Outland Denim founder James Bartle and brand friend Montana Lower traversing fashion waste at an abandoned factory in Cambodia.
The fashion waste landscape in this country is vast.
Aussies are rabid consumers of fashion (the second highest per capita in the world after the USA!), with an average of 56 items of clothing purchased by Aussies each year* (about 15kgs), and 200,000 tonnes of textile waste going to Aussie landfills each year.
According to Greenpeace, the average person buys 60% more clothing and keeps them for about half as long as 15 years ago. And most of this clothing is made from…plastic.
Often when we are done with something, we throw it in a Vinnies donations bin and don’t think much more of it. But of the clothes that go to charity, it is estimated that only 16.5% are resold within Australia: a further 33% are exported; 36% are recycled domestically (including downcycling into low-grade products); and 14% are sent to landfill.
Decomposing synthetic textiles can take hundreds of years to break down while releasing methane into the atmosphere and leaching microplastics into the soil and eventually into our water streams, and our bodies.
Clearly this is an environmental disaster that needs addressing (no pun intended).
Like all complex issues, there is no simple solution.
As Clare Press of Wardrobe Crisis podcast has said, “we can’t recycle our way out of the mess we’ve made by over-producing and under-using clothes.”
Brand “take-back schemes” have come under fire for their trickery, re-sale has questionable environmental benefits, and poor quality second-hand goods exported overseas often end up in landfills such as Accra in Ghana, meaning we are just exporting this environmental catastrophe (out of sight out of mind?).
Then there is the social impact of all of this to consider: the livelihoods of clothing resellers, the charity sector’s very necessary social services funded by our seconds, and the 400 million+ people working in our clothing supply chains globally who rely on the industry for their livelihoods.
Thankfully there are options at hand to get us on our way.
The Australian Fashion Council’s Product Stewardship Scheme, aka “Seamless”, is a step in the right direction. The Scheme aims to halve national textile waste by 2030, and calls for a few interventions, including a levy on imported clothing which will raise funds for further waste interventions and to support the Scheme’s priority areas based around the concept of circularity, closing the loop and citizen behavioural change.
At Outland, we’ve been quietly warring on waste behind the scenes for a few years now. We design for longevity and choose quality raw material inputs (like organic cotton) with natural fibres making up 93% of our total material volume. We’ve worked with ThreadTogether as well as The Good Box to re-home garments; we collect all our factory offcuts and repurpose them; we allow you to return your Outlands to us for repair; and we facilitate the resale and rental of your Outlands via AirRobe. To close the circularity gap, we are also investing in textile waste research and development (more on that to come!).
But we want to get you involved, too…and to know what path you would choose.
- A) Donate to charity
- B) Resell (online resale marketplace or consignment service)
- C) Repair and rewear (till death do us part)
- D) Swap (with a friend, at a swap meet)
- E) Upcycle (you’re handy with scissors and a needle)
- F) Recycle (via Upparel or similar)
- G) Return to Outland
- H) Too hard, don’t want to think about it
Tell us here. Thank you!
*most of which are made from non-sustainable, non-durable materials aka synthetics aka plastic.
References and further reading:
Join the Seamless Pledge here
Roadmap to Clothing Circularity, Australian Fashion Council
Take-back Trickery: An investigation into clothing take-back schemes, Changing Markets Foundation, July 2023.
The ABC’s War on Waste
Fast Fashion: Clean Up Australia
Measuring the Impact of the Charitable Reuse and Recycling Sector: A comparative study using clothing donated to charitable enterprises, MRA Consulting Group, 3 March 2021
Dead White Man’s Clothes, ABC, Foreign Correspondent, October 2021