Fast Fashion is like speed dating for fabrics.
We’re falling in and out of love with our clothes so quickly that many are lustless after one date.
So where do our unwanted clothes go?
I used to give myself 10 points for donating bin bags full of clothes to charity, until one summer when I was volunteering at Oxfam. That was the summer I first learned about fair trade chocolate, hung around with people 60 years older than me and burnt my nipples in a clothes-steaming accident.
It was my job to sort through the piles of donations and pick out what I thought was sellable. The truth was that the vast majority of what we received was either too dated or too worn, so it would be crumpled up back into bags and launched into the back of a lorry. I’d heard that these textile trucks were destined for far away lands to be given to people in desperate need….
But it’s not really a charitable donation when you’re offloading your problem to another country, an art that Britain has well and truly mastered.
By dumping our problems on the door step of these developing countries, we’ve actually been hindering their development. These used clothes are sold at around 10% less than those domestically made, so we’re putting local traders out of pocket. Hand-crafted goods and hand-tailored clothes are dying fast.
I was happy to read that a lot of countries are speaking up. India has banned the import of used clothes altogether and Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Riwanda, where around 80% of clothes bought are second-hand discards from West, are all looking to do the same by 2019.
WHERE CLOTHES GO TO DIE
So what happens to the stuff that isn’t bought and isn’t shipped off to overseas for us to ignore?
Global reports say that around 80-90% of our clothes end up on landfill sites. I guess every product has a lifecycle so that statistic is slightly redundant as in effect 100% will end up there at some stage…but the point is that we are surrounded by piles and piles of rotting clothes.
In the UK, we send 300,000 tonnes of clothing to landfill every year – that’s hundreds of millions of items. Although the name is pretty self-explanatory, I didn’t really know much about what a landfill site is until I got some Google tabs on the go.
There are thousands of them in UK. Thousands. They’re basically burial grounds for waste and clothing is only one type of corpse that enters the morgue. They’re taking up space, emitting poisonous gases as the stuff inside them decomposes and leaking toxins into our soils and waters.
According to Fashion Revoltion, 95% of what we’re leaving to rot could actually be salvaged.
Yes we can salvage them, and in many ways, but there’s a new wave of thinking taking it to the next level.
This isn’t just about recuperating clothes.
Circular fashion is really a full product lifecycle overhaul. It all starts with ideation. Clothes are designed with longevity in mind, toxicity, biodegradability and recyclability are all considerations at concept stage.
It means sourcing and producing products ethically, lean manufacturing processes with minimal waste and pollution and exploiting recycled resources while caring for people and local environment. It means lowering carbon footprint, less airfreight and more local production, boosting domestic economies.
The circular fashion concept breathes life into dying clothes, repairing, reusing and upcycling until their reincarnation days are over. Then, they’re recycled either back to raw material state to start all over again or composted to become nutrients for plants and other living organisms in the ecosystem.
This not just a buzzword that’s getting thrown around, in fact, the world’s first Circular Fashion course has already started at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute. It’s a Master’s programme aimed to inspire and equip fashion entrepreneurs with the skills to build purpose-driven fashion businesses with a societal, cultural or environmental mission at their core.
I hope the next generation will put ours to shame.