Fashion,  Trends

Clothing industry put on notice as fast fashion and unwanted clothing takes environmental toll

Early in 2023, like millions of other Australians, Kate Hulett made a new year’s resolution.

Key points:

  • Fast fashion is a major problem in many developed countries
  • A huge amount of unwanted clothing ends up in landfill
  • There’s a push for the clothing industry to be more accountable

Knowing it was a pledge she would struggle to keep, she put it on social media, declaring to her 8,000  followers:

“If I write this one out loud, I’ll feel [more] guilty if I break it,” she wrote.

“And seeing as I’m a grown woman, mainly fuelled by guilt, this should prove an effective technique.

“No new clothes in 2023.”

It might seem like a small, extremely first-world, gesture.

But for the artist, small business owner and lover of clothes,  it felt like the only useful thing to do in the face of mounting evidence of the cost to the world.

“I think it was mainly the waste that really got me,” she said.

“There were all those images in the media of the masses of mainly western clothes in landfill in poorer countries that have just been dumped.

“And then understanding that most of the people that make our clothes are women and children and they’re paid an absolute pittance in order to make a $20 T-shirt.

“I think once you’ve learnt some of that stuff, you can’t unlearn it and pretend it doesn’t exist.”

Little discarded clothing recycled

According to a recent report by the Australian Fashion Council, about 227,000 tonnes of discarded clothing is sent to landfill in Australia each year. 

Only 7,000 tonnes is recycled.

On top of that, more than 100,000 tonnes that cannot be sold in charity shops in Australia gets exported overseas each year.

If it cannot be sold there, it gets dumped in landfill in those countries.

Synthetic fabrics can take hundreds of years to decompose.

“Ignorance is bliss and I’m the opposite of that — I’m aware and ashamed,” Ms Hulett said while allowing the ABC to film the subject of her guilty pleasure — an extensive wardrobe of colourful garments that she has bought and treasured.

Retail therapy benefits short-lived

Why the new clothes feeling means so much to people — especially women — is something Ms Hulett has been pondering of late.

“Clothes are, particularly a woman’s, identity, you know — it’s a big part of our lives,” she said.

“There’s a nice feeling of buying stuff online and looking forward to it arriving and opening a package and there’s a whole psychological kind of intrigue in that process.

“Retail therapy is a thing and you feel good when you spend money but it’s such a short-lived thing.

“And so reflecting on it … am I filling a void or looking for some pleasure in a kind of hopeless pursuit?”

Instead of buying new clothes, she is altering some of her existing wardrobe and getting more wear out of the clothes she already has by styling them differently.

“We don’t need to have new stuff to look good all the time,” she said.

“It’s fine to wear a dress 50 times.”

And now she has shared her resolution, momentum is building.

Other women have reached out to say they are taking a similar stand, reducing their fashion footprint.

“Awareness is a big thing. If I tell 10 people and they each tell 10 people, there’s this multiplication effect of awareness,” Ms Hulett said.

But the figures show the scale of the effort needed to turn the fast-fashion ship around.

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