Tuesday, 25 June 2019

recycle your clothes

Over the years as I've taught lectures on fashion and sustainability I've shown my students the below ad from H&M about recycling your clothes.

I haven't always had kind things to say about H&M, but I love this ad from 2015. It's provocative, has great imagery, promotes body and cultural diversity, and whoever is doing the voiceover is mesmerising.

Typically the ad generates a lot of discussion from students. Fashion or clothing is something most people feel comfortable talking about, and H&M elicits a range of responses and emotions from different students. There's always a lot of support for the diversity shown in the ad, though it's often tempered by criticisms of overconsumption (this is a fast fashion company, after all), and there is always discussion about the role fast fashion companies play in providing fashionable clothing at a low cost for those with those on constrained incomes. But the message about recycling is what really gets people fired up. (Watch it and let me know what you think!)

So here's the deal - you can take any of your used clothing and textiles to H&M and they will recycle it for you. There is a range of things that may happen to the items. If they are good quality, they may resell or donate them. If not, they may be recycled into their base fibres to be remade into fabric again, or perhaps ragged and used in various industries. This is a global campaign, so no matter where you live, you can take things to any H&M store for recycling. And (naturally) they give you a discount for your next purchase.

Despite seeing this ad dozens of times, I've never taken my used clothing to H&M, mostly because I don't usually shop there. I appreciate the strides they have taken toward sustainability through research and innovation, but I don't like to support their overall fast fashion business model. Then last week I found myself with a number of used garments that just did not feel good enough to donate to a charity shop - and some items that are not meant to go to charity shops (hello used bras!) - so I thought I'd take them to H&M since I knew they would not end up in landfill this way, or cost a charity money to dispose of properly on my behalf.

It was very easy. There was a huge sign behind the counter, and the cashier kindly helped me put my bag of donations in the very large (and empty!) bin. She then handed me a coupon for 15% off one item from the store.

And, you know, since I was there...I shopped. Actually I had planned on picking up some long sleeve tops for my son now that winter has finally set in. I know that H&M have a decent range of Conscious Collection basics for babies made from 100% organic cotton. I've written before about building a sustainable baby wardrobe mostly using secondhand items and special pieces from small businesses, but I tell you what, now that he's eating and walking and going to daycare - the mess! Multiple outfit changes are not unheard of in a given day, and I'm getting a glimpse into the rips and stains that will surely mark my 'parent of a toddler' years. My early supply of hand-me-downs have slowed (probably because everyone else's children are wearing out their clothing), so affordable sustainable basics are a good way to add to his wardrobe. (In other words - I finally really understand what people who have attended my workshops in the past have been talking about when they talk of the difficulty in sourcing sustainable children's clothing.)

I bought some long sleeve tops, which were all on a "Buy 3 for the Price of 2" promotion and seemed like a money-losing deal to me since the full price was already so low. I briefly hesitated. Even with all the work H&M claim to be doing to improve working conditions and transparency, how can a garment be made for such a cheap price? And out of organic cotton? Who made those clothes? How much were they paid to sew these adorable nautical-themed onesies?

2-pack long-sleeved bodysuits - Dark blue/Anchors - Kids | H&M CN 1
I really am a sucker for stripes.

And yet, I bought them all the same.

And then I made an impulse purchase of an item that I didn't even know that I needed until I saw it - an adorable shoe organiser that hangs on the back of my son's door and has a bear face. His shoes had been making clutter and driving me crazy, so perhaps I subconsciously was looking for a solution, but it was definitely an impulse purchase. No denying the fact. Since this was the highest-priced item in my basket (at a whopping $25), it was the recipient of my 15% discount.

Image result for hm wall tidy bear motif grey
I mean, c'mon, the adorableness of being tidy!

And so, to sum up, I've basically been putty in the hands of H&M's marketing geniuses - they've received my used clothes, from which they will make money through recycling, and they've also received more of my dollars from buying brand new items.

Some sustainable lifestyle guru I am! I literally have a PhD on the topic, teach university students to think critically about the offer, and yet take me to a well-presented retail space and I get blinded by the lights.

