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Threads - Taming the Fashion Monster

Theme for this year's Fashion Revolution Week
Hello Possums,
Did you know that there was a revolution in progress? Although Fashion Revolution Week ends today, its work is ongoing and its aims are far reaching. Originally begun in memory of the thousands of people -1138 to be precise and most of them young women, who were killed in the Rana Plaza Garment Factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, it asks us to consider who makes our clothes – the farmers who grow the cotton, the weavers and spinners, the dyers and the sewers and to consider the conditions under which they work. Most are poorly paid, work long hours and are often exploited.

Last year Fashion Revolution put up a vending machine in Berlin which offered t-shirts for 2 Euros, the catch being that buyers had to watch a video on how they were made. After seeing the video only one in ten prospective buyers bought the t-shirt. The rest made a donation.

This year The Fashion Revolution is urging us to ask companies to be more transparent and accountable about the conditions under which their employees work.While few large clothing manufacturers and retailers have responded to date, a number of smaller operators have recognised that this could give them another selling point and a competitive advantage in an increasingly tight market.

Mona and Margot at work. What are these women up to? Mona is from the Resource Work Co -operative and has put on this workshop on behalf of the Hobart City Council through its Positive Ageing Program
While The Fashion Revolution's main focus has been on the human cost of our clothing, important given that globally some 75 million people are employed in this industry, there are two other aspects of it which I want to touch on briefly. One concerns production and the other disposal.

In the first instance, cheap clothing also comes at a high environmental cost. For example, while cotton growing represents only 2% of agriculture, it consumes 24% of the water. It is generally thought that this high demand for water has contributed to the death of the Aral Sea, once the world's largest body of fresh water and one which previously supported an inland fishery. The large input of chemicals and fertilisers usually required to produce cotton pollutes river systems and groundwater and causes health problems for farm workers and surrounding communities.

 If not grown organically, cotton growing also depletes the soil, requiring more and more inputs and rendering it unsuitable for other crops. Other processes such as dyeing do likewise in urban areas. It is said that the new season’s colours can be readily determined by looking at the rivers in China. The clothing industry also accounts for about 3% of global greenhouse gases - about as much as that produced by 7.3 million cars.  Fortunately many companies – growers,  manufacturers and retailers are forming coalitions such as The Sustainable Apparel Coalition or the worldwide  Organic Cotton Growers Community  and are combining with universities and researchers to reduce their environmental footprint and many of the largest companies are starting to listen.

Choosing colour coordinated fabric strips torn from clean waste clothing

 The big European clothing retailer  H & M for example, is incorporating sustainability throughout its supply chain, beginning with organic cotton, and driving innovation throughout the industry with the aim of becoming Carbon Positive by 2040. It also encourages consumers to conserve and recycle their clothes in various ways including bringing them back to their stores. Since starting this initiative in 2013, they have taken back 39,000 tonnes of clothing for recycling. Although this is a drop in the ocean compared to the 80 billion articles of clothing produced annually, it is important for at least two reasons.

Firstly, currently about 85% of our clothing - yes, even that which we think we are donating to charity shops (Nope, not even poor people or Third World countries want our old clothes when new ones are so cheap), goes to landfill or is incinerated, both of which release toxic chemicals into the soil, water or air. While even garments made of natural fibres release methane and leach dyes and other chemicals as they break down, manmade fibres, which currently make up a higher proportion of our clothing, hardly ever break down, but continue to release micro particles of plastic which ultimately wind up in the food chain.
The H&M program not only keeps them out of landfill, but reprocesses the synthetic component into new materials. The downside however, is that synthetics also shed such particles in the wash. While Stella McCartney offers tips such as washing our clothes less and using lower temperatures to make our clothes last longer and thus less damaging to the planet as part of her Clevercare series, Textilebeat wants us to go much further. It believes we should regard clothing in much the same way many of us are now thinking about food – asking where it was made? How was it produced and what impact does it have on the environment? It says that, just as we have embraced the value of slow food, we should consider the following: "think, quality, natural, local, few, care, make, revive, adapt and salvage.”

The dream.... My sister has been making beautiful rugs out of salvaged materials for years

This brings me to the second concern. Until we can persuade more of the world's clothing manufacturers and retailers to follow H&M’s example, there are several other ways in which we can curb the need for more and more clothing as well as keeping it out of landfill. With respect to making our clothes last longer, there is worldwide interest in reviving some of the traditional skills which were prevalent in households before clothing became so plentiful and cheap. (Poor people, frugal people and sensible people never lost sight of them). Repair cafés are popping up everywhere since they were started by Martine Postma in Amsterdam in 2009. There are currently over 1,000 of them around the world and many do more than just fix clothes.  

 In Australia, Brisbane had the first, Melbourne has at least two, Sydney has one plus a Sew, Make, Create Centre  and there are many other activities which encourage recycling or reuse of textiles such as Preloved Frock Swaps and Trashion Parades, many of them being specifically run to tie in with Fashion Revolution Week. Last year's Trashion parade in Hobart was such a big hit that it will most likely have its own venue this year. If you are interested watch for the details here. Unfashion and refashion are becoming the new fashion.
The reality. I'm thinking that I should try for a pot mitt now. I do need some of those. Margot's turned out really well and I really did have fun, even though I didn't get much done
If you can’t get to one of the cafés or other events, there is a wealth of information on the internet. Just today for example, I found out how to unshrink clothes, not to mention removing all kinds of stains. Of course, if you are the slightest bit crafty, there are any number of sites dedicated to reusing textiles rather than creating more landfill. Here is just one to get you going, beware though - it's a rabbit hole. Once you start looking, you'll be so blown away that you never get around to actually making anything!

Indeed, if even a fraction of the major clothing companies succeed in their efforts to keep textiles out of landfill, the day may come when this marvellous free resource is no longer available, so do it while you can. I went along to a rag rug making event this week. I didn’t achieve much in a 'material' sense, but it was fun making things together and a lovely way to spend a rainy afternoon. Lastly, if you do find yourself having to contemplate the landfill option, in Hobart we do have another alternative - the Rag Van.  This is run by the St. Vincent de Paul charity and will pick up your waste textiles and convert them to rags for industry. My neighbours currently pay dearly for the cleaning rags they use in their coffee shop, as do painters, cleaners, mechanics and the like, so here is a way to help others as well as reducing the amount which presently goes to landfill. If repair cafés, rag vans, clothes swaps or upcycled fashion parades aren't happening near you, now is the time to start them. Yes, I know there are many important issues competing for attention, but this is an easy way to start. On the Revolution!