To Make Our Wardrobes Sustainable, We Must Cut Down New Clothes We Buy by 75%

Moving to a post-growth fashion industry would require policymakers and industry to bring in wide range of reforms.

Hindi Female

If things don’t change fast, the fashion industry could use a quarter of the world’s remaining global carbon budget to keep warming under 2℃ by 2050, and use 35 percent more land to produce fibres by 2030.

While this seems incredible, it’s not. Over the past 15 years, clothing production has doubled while the length of time we actually wear these clothes has fallen by nearly 40 percent. In the European Union (EU), falling prices have seen people buying more clothing than ever before while spending less money in the process.

This is not sustainable. Something has to give. In our recent report, we propose the idea of a well-being wardrobe, a new way forward for fashion in which we favour human and environmental well-being over ever-growing consumption of throwaway fast fashion.

What would that look like? It would mean each of us cutting how many new clothes we buy by as much as 75 percent, buying clothes designed to last, and recycling clothes at the end of their lifetime.

For the sector, it would mean tackling low incomes for the people who make the clothes, as well as support measures for workers who could lose jobs during a transition to a more sustainable industry.

Sustainability Efforts by Industry Are Simply Not Enough

Moving to a post-growth fashion industry would require policymakers and industry to bring in wide range of reforms.

Fashion is accelerating. Fast fashion is being replaced by ultra-fast fashion, releasing unprecedented volumes of new clothes into the market.

Since the start of the year, fast-fashion giants H&M and Zara have launched around 11,000 new styles combined.

Over the same time, ultra-fast fashion brand Shein has released a staggering 314,877 styles. Shein is currently the most popular shopping app in Australia. As you’d expect, this acceleration is producing a tremendous amount of waste.

In response, the fashion industry has devised a raft of plans to tackle the issue. The problem is many sustainability initiatives still place economic opportunity and growth before environmental concerns.

Efforts such as switching to more sustainable fibres and textiles and offering ethically conscious options are commendable.

Unfortunately, they do very little to actually confront the sector’s rapidly increasing consumption of resources and waste generation.

On top of this, labour rights abuses of workers in the supply chain are rife.

Over the past five years, the industry’s issues of child labour, discrimination, and forced labour have worsened globally. Major garment manufacturing countries, including Myanmar, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam are considered an “extreme risk” for modern slavery.

Here’s what we can do to tackle the situation.

1. Limit Resource Use and Consumption

We need to have serious conversations between industry, consumers and governments about limiting resource use in the fashion industry. As a society, we need to talk about how much clothing is enough to live well.

On an individual level, it means buying fewer new clothes, as well as reconsidering where we get our clothes from. Buying second-hand clothes or using rental services are ways of changing your wardrobe with lower impact.

Moving to a post-growth fashion industry would require policymakers and industry to bring in wide range of reforms.

2. Expand the Slow-Fashion Movement

The growing slow-fashion movement focuses on the quality of garments over quantity, and favours classic styles over fleeting trends.

We must give renewed attention to repairing and caring for clothes we already own to extend their lifespan, such as by reviving sewing, mending and other long-lost skills.

3. New Systems of Exchange

The well-being wardrobe would mean shifting away from existing fashion business models and embracing new systems of exchange, such as collaborative consumption models, cooperatives, not-for-profit social enterprises and B-corps.


What are these? Collaborative consumption models involve sharing or renting clothing, while social enterprises and B-corps are businesses with purposes beyond making a profit, such as ensuring living wages for workers and minimising or eliminating environmental impacts.

There are also methods that don’t rely on money, such as swapping or borrowing clothes with friends and altering or redesigning clothes in repair cafes and sewing circles.

4. Diversity in Clothing Cultures

Finally, as consumers we must nurture a diversity of clothing cultures, including incorporating the knowledge of Indigenous fashion design, which has respect for the environment at its core.

Communities of exchange should be encouraged to recognise the cultural value of clothing, and to rebuild emotional connections with garments and support long-term use and care.

Moving to a post-growth fashion industry would require policymakers and industry to bring in wide range of reforms.

What Now?

Shifting fashion from a perpetual growth model to a sustainable approach will not be easy.

Moving to a post-growth fashion industry would require policymakers and the industry to bring in a wide range of reforms, and reimagine roles and responsibilities in society.

You might think this is too hard. But the status quo of constant growth cannot last.

It’s better we act to shape the future of fashion and work towards a wardrobe good for people and planet rather than let a tidal wave of wasted clothing soak up resources, energy, and our very limited carbon budget.

(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.)

The Conversation

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Topics:  fashion    Environment   Recycling 

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