At least I followed the one unbreakable fashion rule - I recycled my clothes.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

fashion revolution 2019

It's hard to believe it's been six years since the deadly Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, claimed the lives of 1,138 garment workers, most of them young women.

On the one hand, the perils (and realities) of garment production are incredibly well known. It's not uncommon for people to joke about their clothing "probably being made in a sweatshop", followed by uncomfortable laughter. Whether the Nike scandal of the 1990s springs to mind, images of scruffy children working in the first textile factories of the Industrial Revolution, or the below image of Rana Plaza, somehow we have come to accept that our clothing is made under terrible conditions.

There are so many reasons why this has come to be. The physical and (often) cultural disconnect between the people who make our clothes and ourselves is a primary reason why we can push these images out of our minds when buying new clothing. Not to mention the impact of advertising, fashion promotion, and the mode and speed of consumption which is completely ingrained in our culture and provides further reason to disconnect.

But...things are changing.

This is Fashion Revolution Week, a time to reflect on who makes our clothes, question brands on their production methods, and learn new ways of using and consuming clothing (which are often old ways!). The Fashion Revolution campaign started on the one-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, and since then has grown into an international phenomenon (so much so that I am giving a lecture on its impact as part of a "Hashtag Activism" class at Sydney Uni next month).

Since the campaign launched in 2014 countless events and activities have occurred that are shaking up the fashion industry. Alongside the #WhoMadeMyClothes social media campaign have been clothes swaps, film screenings, clothing repair workshops, panel discussions, op shop tours and more. And the industry is taking note. There is increasing transparency from fashion brands worldwide, particularly at the final stage of production (this is the location that is noted on your clothing tag as the "Made In" country).

Look, as Fashion Revolution points out, the industry is far from transparent. In their first Transparency Index in 2017 the average level of transparency was 21% (see all the details and methodology on their website). But in 2018 when they measured again, there had been a 5% improvement, which is fantastic.

Similarly, the Ethical Fashion Report by Baptist World Aid has demonstrated some movement in the industry. While there is vast room for improvement, as this article by Peppermint highlights, the pressure put on fashion brands by consumers and the media is having a positive impact.

But this progress will only continue if we continue to agitate. We can't stop asking #WhoMadeMyClothes? We can't stop thinking about our clothing consumption choices, and wondering why we are buying what we buy. We can't become complacent about what materials are used in our clothing, or under what conditions they are created. As I mentioned to my students last week, changing this industry is like turning a giant boat - progress may feel slow, but continued effort is genuinely having an impact, so we have to keep pushing.

So what can you do?

  • Engage with brands on social media by taking a photo of your clothing, tag the brands you are wearing and ask them "#WhoMadeMyClothes?
  • Write a letter to a brand asking them about production, and what changes they are making for worker safety & pay, as well as environmental improvements.
  • Write to a policy maker asking for stronger support of ethical fashion production.
  • Write a love story to one of your pieces of clothing and share it online.
  • Participate in a #haulternative by swapping, op shopping or repairing your clothing. 
There are tips and tools for all of the above on the Fashion Revolution website.

If you are local in Australia (or New Zealand!) check out all the events happening in our region on the local Facebook Page.

I'll be participating at a panel on the 4th of May called "Rethink your wardrobe" (a bit after Fash Rev week, but let's keep this Revolution going, right?!) at Petersham Town Hall - looks like quite a line up and will be a fabulous swap!

What are you going to do for Fashion Revolution Week?


Thursday, 11 April 2019


Instead of bringing you Part Two of Environmental Melancholia today I decided to share a quick story of sustainable fashion progress instead.

Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

I was at the hairdresser last week getting a delicious hair treatment (don't worry, the salon is accredited with Sustainable Salons), and while relaxing in the shampoo chair I overhead another salon patron talking about her current craft project. Sitting on her lap was a a bag bursting with strips of cloth that she was braiding into long ropes. She proceeded to explain to her stylist that she was meeting up with friends later to sew them into baskets.

