[Module 1] Seasonal Wardrobe Assessment | 3. Introduction

‘Buy less, choose well and do it yourself!’

Vivienne Westwood

In the Western world we consume clothes like they are going out of fashion.

Yep just let that sink in.

What is my point! Well apparently most of us only wear 20% of what we buy according to the statistics and yet we keep on buying.

Do you ever look into your wardrobe and see it full of clothes and yet you stand and stare thinking damn I have nothing to wear?

Are these statistics accurate? Who cares - but I do think that this is true for most people. We wander aimlessly around the shopping centres doing our retail therapy ohhing and ahhing over the latest enticements and buy on a whim. We buy mostly cheap stuff just because we like it and it just about fits the body, without a thought about what we really need.

But that comment simply embarrasses me because it is absolute trivia and rather flippant compared to the subject of western demand for cheap clothing that in turn has an impact on both the environment and the cheap labour required to meet this demand. I know I sound like yet another person harping on about the environment but at the risk of losing your interest before we even start just stay with me for 5 mins more to let me get this off my chest then I promise we can start on the workflow!

Without getting too political let’s just take a moment to consider a few facts.

Garment making is a time consuming process so if you are getting it cheap someone down the line is paying for it. The garment trade is mostly in third world countries such as China or Bangladesh and includes a labour force of predominantly women but there is also a large illegal child labour force who are slaving away to make these items only to be paid a slaves wages, and potentially in unlawful/inhumane working conditions because cutting corners allows manufacturing to become cheaper. How can we individually do anything to affect an issue that is this big. Well it really comes down to each of us aiming to purchase responsibly, rather than just cheaply. Perhaps if you were asked to pay an extra $2 for your t shirt but with the knowledge that this means that the person who made it can put food on the table for their family then are you willing to do that?

I don’t know what the answer is, as a consumer can we force manufacturers and distributors to be fair trade? Well we can if we have the information to hand because we can certainly make a choice of where we buy from. I think it is something to think about and believe that right now more people are thinking about this and even more importantly acting on it by making more intelligent choices about consuming any item they buy. Why do we need so many cheap items anyway, we can’t have the cheap items and pretend that we are thinking ethically, the two don’t sit hand in hand unfortunately.

Also while I have your full attention can I just take this opportunity to mention the environmental impact by looking at what we throw away as I have googled astonishingly that fashion is the second largest polluting industry on the planet after the oil industry! Without even touching the subject of chemicals used in growing and in the production process which is scary enough regarding the impact it may have on our health and the environment, let’s just focus attention on the subject of waste. 80 billion new garments are produced worldwide every year according to the world apparel fibre consumption survey. By my rough reckoning that’s about on average 1 new item per person per month worldwide. If you live in a privileged country how many items do you purchase per month?

The amount of waste fabric falling to the floor of the manufacturing factory during production of all of these clothes is 20% of the fabric used. Two thirds of new garments made are synthetic fibres that are going to take an age to breakdown after they reach landfill of which a large percentage are even derived from petroleum.

According to the bureau of statistics apparently in Australia alone each individual throws away 85% of the total weight of textiles that they buy year on year. Every year in Australia we are buying around 27 kilos per person (this is inclusive of all textile not just garments). Shockingly as a country we are globally the second largest consumers of new textiles just behind North America and interestingly we are buying mostly manmade fibres.

In Australia we throw away 500,000 tonnes of textiles every year that is approximately 23 kilos each person with less than 15% being recycled. Globally we throw away over 13 million tonnes of textiles, by my rough calculations including any recycling that is around 370 kilos hitting landfill every second.

On top of this only around 15% of what you donate to charity from your local collections points are actually making it to the charity shop, it is either broken down for industrial rags or sent off in the tens of millions each year to a third world country for selling what they can locally like zips and buttons etc. but mostly sorting and shredding to base fibre and made into blankets or cloths.

Here are some photos from a local collection site.

To put it bluntly they are just completely overwhelmed with the donations and struggling to get volunteers to sort through it all so they just export most of it.

Households need to deal with their own consumption and waste and stop donating.

