Sustainable fashion 2020: what can we do to start the decade the right way? by emma

In the last year the world has seen severe widespread bush-fires, bringing the climate crisis to the forefront of our attention. Older phrases like ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ have been replaced with ‘climate emergency’ as the urgency of the situation becomes clear. Greta Thunberg has called us to action, leading to a ripple effect of students protesting worldwide in 2019 as young people decided that enough is enough.

Not long after the fires, we have seen the rapid spread of Covid-19 unfold across the globe. During lockdown we have seen images from around the world of animals coming out to reclaim urban streetscapes and waterways, the earth receiving a temporary break from our hungry consuming. The ensuing period of isolation indoors has allowed us to consider deeply our individual impact on the environment and what we can do to change it.

Generation Z (people aged twenty to twenty-five) in particular, are ready for that change. They have grown up with the internet and social media and are aware that the growing problems of today will be theirs to deal with tomorrow. They are a generation that favours ethical concerns, individuality and when it comes to clothing: ‘access, over possession’. With the emergence of resale apps we are seeing a huge shift to the buying, reselling and trading of second hand clothes and an awareness of the lifecycle of garments. Covid-19 lockdown in particular has generated a surge in upcycling, altering and crafting.

The fast fashion industry has come under intense scrutiny in recent years, as its huge contribution to the worldwide carbon footprint has been revealed. The statistics are staggering and affect various aspects of our environment. Fashion accounts for 20 to 35 percent of microplastic that flows into the sea and outweighs the carbon footprint of international flights and shipping combined, accounting for about 10% of global carbon emissions. In Australia alone, we spend around $5 billion annually on fashion and three-fifths of that is discarded within a year, headed for landfill. If things continue at the current rate, by 2050 more than 25 percent of the entire global carbon budget will go to the fashion industry alone.

So what can we do as individuals to make a difference?

Power is in the hands of the buyer, so choosing to shop second-hand is a huge step buyers can take to eliminate new clothes going to landfill. Purchasing vintage or reworked clothing will give a garment another life cycle and extend its wear. This is known as a ‘circular economy’. Not only are you recycling, you are also gaining a garment that no-one else has; a unique piece. When purchasing a vintage garment it’s hard not to envisage its previous life - who owned it before? Where was it made? What special moments did this garment witness in the life of its owner?

What is the difference between vintage and reworked pieces you may ask?

‘Reworked’ means an item has been diverted from landfill in order to be given a second life as a new piece. Often the original garments have cuts or styles that are out-of-date and are altered to make them ‘ready-to-wear’ for today’s look. For example three quarter length dresses and skirts are cropped, long sleeves cut off to make vests, over-sized tops or dresses cinched in to create a fitted waist and denim jeans altered into cut-off shorts or made into bags.

As we gradually ease our way out of Covid-19 and return to normal life (whatever that may look like), it is an ideal time to consider what steps we can take, large and small to find a new direction for fashion in the decade to come.