Out With the New
By Dr. Christina Dean 13 January, 2014
Fashion choices matter: Dr Dean shows us how a secondhand wardrobe can save the world
Many people’s New Year’s resolutions focus on permutations of weight-loss regimes. Mine focus on what I put onto my body rather than what I put into it.
For 2014, I have resolved not to buy any new clothes in my continued effort to reduce my wardrobe’s negative environmental impacts. This is a much easier resolve than my last. Read more on Christina’s 2014 challenge here.
Throughout 2013, I resolved only to wear dumped secondhand clothes for 365 days to prove that consumers throw away desirable clothes and to tout more sustainable wardrobe management concepts. I redressed myself in other people’s clothing cast-offs (with shoes and underwear being my own) that were sourced from a giant used clothes recycling centre and I enjoyed a perfectly functioning and fashionable wardrobe worthy of flashy cocktail parties, snowy slopes and boardroom-worthy office attire.
My wearing only dumped secondhand clothes, in ‘The 365 Challenge’, was a vehicle to highlight the massive and growing wave of clothing waste and to reveal that what consumers discard is often delightful. Check out The 365 Challenge video (on the right) and see all the looks throughout the year can be seen here.
Over the 12 months, I also explored 12 easily-adoptable sustainable wardrobe themes, including repair, DIY fashion, clothes swapping, sustainable consumer care and recycling, to provide consumers with practical examples on how to keep their own clothes out of landfill and in the fashion loop.
My challenge counteracted today’s binging fast-fashion culture and was readily shared in the media, from The Guardian to Grazia. My year review video (on the right) shares my experience.
The target of my fashion activism is consumers. These are the people (myself included) who are wearing one of the world’s most polluting industries’ products and who are steering what was once a cherished, creative and cultural industry into an over-produced, over-polluted and over-consumed industry.
“Today, people are either force-fed or delight in binging on fast-fashion …
Every year, we are fuelling the production of 80 billion new garments from virgin resources …”
The problem with the majority of consumers is their penchant for fast-fashion. Today, people are either force-fed or delight in binging on fast-fashion clothes, which are pervasive and (with their low cost) persuasive on the high street. In fast-fashion, quantity trumps quality, speed trumps skill and price is king. In this global fast-fashion market, we are thought to consume 60 percent more clothes than we did 10 years ago to maintain our high clothing-calorific intake. Every year, we are fuelling the production of 80 billion new garments from virgin resources and are pushing 7.5 billion ‘old’ garments into landfills (Ginn, 2004). With new clothes now so cheap, the incentive to keep our pre-existing clothes for longer or to buy secondhand clothes is as diminished as fast-fashion clothing’s quality.
“… one pair of jeans requires 3,625 litres of water, 3kg of chemicals, 400MJ of energy and 13m2 of land…”
Deloitte, Fashioning Sustainability 2013
“…1kg of re-used secondhand clothing instead of buying new can reduce up to 3.6kg of CO2 emissions, 6,000 litres of water, 0.3kg of fertilizers and 0.2kg of pesticides.”
University of Copenhagen, 2008
Out with the new
Producing new clothes requires extensive use of natural resources. For example, one pair of jeans requires 3,625 litres of water, 3kg of chemicals, 400MJ of energy and 13m2 of land and 2,700 litres of water are required to produce the cotton to make one t-shirt, for more click here.
In with the old
On the other hand, keeping our pre-existing clothes for longer and choosing secondhand clothes provides positive environmental savings. For example, 1kg of re-used secondhand clothing instead of buying new can reduce up to 3.6kg of CO2 emissions, 6,000 litres of water, 0.3kg of fertilizers and 0.2kg of pesticides (University of Copenhagen, 2008). It is estimated that extending the average life of clothes by just nine months would save £5 billion in resources used to supply, launder and dispose of clothing.
You may wonder what prompted me to want to dig through tonnes of dumped clothes to don throughout 2013. The reason may come as a breath of fresh air for those in the industry who are working to make their processes within the fashion and textile industries more sustainable. I believe it is time for consumers to be assigned responsibility for lowering the fashion industries’ negative environmental impacts, alongside the industries continued efforts.
To back up the significance of the consumer, Levi Strauss & Co.’s 2006 Life Cycle Analysis from cradle to grave on the ubiquitous 501® gave interesting results. They found that the consumer caused 58 percent of the jeans’ climate-change impact during the consumer-use phase of washing, drying and disposing of the jeans. When it comes to water consumption, the consumer and industry almost drew; 49 percent of water consumption was used during cotton-production and 45 percent used during the consumer-use phase.
“If everyone of the 7.155 million people in my home of Hong Kong buys one secondhand T-shirt rather than a new one this year, we could save 304 million MJ of energy and 19.3 billion litres of water.”
These findings give power to the people – if they can translate this knowledge into their personal wardrobe and clothing care habits. And the more people who change the better. If everyone of the 7.155 million people in my home of Hong Kong buys one secondhand T-shirt rather than a new one this year, we could save 304 million MJ of energy and 19.3 billion litres of water. Not to be scoffed at.
However, as tantalizing as these possible savings sound, the reality, in my mind, is that most consumers will continue to binge on fast-fashion purchases and most will fail to understand their own significant role in cleaning up the fashion industry. The only hope is that more information is provided to consumers to fuel their motivation to redress their clothing habits.
Therefore, at this time for New Year’s resolutions, we are educating and inspiring consumers to ‘get redressed’. We are inviting people around the world to join our Get Redressed 2014 challenge by redressing the way they consume, care and wear their clothes so that consumers have sustainability in mind, not just style.
Check out the EcoChic Design Award.
- Materials Sustainability in the Higg Index Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Sousa & Young on how Nike’s Materials Sustainability Index can help brands & suppliers make the right water-friendly choices in raw material selection
- Fashion Update: Brand Winners & Sinners With the new Phase III Textiles Investigative Report released by 7 China NGOs through IPE, we look at who has managed to stay on top since the first report published in April 2012
- China Water Woes: The End of Fast Fashion? Lincoln Poon, Global Brand Manager of Pinneco Research worries about water, the fast fashion business & global dependence on made-in-China products: can it last?
- Toxic Presents: Be Careful What You Unwrap GAP year student Hugo Plunkett discovers potentially unwanted gifts under our Christmas tree. Beware of toxic fashion from your favourite high street shops in London to Germany
- Battle of the Bins Dr. Christina Dean digs into the clothes we trash (literally). With limited landfill sites and piles of unwanted clothes, should trash fashion recycling be the new “IT thing”?
Read more from Dr. Christina Dean →