This article, written for our lovely local magazine, the Esperance Tide, is close to my heart! I’ve been a passionate op-shopper since I started buying my own clothes in high school (leading to some interesting fashion choices back then!). Researching this article made me even more determined avoid fast fashion, and choose clothing that is good for the earth. (Luckily these days I live on a farm, so my fashion choices are usually only critiqued by the cows, chooks, and school bus driver….)
Every 10 minutes, Australians send 6,000 kilograms of fashion and textile waste to landfill. Yes, you read that right. The huge amounts of clothing that are sent to landfill every single day in Australia are just one of the hidden costs of ‘fast fashion’. Here is another cost – that cheap cotton t-shirt that you picked up because it was cute and on sale took 2,700 litres of water to make. There are still more costs. 90% of the garments imported into Australia come from Asia, where they are predominantly made by young, poorly paid women, kept trapped in a cycle of poverty by the poor conditions in the clothing industry. According to an Oxfam report, only 4% of what Australians spend on clothes goes to the garment workers. Add to this the environmental pollution created in the manufacturing process of our clothing, and slowly a picture begins to emerge. Cheap clothing isn’t really cheap at all.
‘Fast fashion’ is just so easy to consume these days. You can wander through any big shopping centre and find cute clothing that costs less than the price of a takeaway meal. You can buy clothing online at incredible bargain prices. And if a button falls off, if you don’t really like the fit, or if you wore it once and decided that it wasn’t your colour – send it to the op shop! No problem right, it’s going to a good cause? But op shops these days are absolutely inundated with clothing donations. A lot of this clothing is cheap ‘fast fashion’, and so anything that is not in good condition, or simply doesn’t sell – gets sent to landfill. Around 25% of donations that op shops receive end up being sent to the tip. Sending clothing to landfill can contribute to the costs of the charity that is running the op shop. It also contributes to our increasing problem with waste and pollution.
Why is clothing such a big problem for landfill? Clothing is not designed to break down easily, and a polyester dress or top could take up to a thousand years to break down in landfill. Even natural fibres such as cotton and wool take a long time to break down. Clothing is very difficult to recycle, so very few recycling programs target them. Here in Australia, we are the second largest consumers of textiles in the world (after the USA) and we send around 85% of the textiles that we buy every year to landfill. Your impulse shopping spree in the bargain shops, resulting in clothing that you really won’t wear, is contributing to a big problem.
So what is the solution? Buy second hand, of course! There are so many positives to op-shopping and buying pre-loved clothing. According to a YouGov survey, 24% of Australians have thrown out a garment after only one wear, so it’s quite likely that the clothing you buy at an op shop will be almost brand new. You can get a good quality outfit for the same price of a cheaply made ‘fast fashion’ outfit. And there are so many places to buy second hand. You can shop online, on websites dedicated to selling second-hand designer fashion, or check out social media buy sell and swap sites. There are op-shops, where your money will go to support a charity, and also curated vintage shops that sell pre-loved vintage items. Here in Esperance, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to op shops. There is the Red Cross op shop on Dempster Street, the Anglican Church’s op shop on Pink Lake Road just opposite the Esperance Primary School, and Esperance Care Service’s op shop on Gilpin Street. You can also check out Esperance Tide’s collection of pre-loved vintage items, for sale from their Museum Village shop.
If you’ve read these sobering statistics, and are feeling like you’re ready to get off the ‘fast fashion’ treadmill, here are our top tips for being a responsible fashionista.
- Don’t impulse buy clothing. Often that dress you bought online because it was SO cheap, or the five new t-shirts you bought because it was a great deal are the things that you will end up discarding. Shop with a purpose and buy only what you need.
- When you do buy new, choose well made quality clothing that will last.
- Support ethical clothing makers and retailers who source their clothing from brands who don’t mistreat their workers. Need help with that? You can download the app ‘Good on You’, which gives you information about how your favourite brands are treating workers, animals, and the environment.
- Learn to make some basic repairs to clothing rather than just tossing an item with a small amount of damage. Sewing buttons back on or repairing small tears can keep clothing out of landfill and let you enjoy them for much longer!
- Join the wonderful world of buying second-hand clothing! You can do some guilt free impulse buying, pick up an outfit for a fraction of the cost of buying new, and find wonderful quirky outfits! You’ll be sure to avoid arriving at a party wearing the same outfit as someone else. You’ll be supporting a charity or an independent retailer with a love of vintage fashion. And most importantly, the dollars you spend will go towards solving our waste problem rather than contributing to it. Now that is shopping that you can feel good about!