Local resellers are combatting the nation’s textile waste dilemma – you can too

Jamie Tenikoff spoke with some of South Australia’s leading second-hand clothing vendors, who are offsetting the effects of textile waste. Here’s how Australians can act against one of our nation’s largest environmental issues. (Image source: Brian Ach via Forbes)

By Jamie Tenikoff | @jamietenikoff

In a recent social media survey of 100 Australians, 60 per cent of participants said they regularly act – by means of “thrifting” or recycling garments – to offset the effects of fast fashion and textile waste.

But according to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, in Australia, each person on average acquires 27 kilograms of new clothing every year and discards around 23 kilograms to landfill.

Australians are second to the USA for being the highest consumers of textiles per person in the world, generating and sending approximately 800,000 tonnes of textile waste to landfill each year.

Textile waste in landfill.
(Image source: TheKindPath)

According to Harvey Phillips, who re-distributes vintage clothing through his Adelaide-based business, 2nd Chance Collective, companies like H&M and Zara largely contribute to not only Australian, but international textile waste by being proponents of fast fashion.

The textile industry is responsible for 8 per cent of carbon emissions and 20 per cent of waste water globally, according to a recent study by the Monash Sustainable Development Institute.

Phillips said that by pumping out clothing at “ridiculously” cheap prices, quality is compromised. This fast production cycle leads to consumers seeing their garments as throw-away – not wearing them regularly, not fixing them when they’re damaged, and always looking for the next best item to replace them with.

If major fashion retailers are to make sustainable changes to their production and distribution practices, Phillips advises producing better quality items for a higher price tag.

“Make clothing more expensive so consumers value wearing it many more times – off-setting its carbon footprint,” Phillips said. “By having more expensive items, consumers will also value repairing items, allowing them to be used for much longer periods of time.”

“My business was started to make quality preowned and vintage clothing easily accessible to the market with reasonable pricing. By making this happen, it means consumers – especially younger, more environmentally conscious ones – can afford to shop sustainable and create positive shopping habits.”

The government has made recommendations to counter the impacts of textile waste, including introducing a national textile waste policy; reconsidering the accessibility of local recycling bins, assessing the flow of waste throughout the country; and monitoring the design of clothes to ensure they can be maximally recycled.

However, the ball isn’t entirely in the government’s court. Small businesses like Phillips’ 2nd Chance Collective enable Australians to develop positive consumption habits by saying “no” to the mainstream and “hello” to sustainability, thus creating a circular economy.

“When buying clothing, spend that bit more and get something better quality,” Phillips said. “Make sure it’s going to be a piece you’ll enjoy for a long time and run it into the ground. When it gets a hole, get it sewn up. When it gets dirty, soak and clean it. When it’s time to move it on, get rid of it in a way that can get reused rather than throwing it in the bin.”

Harvey Phillips’ business, 2nd Chance Collective.
(Image source: 2nd Chance Collective)

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, over 500,000 tonnes of leather and textiles were sent to landfill in 2009 and 2010, as the costs and difficulty of recovering these types of garments by means of repurposing or recycling were too high.

Due to being made up of artificial synthetic and plastic fibres, many of these take over a hundred years to break down, generating greenhouse methane gas and toxic chemicals that seep into the groundwater and soil during the decomposition process.

Because leather and textiles are desirable, they have the potential to bring value to the Australian economy – yet 88 per cent of them were sent to landfill at the time, the ABS reported.

You may be wondering why clothes like these aren’t being donated to charity stores like Vinnies and Savers. Many of these clothes are donated, but a large portion are sent to landfill because they’re unsellable, low quality, or oversupplied.

On average, charities spend about $18 million each year on disposing unusable or illegally dumped items, according to the Government of South Australia.

Although charity stores encourage shoppers to support their organisations, many can’t keep up with the frequent donations they receive.

Other Australian organisations like Thread Together partner with large fashion brands to intercept many of the clothes destined for landfill and redistribute them through charities to help the people that really need them.

