The UN recently declared that the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world; hot on the heels of the oil industry.

It currently consumes more energy than both the aviation and shipping industries combined. By 2030 fashion industry emissions are forecast to grow by 63%.

With its beautiful and disarming face, the fashion industry seems to be quietly getting away with environmental-murder, via its expediential growth and deceptively complex environmental impacts.

According to a 2020 report by the World Economic Forum, clothing production has roughly doubled since 2000. In the decade from 2000 to 2010 the average number of collections released by European fashion labels more than doubled – from 2 per year to 5 per year. H&M currently release between 12 and 16 collections per year; whilst Zara blitzes the competition by releasing a ridiculous 24 collections per year.

Consumers have obediently kept pace with the increasing speed of the industry, purchasing 60% more garments in 2014 than in 2000, whilst keeping the garments for half as long, and wearing them an average of 36% less, before disposing of them. Worldwide, 85% of all textiles end up in landfill each year.

We tend to think of Fast Fashion as the ‘$5 t-shirt’, but it’s far more pervasive and complex, spanning the entire spectrum of price-points.

Whilst researching this issue, I found the majority of responsibility was being squarely placed at the fashionable feet of consumers. Apparently, if we all bought less, bought better quality, wore our clothes more often, washed them less often, kept them longer, disposed of them more responsibly and understood dying and production processes better, everything would be fine !

The more I read this, the more frustrated I got with such an over simplified industry wide copout.

Surely it’s not entirely fair for a $1.78 trillion fashion retail industry, to spend obscene amounts of money on sophisticated marketing strategies, aimed at getting consumers to want more, buy more, spend more, to then turn the blame back onto their apparent ‘weak-willed’ over consumers !

So who should be held accountable: government, retailers, manufacturers, brands, industry bodies, industry shows, consumers, media … ?

Certainly, as an Australian fashion designer myself, by far the most difficult thing I’ve encountered, is the lack of innovation and support for emerging designers who refuse to ‘buy into’ this culture of fast fashion excess. I know we have the technology to provide consumers with wonderful retail experiences, that have the combined benefits of bespoke and off-the-rack purchasing.

We have the technology to allow consumers to upload a virtual version of themselves, that can try on clothing remotely, capture the correct measurements that best fit the consumer, and then electronically alter a particular design’s pattern to match. Yet the way we create, sell and buy clothing has not changed since the industrial revolution. Clothing is still created in a standardised  size 6, 8, 10, 12,14 …, in huge quantities for economy of scale, pushed out to consumers, who rarely fit such standardised sizing, backed by expensive marketing, because otherwise we would never buy all this clothing we’re told we need; and of course while we’re deciding which shirt to buy, the industry is already working on how to ensure we buy the next lot of mass produced, ill fitting clothes they need to shift, in order to keep the industry growing.

There’s currently no money to be made in consuming less. Economies are geared for growth via consumption. Such an unimaginative and archaic vision of growth. Consumption by its very nature, needs to be empty; that’s a cruel cycle to sell ourselves and our children into.

We need to shift to an industry whose profits and growth can align with the health of our planet, and its occupants.

From a personal perspective, I would love to see our government financially support emerging fashion labels to work in conjunction with Tafe, to develop and grow new sustainability technologies in the fashion industry. Australia certainly can’t compete on cheap manufacturing options; however, we can be world leaders in sustainable technology and policy within the fashion industry – and that’s what the future of the industry needs globally.

It seems to me that investing in combining Australia’s all but dead manufacturing industry, with our world leading tertiary education, is an absolute win/win situation ! The cost of keeping up with the speed of new technologies within manufacturing, at the scale required for mass global markets, is understandably beyond Australian industry capacity. However, government investment in high turnover, cutting edge, small scale, sustainable manufacturing innovation, through our tertiary institutions, seems like a marvellous idea to me.

While I’m waiting for Christian Porter to give me a call, I’ld like to leave you with the impressive wisdom of a young lady called Aditi Mayer, from her article ‘Sustainable Fashion Has a Diversity Problem’, for Teenvogue

 “If sustainable fashion exists to challenge the way the fashion industry has operated, then it must go beyond just the considerations of human labour and the environment and interrogate who has been able to exercise true agency. It’s a conversation tied to class, gender, and race.”

To help shed some solution-seeking-light on the situation, I asked five women, who have placed themselves at the cutting edge of the problem, to share their collectively comprehensive expertise.    

Lauren Neilson (more in the Magazine)

Donna Cameron (more in the Magazine)

Julie Appo (more in the Magazine)

Alexis Todorovski (more in the Magazine)

Cee VanderAa (more in the Magazine)