I was already pleased to hear about her project, as I was reminded of my own (now defunct) secondhand denim rug project. Then my sustainable fashion activist heart leapt when I heard what she said next:

We're trying to make something useful with these old clothes. You know, there is so much clothing waste because of fast fashion.

You can't make this stuff up!

Okay, I know it's not like the entire salon was sitting there upcycling used clothing. But compared to when I started working in this space, to hear a stranger start talking about clothing waste and fast fashion in this way felt revolutionary. And when coupled with the information my students at the University of Sydney already know about the perils of fast fashion, I can feel the tide is turning.

Do we have more work to do?


But I will forever believe in the power of celebrating these wins - we can push for more progress tomorrow.

Where are you overhearing people talk about fashion and sustainability?


Friday, 29 March 2019

environmental melancholia: part one

I'm taking a serious turn in this blog post to talk about the grief, anxiety and apathy that can accompany environmentalism. It can come about from working in the area or as a result of hearing endless news reports about the climate, drought, rising sea levels, deforestation, you name it. It is sometimes referred to as ecological grief or environmental melancholia.

Good times at the beach?

This post has been on my mind for awhile, and though I'm sure I won't communicate everything I want to about it, I figured I may as well just dive in and get the conversation moving.

For example, I started writing a post in January (and because of working-motherhood never returned to), and it included the following:
As I've awakened on another steamy Sydney morning, during this summer of record-breaking heatwaves, I find myself thinking about the future. As a climate activist it's hard not to make the connection between these extreme weather events and our changing climate. Not to sound too apocalyptic or anything, but the early stages that climate experts have been warning about for decades are starting to occur. 
One-third of Australia's flying fox population died in a two-day heatwave last November. In addition there has been the mass death of hundreds of thousands of fish in the Darling River due to extreme heat and low river flow, and over 100 wild horses perished in extreme South Australian heat this past week. This is what biodiversity loss as a result of climate change looks like. I'm not going to sugar coat it, it is bleak.

Uplifting stuff, right?


I've also started working on a new project with the Sydney Environment Institute and speaking with a number of sustainability researchers from all faculties on campus. Normally talking to brilliant minds who are furiously working on climate and environmental issues energises me. But every now and then I realise, some of these people have been working on this stuff for decades. And we are still in a global political stalemate over concrete and revolutionary action (and it's only revolutionary because we have waited for decades to extricate our lifestyles from fossil fuels after learning of their impact - don't even get me started on that issue).

Oh yeah, the latest UN IPCC report was a real doozy, too. Did you miss it? The key takeaway is that we need to enact swift and immediate action to avoid catastrophe. We will reach a world of 1.5 degrees warming in 12 years (we've already reached 1 degree), at which point several hundred million human lives are at stake. I've taken the following from Grist:
We only have a decade left to finish our initial coordinated retooling of society to tackle this challenge. The scientists were quite clear about this. By 2030, we’ll need to have already cut global emissions in half (45 percent below 2010 levels, according to the report), which (again, according to the IPCC) would require “rapid and far-reaching transitions” in “all aspects of society.”
The language in this report is markedly more urgent than anything they've published before, which should highlight the gravity of the issues.

And then last night I was playing with my son at the beach, and as he was being adorable, crawling about on the sand, exploring the seashore, he made his way to give me something - a little styrofoam ball. How depressing. Is it human nature to clean up the planet? Or, more likely, he's watched his dad and I religiously take 3 (or 12) for the sea every time we are at the beach. This is something I wish I didn't have to teach my son, to clean up polluting litter from the beach and oceans. Let alone what's to come as the climate continues to change throughout his life (I must blog another time about the decision to procreate in a time of climate crisis).

So there you have it. Some of the causes of my current state of environmental melancholia. I have started reading a book of that same title by the very clever psychologist Renee Lertzman, and will give you a mini book review in the next post. I'll also share insights from other experts in the area, in case you have also experienced similar feelings of grief or anxiety.

As environmentalists or activists or simply humans living in this changing world, it is important to look after ourselves, acknowledge our emotions, and learn how to help each other move forward, don't you think?

More soon,