Sustainable living: re-thinking retail

It’s a typical Friday night. You’re listening to Ed Sheeran’s Divide, watching a lecture on double speed and debating what to wear to tomorrow night’s party. The cupboard is bulging, but as always there is NOTHING to wear! Everything is too cute, too daring, too dressy or not dressy enough.

Trust me, I’ve been here a thousand times over. Which is why I know exactly what you, the retail queen, will do: plan a lightning quick shopping spree Saturday morning. Whilst Ed is reminiscing about the castle on the hill, you’re mapping out tomorrows plan of attack- a beeline to the shop your uni student budget tolerates. You know the one; with the sale that lasts 365 days, $10 rack and deafening pop music. In the heat of the moment you’ll be swept off your feet by the bargain price and mistake a perfect find for a tacky top. This new addition will be worn once, buried in the depths of your wardrobe and then ditched when mum sees the state of the wardrobe turned volcano you’ve created.

Now let me ask you something, how many times a year do you do this? According to the ABC, individual Australian’s buy 27kg of new clothes every year. But as a country, we then throw out 6,000kg every 10 MINUTES. To put this into perspective, 6,000kg is the equivalent of an African Elephant whilst your little top is only 150g.

The cold hard truth is that our addiction to fast fashion and wearing something different each time we socialise is killing the planet for a range of offences:


85% of the clothing we throw out is sent to landfill. Like most materials, two thirds of this clothing is made from synthetic fibres which are not biodegradable.

Microfiber pollution

Over their short life span, synthetic clothes are also responsible for releasing tiny plastic particles due to the cheap and nasty nature of the fabric. Greenpeace reported that one item of clothing can release 700,000 microfibers in a single wash. Once microfibers enter waterways, they are swallowed by marine life and can even end up in the fish we eat.

Effects of synthetic fabrics

According to Green Choice, synthetics are petroleum based and require a lot of energy to produce. Manufacture also uses a lot of water and produces a nasty greenhouse gas- nitrous oxide.

River pollution

As I’m sure you’re aware, our fashion choices don’t just affect Australia. International waterways and river systems suffer pollution from dyes and chemicals used during fast fashion production.

I realise I’ve now painted a pretty grim picture, but there’s plenty of ways you can make your fashion consumption more Earth friendly:

  1. Check the materials: Look out for and avoid synthetic materials- nylon and polyester are the most common culprits. Where possible, opt for fabrics such as hemp, bamboo and wool. Cotton is also a greener choice, however cotton production consumes a lot of water.
  2. Op shopping: Rather than the mall, give the op shop a try. Each item you buy from the op shop keeps a garment out of landfill and donates money to a good cause. Win win! And considering only 15% of clothing is bought from op shops, more of us definitely need to get this trending.
  3. Social media buy and sell: If you’re a city mouse, have a look for local buy and sell clothing groups on Facebook. Our tendency to only wear something once opens the doorway to sell good quality clothes. If you’re a country mouse these groups are harder to find, but I would still recommend joining a group, as most people are happy to post items at your expense.
  4. Hire: Opt for high scale wardrobe sharing and hire an outfit. There’s plenty of businesses on Instagram to get you kick started on your reuse recycle journey.
  5. Scout your friends’ wardrobes: Remember that skirt she wore in January? What’s yours is mine and what’s hers is yours. Time to flick her a message!
  6. What’s old is new: There’s an endless supply of Youtube fashionistas just a click away with tutorials on how to revamp and restyle what you’ve already got, get creative!

So next time you’re stressing over Saturday night’s outfit, think outside the box and outside the mall, because every step to a greener planet starts with you.

For more on fashion waste, check out ABC’s War on Waste, Episode 3.