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‘No new clothes for a year’: Teen pledges to shun fast fashion for our planet’s sake

Clothes help us express who we are to the world and to some bring joy, but the reality is disposable fashion is harming the environment.

Even with formals, sixteenth birthdays and weddings coming up this year, 15-year-old Eliza Wood won’t be buying anything brand new this year.

Instead, she intends on making her own clothes, buying secondhand and renting outfits for special occasions.

Speaking to The New Daily, Eliza explained she decided to forgo buying brand new clothes after learning how damaging the textile and fashion industries are.

“It’s quite like frightening how much is wasted and I just don’t want to contribute to that any more than I can,” she said. “So it’s just finding other ways to get clothes.”

Every year, some 100 billion garments are produced globally, but 33 per cent of those pieces end up in landfill, according to Monash University.

While people work under unethical conditions, earning next to nothing, making cheap clothing out of synthetics, fast fashion has resulted in some people thinking of clothing as disposable.

Wardrobes packed with problems

With mass producers readily available online and in stores, plus speculation that the trend cycle has accelerated due to social media, it’s no wonder that on average people only wear about 40 per cent of their wardrobes.

While some do their part and donate clothes to secondhand stores, hoping their items can have a second life, only 15 per cent are actually resold in Australia, Clean Up Australia says.

The rest ends up in landfill in developing nations, where they can take up to 100 years to decompose, all while releasing methane into our atmosphere.

Pictured is Eliza Wood

Eliza Wood has pledged to give up buying clothes for a full year. Photo: Supplied

Eliza didn’t just jump right into not buying clothes. She’s been mindful about her purchases for quite some time.

When shopping, she was always careful to read the label and see what the item was made out of, mindful not to buy something made out of polyester.

The grave threat of microfibres

“Because that also goes through the washing machine and then little micro-plastics go out into the waterways,” she said. 

“So I tried to do that and then just like slowly, I just took little steps and then this year I decided not to buy any clothes.”

She says she isn’t limited by her wardrobe and is able to mix and match her tops and bottoms to create multiple outfits.

In recent years, young people have been at the helm of environmental advocacy and climate change advocacy. While she thinks it’s good that they are leading the charge, she does have her grievances.

“It’s annoying that we have to convince the adults and the adults aren’t taking action themselves,” Eliza said.

“But it’s good because, I mean, it is our future. So we should be fighting for that.”

Not all adults are dismissing young people’s concerns about climate change, least of all is Eliza’s mother, Sonja Belle-Wood.

Ms Belle-Wood says sometimes small actions have a ripple effect and even just children talking to their parents about environmental concerns can result in them taking action.

Eliza was the one who inspired Ms Belle-Wood to make more environmentally-friendly choices in her own life and even go on to launch Eco Surf Australia.

Like many young Australians, Eliza is worried about what her future will look like with climate change.

Previously, Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) board member Kate Wylie told The New Daily she now routinely screens for climate anxiety and eco-grief, not just with younger generations, but older people who fear for their children and grandchildren.

As for advice on how others could move towards sustainability when it comes to fashion, Eliza explains it’s best to start small, as big changes can’t be made overnight.

“It’s like take small steps and you’re gonna get used to doing things and make them habits,” she said.

It also takes a bit of research, knowing what fabrics to look for when shopping for clothes and what brands are genuinely sustainable.

Making your own clothes takes skills, but buying secondhand is always a good option and easier than ever, with apps like Depop and sites like eBay.

Hiring items you might only wear once or twice for big events is also an option and reduces not only the risk of it ending up in landfill, but it can save precious closet space.

Changing attitudes towards fashion

Bernadette Olivier, CEO co-founder of The Volte, an Australian dress-hire site, lived through the explosion of fast fashion, though at the time, no one knew how damaging the industry would become.

She realised that the fashion industry wasn’t sustainable and that fast fashion  was actually “eroding” designer fashion.

So, she and her co-founders wanted to come up with a way for people to make money off their own clothes and give others the option of wearing well-designed, sustainable clothes.

Gen Z makes up a decent bulk of The Volte’s clients, which makes sense to Ms Olivier: they’re comfortable making online purchases, while renting gives them a more sustainable option that aligns with their values.

Plus, renting a dress for a formal or a party is often a lot cheaper.

Renting clothes provides a sustainable alternative to buying more, especially when it comes to pieces that aren’t worn day-in, day-out and Ms Olivier thinks habits are changing.

“I think so many people for a big event wouldn’t think twice about renting rather than buying say a black cocktail dress will only wear once,” she said.

From her perspective, Ms Olivier thinks the fashion industry has a long way to go, in terms of becoming more sustainable.

The problem lies with fast fashion brands, which cannot be resold or rented as garments usually have a short lifespan. 

One solution could be taxing overproduction, she said, and “clamping down” on fast fashion where “majority of the harm is”.

Of course, not everyone can afford to buy sustainable clothing, or even rent it. While buying secondhand saves clothes from landfill, that isn’t accessible to everyone.

The most obvious way people can do their part to prevent feeding the beast that is the fashion industry is to buy less and make more intentional purchases.

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