As we start to socialise and celebrate over the coming months, we’ll start paying more attention to what we wear and might think we need some new items in our wardrobes. But do we? Before you go shopping consider this: 

“In Australia, 6000 kilograms of cheap, disposable and mass-produced ‘fast fashion’ items are dumped in landfill every 10 minutes”, New Daily. 

The fashion industry has always been resource, energy and labour intensive. Think about the water, crops and plastics used in making clothes, the electricity and petrol used to run factories, transport raw materials and finished products, and garment workers often exposed to sub-standard conditions. The rise of fast fashion, whereby new styles can hit the shops fortnightly, weekly or even daily, instead of seasonally, has only exacerbated this intensity. Increased demand is fuelling biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change, as well as a human rights crisis. 

There is another way and it’s called sustainable fashion. It’s a chance to ‘wear your values’ by choosing fashion that minimises environmental impacts and treats garment workers fairly. It’s time to start making fashion circular. This means adopting a reuse business model, using safe and renewable materials and ethical production, and finding new solutions so old clothes can be used again and again. 

The Green Living Centre recently discussed the practicalities of sustainable fashion at our webinar “How to make stylish and sustainable fashion choices”. The panellists were three incredible local women who are leading the way in the sustainable fashion space:  

  • Joanne Gambale, Vogue contributor and founder of Slogue, slow fashion styling. 
  • Natalie Shehata, eco-stylist, founder of tommie magazine, retail trainer at The Social Outfit and eco-stylist for Save the Children op shops.  
  • Ali Dibley, owner of Bell Street, which offers vintage, handmade and second-hand clothing for hire and custom-made wedding dresses.  

From the webinar, here are our top tips on how to fashionably avoid, reduce, reuse, repair and recycle: 

The best place to start is at home and to ‘shop your own wardrobe’. Take a close look at what you have, unearth the hidden gems and try everything on, mixing and contrasting colours, styles, eras and shapes. You’ll rediscover why you bought those clothes in the first place, create new outfits, and avoid buying things you don’t need. As Joanne Gambale says: “The answer to having nothing to wear is in your own wardrobe”. 

Creating your own personal style is an important way to reduce fashion waste. You might be inspired by the latest trends, so have fun and see how you can recreate them from your existing clothes. Stepping away from fast fashion is liberating and allows you to celebrate difference, although we don’t advocate throwing out your whole fast fashion wardrobe. Better to use what you have first.

If you’re really hankering for a new outfit, why not ask your friend with the fabulous jacket or dress if they’ll lend it to you for that upcoming special occasion? You might have something they’d like to borrow in turn. Hiring clothes from one of the growing number of rental boutiques is another great option. You get to try something outside your everyday style and remember “You don’t have to own something to enjoy it”. 

All clothes wear and tear, so learn how to sew on buttons, fix a hem, darn a hole – or get to know your local seamstress who’ll happily do this for you for a small fee. There are lots of online and local places that run regular repair workshops such as Bobbin and InkReverse Garbage and The Bower Reuse and Repair Centre 

If you’ve looked at your wardrobe and identified some gaps, then it’s time to shop second-hand and do this ethically. Natalie Shehata suggests you identify your own “conscious shopping criteria”. Think about what matters most to you and help this guide your choices: Is it garment worker conditions, animal-free products or long-lasting clothes? Also, when shopping second-hand, have fun – throw out the rulebook of what’s on trend, identify the gaps in your wardrobe, try everything on and ask yourself how you feel in the clothes. 

If you’re going to buy new, once again consider your conscious shopping criteria, and always look for well-made, long-lasting clothes. Before you shop read A Beginner’s Guide to Sustainable Fashion from Good On You, an app which also helps you choose ethical brands. Another rating tool is the Ethical Fashion Guide. And if you really want to know “who made my clothes’ join Fashion Revolution week in April each year and join others advocating for greater transparency in the global fashion supply chain. 

A recent ABC Foreign Correspondent story highlighted the impact fast fashion waste is having on communities in Ghana, where mountains of fashion waste imported from overseas, including Australia, are polluting the waterways, land and air. Putting your rarely worn clothes into a charity bin might seem like the easiest option but they could end up causing harm half-way across the world. Much better to give away old clothes to friends, attend a clothes swap, sell online, or host a garage sale. Garage Sale Trail is coming up in November! 

When clothes really are at the end of life, you could recycle them through locally based Circular Centre, or book a collection with Upparel. Check out Council’s A-Z: What goes where? guide for more ways to sustainably dispose of your unwanted items. 

Need more inspiration? Here’s some great videos and podcasts on sustainable fashion: 

And remember “Just by stopping shopping you’ve started (on your sustainable fashion journey)”, Ali Dibley.