Australians Only Wear Half Their Wardrobe — What Does This Mean for Our Environment?

We’re no strangers to having an overflowing wardrobe and yet still feeling like we have nothing to wear. Those days when you try on outfit after outfit, but none of them are really feeling like you… 

It’s in these moments of feeling anxious over nothing to wear, that we’re tempted to buy something new and these days, it’s such an easy thing to do. The accessibility of online shopping means that we can literally sit on our floor, among the piles of clothes that we don’t want to wear and purchase something new through our phone screens. 

Not to mention that many fast fashion brands make it much easier for us to get a ‘quick fix’ with our fashion purchases, by producing clothes that are lower quality, but more affordable. Although we’re smart enough as consumers to know that lower price equals lower quality, we can still be easily tempted to buy something cheap that we think will make us feel cute instantly.

This is the nature of consumerism, the feeling of always wanting just that little bit more. With platforms like Instagram showing us people that never outfit-repeat and are always in the latest trends and brands looking totally fabulous, it’s pretty normal to feel overwhelmed by all the things we don’t have. But it’s a negative trap, for our minds, our bank accounts and the environment. 

Iconic denim brand Levi’s has released new data that shows Aussies only wear 55% of what’s in their wardrobe regularly, with more than half of us acknowledging that 10% of new purchases we made in the last 12 months get worn once, if at all. 

“Our current consumption patterns are not sustainable,” says Clare Press, sustainability expert and founder of The Wardrobe Crisis. 

“As fast fashion has sped up, we’ve lost the connection we used to have with our clothes, back when it was normal to save up for stuff, and look after it better. Today, we’re consuming clothing at a faster rate than ever before, and using it for way less time. We are far too quick to toss it out, keeping clothing for about half as long as we did 15 years ago.”

Globally, 92 million tons of clothes are thrown away every year. The fashion industry creates 20% of the planet’s total water pollution and 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions. 

By 2030, the global clothing and textile industry is expected to use 50% more water, emit 63% more GHGs and produce 62% more waste than it did in 2015. These statistics are scary, and they’re not slowing down. 

With cheaper clothes, comes cheaper materials, which basically reduces a company’s ability to be sustainable. In order to purchase sustainable clothes, we need to be prepared to spend a little more money and have less variety in our wardrobe. Press says that this is a mentality that we’ve lost in recent years.

“I think it comes down to emotional investment,” she says, “We need to fall in love with our clothes again.

“Given the environmental impacts of clothing consumption, we all have a shared responsibility to make more sustainable choices, invest in the best quality garments we can afford, and commit to loving them and wearing them for longer.”

Falling in love with your clothes means taking a different approach. It’s about finding styles and looks you like, researching sustainable brands that use raw materials and producing a look you’re excited to wear and then saving up to buy those special items of clothing.

The care doesn’t stop once the clothing is in your possession, you can continue to love your clothes by looking after them right, which then leads to them lasting longer and carrying more weight and value than a $50 piece you bought for an occasion and haven’t worn since. 

As well as this mentality giving your clothes a little more emotional value, buying less and buying sustainably can drastically reduce our environmental impact. Collectively, if we wear our clothes twice as long, we can reduce our negative impact on the environment by 44%. 

“If something is cheap and easy to get, of course people will buy more of it. But I am seeing a growing awareness that this type of fashion is like a sugar rush – it’s kind of empty and not satisfying,” said Press.

And she’s right. I’ve got items in my wardrobe that don’t inspire me to put them on because I know that they were cheap and there’s no story behind them. The ‘high’ of going on a shopping spree is short-lived, especially when you know that those items still cost you money and may not bring you joy in the future – not to mention the impact that buying into fast fashion has on the environment.

Many brands are making the shift into utilising sustainable materials, including Levi’s, who have invested in materials such as cottonised hemp and organic cotton to produce their beloved product in a more sustainable way. They’ve also been adopting Water<Less manufacturing for a few years now, with 76% of all Levi Strauss & Co. products, and 70% of all Levi’s bottoms and Trucker Jackets, now made using open-sourced Water<Less technology (resulting in the recycling of nearly 10 billion litres of water). 

Moral of the story: being sustainable is an investment, with an invaluable pay off of a better environment and quality clothing.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that we could all do with a wardrobe declutter. Just think to yourself: if I got rid of all the clothes I didn’t wear, what would I have left?

The answer is probably a nice minimal wardrobe of beloved pieces that you want to wear until they fall apart. Arguably, this is a less intimidating selection to choose from as well as a better range of high-quality, sustainable garments that are timeless and uniquely you. 

How to recycle clothing sustainably

If this has inspired you to clean out your wardrobe, there are ways you can refresh sustainably. 

Provided they’re in good condition, you can drop your clothes off at your local op shop or homeless shelter. This means the clothes will be loved by someone else, and hopefully not end up in landfill. 

You can also recycle them yourself. Clothes can be used for all types of crafty things, like making hair accessories, ribbons to wrap presents with, curtains, pillowcases, a patchwork quilt, you name it! Get creative with different patterns and textures and reuse your clothes to make something you’ll use. 

Give them to your friends. You’d be surprised how many of your friends would love to take clothes off your hands! Giving clothes away to a good home instead of throwing them away is a no-brainer, and why not achieve the crown of ‘best friend ever’ while you’re doing it?

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