Theepa Vishali Kanisan, Singapore, 18 years old
“Mum jeans” are back. Yes, those light-washed, posterior-flattening and exceptionally high-waisted jeans have made a comeback after once being deemed as unfashionable and having faced great ridicule in the early 2000s. In fact, many clothes of the past that had faded out of fashion magazines have found their way back onto the runway. Fashion is always reinventing itself and in accordance, so are trends and consumers; especially Singaporean consumers who are driven by the ideals of maintaining a good self-image. We find ourselves buying the same clothing, we ironically threw out long ago because they were out of fashion. Our keenness to keep up with the joneses has caused us to be unaware of the large amounts of waste we generate. This is especially so in Singapore where our generally affluence has enabled us to purchase and dispose of our clothes after wearing them a few times, and to become large contributors to textile waste.
What is fast fashion?
Roughly 20 years ago, there was a shift in the fashion industry and clothes became cheaper, trends changed at a faster rate. These made shopping for clothes more accessible and more appealing. Thus, was born Fast Fashion. Clothes from the runway now reached consumers faster and cheaper than ever and people could now dress like their favourite celebrities without breaking the bank.
Globalisation as well as the average Singaporean’s relatively high spending power allows us to fuel the demand for Fast Fashion. According to a survey of 1000 people conducted by Channel News Asia for a 2017 documentary, Singaporeans purchase about 34 pieces of brand new garments per year, with almost half of them citing discounts as the main driver for doing so. On average, they throw away 27 items of clothing per year, citing reasons like “making space for new clothes”, “no longer fits” and “there are defects”.
Blinded by their need to keep up with trends, Singaporeans have become unable to see the link between their high consumption of clothing and textile waste. Each piece of clothing is being worn less before being disposed of and this shorter lifespan leads to a greater demand for new clothes causing higher manufacturing emissions. In 2017 alone, about 150 800 tonnes of textile/leather waste was generated with only 6% being recycled. Our strong demand for cheap fast fashion has fuelled production, giving rise to more pollution, contributing to global warming. On top of that, lack of knowledge about proper recycling methods for clothing has led to very poor recycling rates, meaning that most textile waste is simply incinerated, causing more pollution.
What about clothes donation? Couldn’t we solve the problem by donating clothes so they can be reused by the needy? On average, the Salvation Army receives about 10 tonnes of donated items per day, about 60 per cent of which is clothing. They receive so many pieces of clothing that only 8-10 per cent of donated clothes can be put on display. The rest are shipped to overseas charities after going through quality checks. While donating is a thoughtful way to deal with the large amount of waste without incineration, it does not nip the problem in the bud to directly reduce consumption or production.
What can we do?
The responsibility of improving poor recycling rates and reducing unnecessarily excessive consumption of clothes falls on our shoulders. Here are a few points we can take into consideration to become responsible consumers of clothes.
- If you really need to get rid of old clothes, remember to go the extra mile to recycle/donate them! When recycling clothes, ensure that they are sealed properly in a bag to prevent cross contamination in recycling bins.
- Before shopping, condition yourself to think if you really need that specific piece of clothing and if you already have a similar item. Do not be swayed by promotions or images when shopping online. You do not want to buy something then decide that it does not look good and decide not to wear it. You could always have a friend with you while shopping to keep your purchasing in check!
- Seek to purchase clothes based on practicality, quality and comfort above how in trend it is. You can ensure the durability of your clothes to lengthen their lifespan. If all else fails, the timeless standard T-shirt is always in style.
- If you are someone who really has a passion for fashion, try clothes rental shops so you can easily return clothes when you feel they do not suit your taste anymore without driving up demand for fast fashion. Thrift shops are also a viable option to find clothes that may interest you. Second-hand is cheaper and more environmentally friendly.
- Place a limit on how many times you should purchase clothes in a year. Chinese New Year always comes around!
- Upcycle! There are many videos online on how to repurpose old clothing into something trendier or more useful using just a pair of scissors or a needle and thread.
As for Producers…
We should not have to sacrifice our desire to look presentable to save the environment but instead we could find a compromise with the help of producers. Local fashion creators, like “Kalaia Label” and “Touch The Toes”, are already beginning to make the shift towards eco-friendly clothing incorporating recycled textiles If more of such clothing is featured on the runway, it could manifest into a trend that people covet. This is especially important in Singapore where there is the flawed mentality that wearing reused clothing reflects poorly on one’s financial status. In altering fashion, we could be triggering a never before seen movement in fashion where sustainability and aesthetics can meet and coexist harmoniously without hampering our ability to express ourselves.