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Zero hour for Australian fashion

Zero Hour for Australian Fashion
by Jaya Myler

This week is Zero Footprint Week, a climate change awareness week that encourages Australians to consider their current ecological footprint and take steps to reduce it.

As a vegetarian, who doesn’t drive, I thought my personal footprint was quite light, but I was shocked when the EPA Victoria footprint calculator told me my current footprint would need 1.7 planets to be sustainable.

The main offenders in my apparently eco-friendly lifestyle were goods i.e., furniture, clothing and footwear, which made up 32 per cent of my footprint, followed by services such as water and electricity and gas, making up 19 per cent.

While we all know the detrimental effect driving and excess energy consumption have on the environment, but I didn’t think the clothing and footwear I bought would have nearly as much of an impact on my ecological footprint.

When we swipe our card for a clothing purchase, we might think twice about the price, or the bill we’ll get at the end of the month, but we should really be thinking about what we don’t see when we pick up the end product.

Could my weakness for new clothing purchases not only be costing me a pretty penny, but also be costing the environment a fortune?

Clothing only accounts for 3.4% of Australia’s overall household greenhouse gas emissions, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but the clothing production process also impacts on the environment in many other ways.

The fashion industry leaves a hefty footprint on our environment through its use of water and energy to grow and fertilise cotton crops, turn cotton into fabric, and fabric into a garment.

According to the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), one cotton t-shirt takes 2000 litres of water to produce, and uses about 1.5 kg of pesticide and fossil-fuel based fertilizers to produce the cotton.

The irrigation of cotton crops is the second largest use of water from the Murray-Darling Basin, and contributes to the pollution and depletion of this precious natural resource.

The production process also uses harmful chemical dyes and bleaches. Then there is impact of plastic packaging, and the carbon emissions from transportation of the raw and finished product, which are especially high if a garment is produced overseas, resulting in higher ‘clothing miles’. Then, ultimately there is the disposal of clothing through landfill.

Is it enough, then, for environmentally aware consumers to just to buy organic cotton garments?

Current labelling requirements in Australia mean that a garment can be labelled organic if the fabric used is made using organic raw materials. However, this does not take into account whether chemical dyes, bleached or finishes were used to make the finished garment, whether the garment was made in an overseas factory, how ethically the garment was produced, or how much energy or water was used in the production of the garment.

A recent review of the Textile Clothing and Footwear (TCF) industries, proposed that the industry should develop a logo, an Ethical Quality Mark, to show that a garment has been ethically produced according to labour, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability standards.

Australian brands have been incorporating organic capsule ranges into their collections. Labels including Sportsgirl, Quiksilver and Ksubi have produced all organic ranges.

Designer Lisa Gorman has taken an exemplary approach: her organic cotton range for her label Gorman, is just the tip of her sustainability initiatives. She hired an environmental consultant to oversee the design, production and retail operations of the business.

>Gorman has committed to ensuring that the entire business is ecologically sustainable - from using 100 per cent accredited green power, to using organic and sustainable yarns and fabrics wherever possible, to using recycled packaging, and even offering incentives to customers who ride their bikes into Gorman stores.

Anthony Szatow, Environmental Consultant for Gorman, says government needs to act by legislating to drive industry performance and accountability, as well as “reducing our dependence on fertilisers that are derived from fossil fuels.”

Government should be responsible for auditing supply chains and verifying the performance of so-called green providers to encourage transparency, and prevent ‘Greenwashing.’ A database of certified clean suppliers of various yarns and fabrics would, “encourage information sharing and transparency in the industry,” says Szatow.

The trend-driven nature of fashion has created an inbuilt obsolescence that sees consumers buying new garments each season, then disposing of them to make way for new styles.

Szatow says if we were really serious about reducing our footprint we would “go vegetarian, switch to green power, get rid of the car and stop buying stuff you don’t need.”

Amanda Little, Director of One at a Time Foundation, who launched Zero Footprint Week, says a Zero Footprint is a great ideal to work towards, but we can all start by making small steps to reduce our ecological footprint. “If you bought just one less tee-shirt a month, not only would you save 24,000 litres of water a year, you’d also be saving about $500.”

What you can do to reduce your fashion footprint:

  • Buy less – consider the resources that have gone into making a garment, and ask yourself whether you really need it.
  • Buy green – if you buy a new garment consider a sustainable option.
  • Buy vintage – buy vintage and save landfill
  • Recycle – donate your old clothing to charity, or have garments altered to update them for a more current look
  • Swap meet – get a group of friends together with their unwanted clothes, and swap clothing items you no longer want or need 

We’ve certainly progressed from the image of hemp-clad eco-warriors, saving the planet in drab attire. Eco-fashion is now on the agenda of Australia’s leading fashion magazines and fashionistas. However, there’s still no across-the-board industry regulation, or clear laws when it comes to the labelling of clothing as ‘organic’ or ‘eco-friendly’.

While better regulation of the industry is needed, as well as resources to inform and educate producers and consumers about ethical clothing choices, we can all make an effort to reduce, buy green products where possible, and think carefully about how we dispose of clothing.


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I have some ideas

Jaya Myler: "As a vegetarian, who doesn’t drive, I thought my personal footprint was quite light, but I was shocked when the EPA Victoria footprint calculator told me my current footprint would need 1.7 planets to be sustainable."

Perhaps stop using computers.

Discourage people from going overseas on holidays unless they are prepared to go by sail boat - but not one made of either plywood or plastics. Or cement. 

Don't have children.

Just have two complete sets of clothes.

Another thing we can all do is reduce human longevity. We were much less impacting on the environment before the advent of modern medicine if for no other reason than we mostly died a lot younger then and most of our kids died before reaching adulthood, too.

Don't cremate the bodies.

So young, so innocent

And I, such a lawyer. What you have forgotten is that most clothing products are produced by the shmutter trade [look it up]. This is a manufacturing industry to which I was first introduced by ... well we just used to call him Tony the Torch ... terrible, tragic, (not that tragic) factory fire. Read Wellman's The Art of Cross-examination and "repeat it Sophie" [and that was a tragic factory fire because when they torched the place they locked the immigrant pieceworkers in so they couldn't call the fire brigade]. A phenomenon known in the trade as a [religion omitted] "stocktake" responsible for the rebuilding of most of Bondi Junction after the 1961 recession.

None of the figures you quote even take into account the greenhouse gases caused by a factory fire.

Hasn't it been cold lately?

The coulda kilt somebody

I wasn't aware that many Presbyterians lived in Bondi Junction in 1961.

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