Sustainability has become a key factor for the environmentally and socially aware. As it reaches across all industries, we sat down with Nina Gbor, the founder of Eco Styles and Clothes Swap and Style to discuss the role fashion plays.
Hi, Nina. Can you tell us what sustainable fashion is?
Sustainable fashion is designing, manufacturing, consuming and disposing of clothing and apparel in ways that do minimal damage to the environment and also ensure garment workers are treated with dignity, respect and given fair wages.
Why is sustainable fashion important?
It’s essential to understand the magnitude of the fashion problem. The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. At the current rate, it is producing 92 million tonnes of textile waste and 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions which is more than all international flights and marine shipping combined.
Fashion is responsible for about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions towards climate change. Emissions from this sector are set to rise by more than 60% by 2030. And the industry might use a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050 if this rise continues. On average, each Australian purchases 27kg of new clothing a year. We throw 6,000 kg of textile waste to landfill every ten minutes in Australia. 85% of textiles and apparel purchased end up in landfill.
On a different note, the majority of contemporary clothes are made from petroleum-derived textiles like polyester, nylon, spandex. They’re a form of plastic. When washed, they release microfibres in the wash that eventually end up in the ocean. These plastics absorb toxic chemicals. Fish ingest these microfibres which is not only harmful to them but also to humans who ingest the fish. The chemical cycle thus comes back to us.
In disposal, we throw away 6,000kg of textile waste every ten minutes to landfill (ABC TV, War on Waste). This waste epidemic is damaging the environment because the clothes are not compostable. The reason is that they are either made from synthetic fabrics and/or the conditions needed for composting to occur do not exist in any typical landfill scenario. The clothes remain in the landfill, producing methane gas which is toxic to the environment.
The fashion industry has a multitude of social injustice concerns such as unfair wages, inhumane work conditions, modern slavery and other human rights abuses. These issues are interlinked with other topics such as economics, equality, gender, politics, social justice, female empowerment, finance and climate change. Therefore, it affects and concerns all of us. Sustainable fashion aims to provide alternatives and solutions that resolve these issues for the sake of people and the environment.
Could you dispel any misconceptions surrounding it?
Ethically-manufactured clothing is often misconstrued as being too expensive. Often the prices of these brands reflect the fact that everyone in the supply chain is paid a fair & liveable wage, decent work conditions and human rights are adhered to, and then there’s far less damage to the environment during production, consumption and disposal.
If these values are important to us, then it’s worth every penny. Moreover, ethical clothes are well-made, often with natural textiles and they last many years. On that note, the cost per wear far outlasts buying cheaper fast fashion brands that start to fade, rip or disintegrate after the first wash. To be sustainable means to choose quality over quantity.
Sustainable fashion has a conventional reputation akin to being barefoot, burlap sacks, bland boring style, yet organic. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with any of that, sustainable fashion is also beautiful, fun, stylish, sophisticated and any other style you want it to be. Part of the focus of my brand Eco Styles is to dispel these types of conventional misconceptions by using images of vintage, preloved and ethically manufactured apparel to tell a different story.
I work to inspire people to switch to a sustainable lifestyle by showcasing the super stylish, elegant, sophisticated, colourful, fun and sometimes quirky side of eco-fashion. Many ethical label designers create pieces that cater to all budgets and all styles from corporate to casual and everything in between. From high fashion couture to the affordable.
Who in the industry do you look to for inspiration?
There are many amazing pioneers and eco-warriors forging the path towards a cleaner, healthier sustainable fashion future but I can only name a few here.
- Clare Press is Vogue Magazine’s first-ever Sustainability Editor-At-Large. She is the author of three books: Rise & Resist (2018), The Wardrobe Crisis (2016) and the Dressing Table (2011). Clare also has a hugely successful sustainable fashion podcast, The Wardrobe Crisis.
- Mel Tually is the Coordinator for Fashion Revolution for Australia and New Zealand. Mel has created a massive following for the Fashion Revolution in Australia and New Zealand. Mel also the Director of Ndless, where she works with some of Australia’s most well-known fashion and retail brands to help them create and implement sustainable strategies in policy, governance and other operations.
- Stella McCartney was one of the first fashion designers to embrace and adopt an ethical fashion business model. She is a forerunner in sustainability advocacy.
- Nick Sivaidis is the founder and Director of Etiko Fairtrade, an Australian multiple-award-winning brand at the forefront of global ethical apparel production.
Are there any brands who are achieving in this area?
There are many brands pioneering sustainable clothing design, advocacy and manufacture. Here are a few examples: Carlie Ballard, Seagrass Design, Etiko Fairtrade, Dorsu, Humiform, Pure Pod, Stella McCartney, Tome, Reformation, Aitch Aitch, Amur, Article22, Zady, Kitx, Veja, Bottletop and Lemlem.
What advice would you offer to our audience who would like to be more sustainable?
- Buy preloved (secondhand). Wearing secondhand clothes is a circular economy concept that reduces the amount of clothing going to landfill. You can source from eBay, op shops, clothes swaps, markets, Carousell, Facebook Marketplace and other online platforms.
- Shop with ethical clothing brands. Support ethical manufacture that protects humans and the environment. Acquire new clothes from ethical clothing brands. They are quality-made and last for a long time. Some examples are Etiko, Pure Pod, Dorsu, and Carlie Ballard to name a few.
- Buy clothes made of natural textiles. Examples are organic cotton, silk, mohair, linen, leather, wool, jute and cashmere.
- Invest in a Guppyfriend. Instead of throwing out all your pieces made from synthetic fabrics, use a Guppyfriend bag in the wash with your garments that will capture the microfibres.
- Take action! Join the movement to make sustainable fashion mainstream so that it will become the new normal. Join campaigns from sustainable fashion advocacy organisations that support garment workers and the environment such as Fashion Revolution, Oxfam’s What She Makes Campaign and ActionAid Australia’s RCEP Campaign.
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