on these bodies of water for farming, washing and cooking.  

Greenhouse gas emission

The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions. That means more emissions are produced by the fashion industry than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Not only that, the demand for fast-fashion is actually increasing. It is estimated that the fashion industry carbon emission footprint will grow by 50% by 2030.

Waste 

In Australia 6,000kg of clothes are thrown to landfill every 10 minutes. That’s right every 10 minutes! Watch this video to see what that looks like. According to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Australia is the second highest consumer of textiles per person in the world. The average Australian acquires an average of 27 kilograms of new clothing per year, and discards 23 kilograms of clothing to landfill. What a waste.

Labour conditions

The fast fashion industry has a history of exploiting workers. The average garment maker works an average of 14 to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. Often workers are forced to work well into the early hours of the morning to meet deadlines, and over time is often not paid. While most fashion brands claim they pay workers the legal minimum wage, however in countries such as China, Bangladesh and India, minimums wage represent between a half to a fifth of living costs. Aside from extreme hours and pitiful pay compensation, health and safety conditions in factories are essentially non-existent. In 2013, the Rana Plaza factory collapsed, claiming the lives of 1,134 garment workers. 

Help! I’m spiralling into a deep puddle of guilt and despair.   

It’s totally normal to feel guilty after learning about the harmful environmental impacts of your latest fashion haul. However, it’s important that I remind you, the weight of the world (literally), isn’t solely on your shoulders. While there is no denying small changes collectively make a big difference, the fast-fashion industry also has a lot to answer for. 

Does that mean we should give up and leave the fate of the world up to Jeff Bezos? Absolutely not! There are realistic and totally achievable ways we can all shift our purchasing habits and use our debit cards for the greater good of the planet!

5 tips for a sustainable closet that the planet will LOVE you for

1. Attend the Bathurst Campus clothes swap and online sustainable careers workshop on Tuesday 17 August!*

Do you have clothes that you no longer wear? Are you looking to update your wardrobe minus Afterpay and the negative environmental and social impact? Bathurst campus is hosting a clothes swap event at Rafters Bar! Be sure to drop your clothes off at 9.30am to be part of the 10.30am–12pm swap.

Are you interested in a green career? Register for the online sustainable careers workshop to learn more about the sustainable career options in your industry. The workshop will be held via Zoom link and will kick off at 2pm (yes, you can stay in your pyjamas).

*This event has been postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions. It will be rescheduled at a later date.

2. Shop second-hand 

Shopping at second-hand clothes stores is a fantastic way to reuse clothing while also supporting a business or charity. While places like Vinnies and Salvos might be hit and miss when it comes to in season fashions, online marketplaces like Depop and vintage clothes shops like A Puppy and Her are great alternatives!

3. Practice mindful consumption

Do you have three almost identical shirts hanging in your closest? Do you often buy clothing that you just never seem to wear? Next time you head downtown or login, try to be more intentional with your purchases. 

4. Invest in what you love 

There is a lot to be said for well-made clothing. Not only is it better for the environment but it also lasts (there is a reason your Nan still owns clothing from the 60s). Take some time to think about the clothing items you love to wear and then, invest. An environmentally friendly pair of jeans may be more exxy than a pair you pick up from Kmart but they are sure to last (and also look great!).

5. Learn to sew 

No, I’m not talking about making all your clothes from scratch, I’m talking about the basics, that is, learning to mend. Hole in your favourite tee-shirt? Mend it rather than chuck it. Button fallen off? Easy fix! Take care of your clothes and you’ll be taking care of the environment (and your hard-earned money) at the same time.

In conclusion, you don’t need to completely overhaul your life to begin moving towards sustainable fashion choices. Sustainable fashion is all about slowing down, appreciating the clothes we already have and spending our money with intention and in a way that feels good, not just for us, but also for manufacturers and the planet.

Learn about Sustainability at Charles Sturt

Article written by Charles Sturt student, Gabrielle Aubrey.