Organisations are becoming crippled and the problem just keeps growing and growing. Even with some leeway on these statistics these figures really scare me, I don’t know about you. What are we doing? I can’t help feeling mortified when considering all the life hours involved in the making all of those clothes not to mention the energy, water, dissemination resources and other resources that are simply being discarded. There are some fashion houses that are looking very seriously at this recycle/upcycle issue and it is going to be interesting to see how this impact flows down to the high street store. I do believe that we should all take responsibility for our own impact though, our own footprint. Maybe if we all aim to be considerate and try to make a difference we might be able to start bringing some of these statistics down a peg or two and start to turn the trend around.

How do you compare with the 7 wears per garment before discarding average statistic?

It would be a wonderful world where every person worldwide had enough clothes for their actual needs, that they were all loved and worn, fitted and were the finest quality they could muster up - to make them last as long as possible and made with love. That all garments were treated with respect, mended and cleaned properly and repurposed when finished to help reduce the waste to a minimum, and that the person who made them could make a good living or at the very least be paid a proper wage to be able to eat nutritious food look to after themselves and their families at a basic living minimum wage.

OK maybe a nice dream but what can we do about it, can we do anything about it when things keep getting manufactured as throw away items. We can’t control manufacturing as individuals and we can’t change the mindset of a couple of generations of the western world and their buying practices. But I don’t think that we can just sit back and ignore this and do nothing either. Is there not even a little that we can do? Well I think we can make a start by having a good look at our own consumption and try to rub this off on others our friends, our family. Can we even push ourselves to go beyond our habits?

How about this for a concept;

  • We become more informed and be more thoughtful about where we buy

  • We buy better quality so that the garment demand shifts to garments that are made better and therefore last longer in turn asking more from the manufacturers regarding quality to try to stop the cost cutting and raise working standards

  • We buy less items, we buy what we need not just on a whim

  • We stop wasting money on so many cheap items that don’t last and that we are never going to wear which really is a waste of money when that money could have gone to the workforce.

Good quality clothes cost a lot more money simply because they cost more to make, you get what you pay for. I would rather have 1 good quality dress than 5 cheap ones because it’s more likely to last longer sometimes not even because it is made better as you will be wearing it more it’s usually because you will look after it more because it cost you more money than one of the cheaper ones.

It all comes down to choice. Once you start sewing you will understand the effort of making garments and may start to consider this point more.

So the other way to go is to make your own quality clothes that are well made with quality fabrics with the intention that they will last years of wear, just like my grandma used to do. At my age I am still to find out how long these types of clothes will really last but I do have some good quality clothes that are over 30 years old and although not currently being worn by me because I can’t get in them at the moment they are being picked over by my daughter.

Sewing your own clothes has many benefits apart from the feeling of achievement if what you design and make actually fits and looks great on you. Sewing skills are skills that we can pass down through the generations too to make our own children feel more empowered with their person skill set because it’s not just about the end product, the process of sewing for lots of people is the best part of the process not the end result.

Sewing has soul healing benefits and brings you solidly into the present moment and can bring you closer to others that share the same interest. You can sew at any level of competency and you don’t have to even have a sewing machine you can simply use a needle and thread so you can sew even with a limited budget.

So when considering where to start – well maybe it has to be with what we already have. So let’s pick through your wardrobes to start with. This is not a full style examination but just some pointers on where to start, what questions to ask in order to identify, revitalise, mend and repurpose what you have and to find the gaps to make up what you really need and what you are going to love to wear, with a focus always on quality.

The rest will be thoughtfully moved on, not in the trash or charity donations though, although outsize clothes are welcome for many people in charity shops as they are expensive to buy. If we can do this thoughtfully we can deal with this issue in our own wardrobes right here and now and then never let it get to this state again. We can then teach our kids to do the same. It’s not ideal or a perfect solution and may not be timely enough but I feel that we have to start somewhere.

A word about quality. For clothes to last we should be thinking of quality fabrics, and during dressmaking preparing fabrics, testing colour and pattern, quality construction, and sewing practices, couture skills, seam allowances, interlinings, linings, interfacings and taking time for fitting designing for comfort and style.

Also I am a true believer in clothes making you feel good. You can feel like a better/smarter/fitter/richer/successful/organised/fabulous person when you spend a little time dressing properly in good quality clothes – who doesn’t want to feel good?

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