CEO Anthony Chesler with Thread Together members.
(Image source: Thread Together)

Jordan Griffiths is an avid second-hand shopper who said that the enjoyability of searching for clothes at thrift stores is a productive and fun way to help the environment.

“I mostly tend to shop at places like RSPCA, Salvation Army and Savers, but I also like to look at vintage shops such as Bazaar Port Adelaide,” Griffiths said. “Even though it’s more expensive, it’s cool to find old pieces that people used to wear and look after really well.”

“Not only is it like a treasure hunt … I can buy clothes while saving money, while also reducing my fast fashion consumption. I’d say 90 per cent of my clothes are second-hand – either bought from second-hand shops or handed down by people I know.”

Conveniently, not all second-hand shops are physical places. Some sellers have shifted from brick-and-mortar stores to online, sharing their beloved vintage pieces with a larger demographic. Julie Hill is one of these people, having owned and operated her business, Retro Jam, for 21 years.

Having sourced vintage pieces from as long ago as the 50s and from around the world, she has amassed a vast inventory of clothes that are distributed over the internet – with customers sometimes opting to pick them up in person.

“I was buying items from London for about five years, because it was getting harder to find good quality clothing in op shops and garage sales,” Hill said. “I had also been buying from a great guy in Chile for about 14 years. He had amazing quality, but they were expensive. However, because I had the hiring side of my business when I had the physical store, I could warrant spending extra.”

In April 2019, Hill finalised her lease and moved the store to her house to start selling online. She is still selling the “mountains” of stock she had at the time and hasn’t purchased any new stock for almost three years now.

Hill’s “reduce, re-use, recycle, refuse” outlook on sustainability is embedded in the business. Hashtags and promotional imagery are visible across her online and social media platforms to raise awareness about landfill, fast fashion, and sustainable shopping habits.

“I try to post a heap of great graphics, memes and my own photos to bring home to my followers the great need to be sustainable – not only in business, but everyday life,” she said.

Such veterans of the vintage clothing industry recommend consumers promote sustainability in this way – via their own online platforms – to generate awareness about the significance of the issue, and how it affects the environment.

The internet and social media also play a vital role in Jawden Doviak’s Pooraka-based business, Hand-Me-Down Heat. He focuses on giving new life to second-hand clothing through in-store sales, pop-up locations, as well as via applications like Instagram and Depop.

Depop enables vendors to reach a large audience to sell their clothes. With up to 140,000 new listings each day, it uses a simple and accessible online interface – think Facebook Marketplace, but exclusively for clothes.

 Jawden Doviak’s business, Hand-Me-Down Heat.
(Image source: Hand-Me-Down Heat)

Doviak said social media “absolutely” influences the average consumer’s shopping habits, and that it can be as simple as seeing a celebrity wearing a trending item – or even a friend.

“The term ‘style’ is very broad, it’s unique and everyone has their own version of it … meaning large manufacturing companies are pumping out millions of different garments to suit each look,” Doviak said.

“We personally think the best strategy for large clothing companies is to re-use and re-purpose. Either that’s using off-cuts from production of other pieces or taking back stale stock and re-working them.

“Our clothing is hand-picked from local and international thrift stores. Everything is given another chance to make it into wardrobes, instead of becoming another part of landfill … Shop second-hand, promote second-hand via social media and donate your unwanted second-hand items.”

Other sellers agree that promoting second-hand clothing over social media is one of the most effective ways to “convert” those who haven’t already secured their seat on the train that is sustainable fashion.

This is a purpose Phillips strives to convey through 2nd Chance Collective – frequently posting photos of happy customers with their new vintage garments, and even incorporating cryptocurrency to incentivise different means of payments and accessibility.

He said the more that sustainable shoppers tag the second-hand stores from which they source their clothes, the more awareness will be generated – meaning more fashion-lovers will be encouraged to investigate the significance of this major issue for themselves.

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