The real cost of clothes

Photo Frida Mendez
Australian fashion consumption has increased significantly over the past two decades. Frida Mendez looks at the impact.

Australians are the second largest consumers of clothes in the world after the United States, according to analysis of the global textile industry.

We buy more clothes than most western Europeans and almost six times the amount Africans, Middle Easterners and Indians purchase.

The fashion industry has changed exponentially over the last two decades, especially with “fast fashion” phenomenon, in which the clothes are quickly produced to reach the market as quickly and cheaply as possible, and the Asian manufacturers which make clothes cheaper and disposable in a short period of time.

“We need to start asking more questions about our clothes. If people knew about the history behind fast fashion they wouldn’t engage with it,” said Vinita Baravkar, founder of Bhumi Organic Cotton.

According to a research by ecologist Dr Mark Browne, two thirds of the clothes are now made from synthetic fabrics, which are harder to degrade or recycle and mostly end up polluting the environment.

The real cost of clothes
Photo by Frida Mendez.

Eighty five per cent of the clothes Australians buy end up in landfill and although there is said to be a high rate of donation to charities, the quality of the donations is not always the best.

The donated clothes end up as industrial rags or in landfill and almost half of them go to developing countries as part of the second hand industry where they are sold at $1 per kg.

“The clothes we send are not of good quality so they end up burning or burying them,” said Jane Milburn, sustainability consultant.

The second hand industry has serious repercussions, putting local retailers out of business when they’re unable to compete with the prices of second handed clothes.

“In the name of helping we are affecting more of these countries,” said Ms Milburn.

This has led African countries to make a joint proposal to ban second hand clothes by 2019, in order to help local commerce.

Nevertheless a recent report from the Nordic Council of ministers said the ban wouldn’t be the solution because the cheap garments made in Asia would fill the gap that the second handed clothes would leave.

“We have to be conscious about what we are buying,” said Ms Baravkar.

“Shopping shouldn’t be for recreation. We should buy things with purpose, we have to be better consumers,” said Ms Milburn.

Baravkar and Milburn agree that it is important to inform consumers of the background of the clothes and fabrics.