Sustainable fashion: Seven steps to unpick unsustainable trends

A sustainable and responsible fashion and textile sector involves seven pattern pieces.

New research published by Monash Sustainable Development Institute to mark Melbourne Fashion Week is a “callout to collaborate” for government, industry, and consumers, says report co-author, Aleasha McCallion.

There are seven action items: reducing consumption, banning ‘finished goods’ like clothing from landfill, investing in education, governments leading by example, recycling and reuse, tracking and tracing, and stronger producer responsibility.

McCallion says the report is tailored specifically to Australia’s unique circumstances.

“We don’t have to start from scratch”, she says. Australia can build on positive local initiatives and learn from successes overseas. 

“Australia has an incredible opportunity to seize this knowledge, make sure it’s a fit … make it our own, but borrow good ideas and implement them at speed.”

For example, she says, Australian governments can learn from their recent experience in banning e-waste from landfill, and prevent finished goods – particularly new, returned and unsold clothing and furniture stock – from being dumped or destroyed.

McCallion says governments are also major purchasers of materials and clothing, such as health, military and police uniforms. Purchasing policies can set benchmarks and requirements for sustainable production, extending the life of uniforms, and end-of-life reuse or recycling which can drive change. 

“We know that because they’re large consumers, [governments] can accelerate, a transition by being exemplary of best practice.”

With education, consumers can play a role too, by extending the life of their clothing.

Australians buy on average 56 new items of clothing, per person, per year. Of new items purchased, an estimated 92% are disposed of or donated in the same year. 

The simple action of wearing a piece of clothing for nine months longer, reduces its greenhouse gas emissions by 27%, water use by 33% and waste by 22%, the Monash Sustainable Development report notes.

“But personal responsibility only goes so far,” McCallion says. Systems need to support better choices she says, by government regulation, and by industry reducing over-production and better valuing the materials involved.

Read more: From fashion conscience: the psychology of what we purchase

The report Textiles: A Transitions Report for Australia provides the research, evidence and case studies of what works. 

McCallion says Australia’s has a unique opportunity. Drawing on its rich history as a leading exporter of high quality, natural fibres like cotton and wool. As a major importer (97% of Australia’s clothing and textiles are imported). And with a unique style and iconic brands.

“What excites me about Australia is opportunity, about reaching for sustainable and responsible fashion and textiles.”

Please login to favourite this article.