Sustainable fashion

By Hayley White

In the last decade, the fashion industry has arguably become one of the worst industries in the world for environmental abuse, and it’s no wonder. It contributes 10% of all CO2 emissions worldwide per year (that’s four to five billion tonnes annually). It also consumes a serious amount of water at around 79 trillion tonnes a year, and is responsible for around 20% of water pollution from textile dyeing and treatment (Niinimäki, Peters, Dahlbo, Perry, Rissanen, & Gwilt, 2020) – and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

The fashion industry and fast fashion practices are hurting the environment. Fast fashion, put simply, is the overproduction of low-quality, cheap, and ‘trendy’ clothing based on increased demand. This boost in demand has almost doubled production in comparison to the volume of clothes manufactured before the year 2000, with the consumption of clothing estimated to reach 102 million tonnes per year by 2030.

By Hayley White

In the last decade, the fashion industry has arguably become one of the worst industries in the world for environmental abuse, and it’s no wonder. It contributes 10% of all CO2 emissions worldwide per year (that’s four to five billion tonnes annually). It also consumes a serious amount of water at around 79 trillion tonnes a year, and is responsible for around 20% of water pollution from textile dyeing and treatment (Niinimäki, Peters, Dahlbo, Perry, Rissanen, & Gwilt, 2020) – and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

The fashion industry and fast fashion practices are hurting the environment. Fast fashion, put simply, is the overproduction of low-quality, cheap, and ‘trendy’ clothing based on increased demand. This boost in demand has almost doubled production in comparison to the volume of clothes manufactured before the year 2000, with the consumption of clothing estimated to reach 102 million tonnes per year by 2030.

The term ‘slow fashion’ made its way through the fashion world as a sustainable alternative to fast fashion and is hailed as being better for the environment overall. Slow fashion can mean a lot of different things to different people. For some, it means handmade, one-of-a-kind clothes that are made with sustainable materials, and for others it means thrifting; shopping in opportunity shops, oftentimes run by churches or charities.

The upsurge in the popularity of thrifting saw resellers – people who go thrifting and resell the clothes they find – pop up around the globe, most notably on Instagram. From people selling a few loose garments from their wardrobe clear-outs to full-time businesses, Instagram thrift stores have taken the fashion world by storm. Not only are they extremely easy to navigate, but they do all the legwork of thrift shopping for you and tailor their styles to what people want the most. All these stores share the same outcome: slowing down fashion and making the fashion industry more sustainable.

Duo Drops clothing
Photo: Hayley White

Instagram thrift shop Duo Drops is one of those stores and is the passion project and brainchild of Maria Richards (Ngā Puhi) and her best friend Shaye Straker (Taranaki, Ngā Māhanga-a-Tairi).

Maria has always loved thrifting. As an avid thrifter right from high school, she’d been thinking about starting her own thrifting page since the beginning of 2020. Marama Davidson, co-leader of the Greens Party in New Zealand, came on board looking for an outfit for her election night in 2020 which “changed everything,” says Maria. “For me, that was about empowering her, to make her stand out – and to know that she was prepared for it to be thrifted was next level. That’s where it sort of started.”

Empowering women has been a big part of Duo Drop’s kaupapa (values), something that has inspired Maria right from the beginning. Maintaining sustainable practices that benefit Papatūānuku (Mother Earth) is very important to her too, just as much as making clothes affordable and accessible, allowing women to express their individuality through sustainable fashion. Slowing down fashion, giving back to the community, and saving Papatūānuku, one sustainable item at a time, is really our grassroots philosophy,” says Maria.

The production of clothing is not the only aspect of the fashion industry that hurts the environment. It generates 92 million tonnes of textile waste per year – that’s a whopping 4 percent of the world’s waste, left to pollute landfills or be burnt – unbelievably, much of this waste is product that hasn’t been sold yet.

When asked if she thought that reselling thrifted clothes was a better alternative to fast fashion, “absolutely,” is Maria’s immediate reply. She says that the sheer amount of clothing you see in opportunity shops and thrift stores nearly makes her faint. SaveMart, a New Zealand recycled clothing store, is known for having massive bales of clothing stacked in their warehouses because of the number of donations they get. “If people really get out there and go into thrift stores you will understand just how much is stockpiled,” she says.

“If it’s not selling, it is because no one wants it; or if someone doesn’t know how to style a garment, they’re gonna dump it,” she adds. “So, if I take it away, I’m helping to save it from going into the dump.”

On top of thrifting, Maria also handles koha (gifted) items to sell which come from wāhine (women) who want to give their clothes a new lease on life. This shows that fashion is a recurring cycle that never really ends.

It was once said that a cycle of fashion lasts around 20 years, but people around the world show that they have clothing styles from every decade in their wardrobes. So now, there is typically a 5-year cycle when it comes to fashion. It usually starts with the introduction of a trend, moves through a rise in demand by consumers, peaks when sales are at their highest, and then slowly declines again, ending in the style or trend becoming obsolete. It is a prime example of why thrifting is becoming popular again, and Maria agrees that there is a rise in demand for thrifted clothing from all different decades and styles.

“The beauty with thrift is they’re unique items, so there’s room for everyone. Different people like different things and like following people with different kaupapa, different pricing, different pieces, vintages, colours, and styles,” she says. “Depending on where you go, whom you follow or buy from, you’ve got people who sell vintage which is really hard to find. There are definitely some specialized wahine (women) out there.”

Vintage clothes are some of the most popular items that resellers can get their hands on these days. Previously, shopping for recycled items was seen as dirty and there was a perceived stigma surrounding people who couldn’t afford to buy new clothes. Resellers help do away with this stigma by repurposing the clothes and showing people that it’s a great way to shop – and look after the environment. Maria says that the normalization of thrifting is super important to squash the thinking that people buy recycled only because they don’t have the money to buy new.

“A lot of my friends love it; others don’t, but they haven’t really judged me for it. I’m the sort that if someone goes: ‘Oh my god, I love those pants where’d you get them from?’ I’m like: ‘Well they were $5, I got them from a thrift store’. Some people aren’t okay saying that, but I love it.”

Maria says that she feels blessed to be able to have the opportunity to resell clothes, help Papatūānuku, and to have amazing support from wahine like Marama Davidson, Anika Moa and Stacey Morrison who buy her clothes. Being able to do this job whilst staying true to her Māori and Pasifika culture is the biggest blessing for Maria. “I use Māori words and normalize it as part of my page, but it also educates people with the basics. I don’t know full Māori, but knowing I have the support of people like Marama, Anika, and Stacy I know I can ask them for the right words or correct spelling or punctuation. I will make sure I’ve got it right,” says Maria.

In the United States alone, the recycled clothing market is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Worth US$4.1 billion in 2003, it has only grown from there, totalling US$28 billion in 2019 and expected to grow to US$80 billion over the next eight years. While fast fashion production is predicted to rise another 20% in the next 10 years, recycled fashion is anticipated to have another 185% increase (Park, 2020).

This alone proves that thrifting and the promotion of slow fashion will never go away. As the sustainability movement grows, so too will the popularity of slow fashion and conscious consumption compared to the mindless, impulse buy that fast fashion encourages. Until the fashion industry can find a way to shift from their unsustainable fast fashion model into one that benefits the environment, slow fashion will continue to be the future.

 

Sources: 1. Author correction: The environmental price of fast fashion, Nature Reviews Earth & Environment 2. Second-hand clothing sales are booming – and may help solve the sustainability crisis in the fashion industry, The Conversation