How to fashion sustainable buying behaviours post COVID-19

Backs of women catwalk
Dinah Bryant
Wed 06 May

On the back of Fashion Revolution Week and at a time when the fast fashion industry has largely come to a standstill, it’s an opportune time to reflect on our fashion industry post COVID-19.

Sustainable fashion advocates have been using this time to highlight the need for change in the fashion industry, most notably an end to our obsession with Fast Fashion.

Fast Fashion is inexpensive clothing that is produced rapidly to meet demand in retail stores for the latest fashion trends.

The demand for this type of clothing is placing immense pressure on our environment and the clothing is often produced in factories where slave labour and unsafe work practices occur.

I recently spoke to Sustainable Fashion advocate and eco-styler, Nina Gbor, who said more people need to understand the negative impact and unsustainable future of the fast fashion industry.

“Fashion contributes to around 10% of climate change through carbon emissions and every year the fashion industry uses about 93 billion cubic metres of water—that’s enough to meet the consumption needs of 5 million people.

“It takes around 2700 litres of water to make one cotton T-shirt...this is actually really damaging to the communities near these factories, taking from already scarce fresh water supplies.”

In addition to this is the treatment of garment workers. More than 60 million people work in the garment industry to fuel Fast Fashion. The majority of products are created in China and Bangladesh, in factories where slave labour and unsafe work practices occur.

With garment production currently ceased in countries all over the world there are shocking reports of garment workers who haven’t been paid wages, factories with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and factories reopening while COVID rates remain high.

The slim silver lining is that since factories have been forced shut there’s been a reduction in pollution, both carbon emissions and waste water.

So how can we make a difference post COVID-19?

Let me ask...How often do you find yourself rushing to the shops to find a cheap shirt to match the new skirt you want to wear to a party? How often do you snap up a sale that encourages purchasing multiple items for the price of one? How often do you buy because of new trends?

Nina’s philosophy is that we need to get off the ‘fashion trend-mill’.

“Our whole lives we’ve been trained to follow fashion trends, whether directly or indirectly.

“Clothes have become far cheaper and are made to be disposable— and this is why fashion has become one of the most polluting industries in the world. 

“We have to let go of trends and build up our wardrobes based on individuality and a personal style formula—looking at colour palette, body shape, lifestyle and personality.

“If you follow a personal style formula and get well-made, quality clothes you’re likely to keep them for many years.”

On average Australians throw out 6000 kilograms of clothing every 10 minutes. Two-thirds of that clothing is manmade synthetic /plastic fibres that may never break down and 85 per cent of clothing bought ends up in landfill.

A big concern, with the community now spending more time at home, is the spare time allowed for de-cluttering...including wardrobe clean outs.

If you’re about to do a wardrobe clean out or have bags of clothes ready for disposal, take a moment to carefully consider where they will go.

Nina is a strong advocate for repurposing clothes.

“Think about how you can restyle a particular piece, that is, finding fun ways to mix and match clothes already in your closet to create a different look.

“You can use accessories like shoes, bags and scarves and put on different layers.

“If you’re able to do that it helps you to keep your clothes a lot longer and also spend less money on new (often unnecessary) clothes.”

And in the current virtual climate there’s also the option of an ‘iso’ clothes swap.

“Or host a virtual party and show your friends how you’ve refashioned, repurposed and restyled your clothes...this inspires others to do it and shows how much fun it can be,” Nina said.

“I’ve just recently completed a Vinnies (St Vincent de Paul) Instagram challenge called #vinniesiniso where I repurposed an outfit each day and posted a picture on Instagram...that’s another thing we can do; create challenges through social media and get more people on the restyling bandwagon.

“It’s like a new kind of shopping high, but it’s better for your wallet, better for the environment and brings out a new level of creativity you may never realise you had.”

Put simply, the Fast Fashion industry is driving demand for cheap clothing, which is unsustainable.

Changing our buying behaviour, looking for more sustainable clothing options and doing our best to reuse or recycle current clothing are simple steps we can take to reduce the fast fashion toll on our environment.

Let your first clothing expedition after COVID-19 support a brighter future for sustainable fashion.