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04 March 2016

6 Ways to Reduce your Fashion Footprint

You may have heard or read recently, that Australians are second only to North America in our consumption of textiles. Globally, the average person consumes 13kg of clothing and other textiles each year, but in Australia, that number is more than doubled, with 27kg of textiles consumed per person (that’s over 652,544 tonnes in Australia alone) each year.

But there are things you can do to not only reduce your own consumption, but also reduce the social and environmental impacts of your fashion choices. By making conscious decisions about what and where you buy, you can save the world one purchase at a time – and could be more fashionable than that? .

Here’s 6 things you can do now to be an ethical fashionista;

1. Seek out quality

6 Ways to Reduce Your Fashion Footprint: A quality garment being hand-crafted with care - no factory in sight!

Reduce your consumption by shifting your focus from cheap disposable fashion to value-for-money quality. Buy clothing that is made to last, from suppliers who focus on quality materials and quality craftsmanship.

Well-made clothing should last for many years. I bought a handmade skirt in Spain in 2002 and it still looks great despite being on high-rotation every summer for 15 years – if only those years had been so kind to the legs beneath it!

2. Look for brands that use ethically sourced materials

Businesses with a focus on ethical manufacturing will often offer information about their material sources in their product descriptions, marketing material, and brand information. Look for brands that upcycle, reuse, or repurpose materials to make new products, and those who actively seek out suppliers who conform to environmental, social and humanitarian standards that you feel comfortable with.

There are a lot of dimensions to consider in relation to the ethics of source materials, including;

• safe working conditions for manufacturers;
• fair trade and other social concerns;
• environmental impacts of farming and manufacturing fibres;
• biodegradability of materials; and
• humane treatment of animals, or avoidance of animal products entirely.

Depending on your values, some of these are probably going to be more important to you than others, and in most cases it may be nigh impossible for businesses to provide a completely clean conscience on all these aspects and still provide a product at an attainable price. However, it’s certainly better to choose brands that address some of these issues rather than glossing over all of them, and those who communicate their values and standards up front are, at the very least, making it easier for consumers to make educated choices.

6 Ways to Reduce Your Fashion Footprint: Swaths of hand-dyed fabrics

3. Shop small

Buying from small manufacturers and local creators can give you greater confidence in the provenance of their products. When you buy direct from the designer / maker, there are fewer links in the supply chain that need to be scrutinised, and you have the opportunity to ask them questions directly about where they source their materials, their eco ethos, their processes etc.

Having these conversations not only helps you to evaluate your choices, but it tells those businesses that their customers care about how their products are made, and that gives way to positive change.

4. Opt for reduced packaging

I’ll never forget shopping with a friend in a designer store some years ago, and she bought a handbag, which the attendant then wrapped in a clear plastic bag to seal it, gift wrapped it (even though it wasn’t a gift), and then put it in a fabric carry bag. My friend would have been just as happy to just carry the bag on her shoulder as it was intended.

Branding is of course important to businesses, but it can be done well without the excess so look for stores that are conscious of not only the amount of packaging they use, but also the type of packaging such as cardboard over plastic.

5. Focus on longevity when it comes to style

6 Ways to Reduce Your Fashion Footprint: A trendy crowd of beautiful people in long socks and shorts

Rather than buying entire outfits to suit trends that come and go, select classic pieces and seasonal accents or unique pieces that don’t conform to specific trends, but favour an expression of individuality. These pieces are going to stand the test of time rather than being shoved to the back of the wardrobe after 3 months of wear.

6. Extend the life of your purchase

Be conscious of what you do with your clothing when you’re done with it. Can you pass it on to someone else? Donate it to an op-shop? You could also consider upcycling it into something new or reusing it around the house in place of other textiles like cloths, rags or even cushion stuffing.

I know when faced with making ethical purchases, there can be so many factors to consider that making the right choices can seem overwhelming, but just being conscious of the broader consequences of our decisions is a step in the right direction. After all, if Australians each reduced their textile consumption by even just one kilo a year, that would add up to more than 24,000 tonnes of textiles that don’t need to be manufactured, and that is pretty huge.

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