Is Fashion Sustainable?

Posted by Jill Chivers in Fashion, Style and Shopping, Shop Your Wardrobe Strategies

Sustainable fashion is an area I’m interested in and want to learn more about.  When I first started my own year without clothes shopping challenge, there was something buzzing vaguely in my ear about this whole “eco- environmental-ethical” stuff – but I wasn’t sure what it was.

Well, that buzzing never truly went away during my year, and it’s one of the areas I vowed to actively learn more about.  I had the chance to ask Lara McPherson, a young Australian activist interested in sustainable fashion, about what we know and what we need to know.  In an interview with Lara, she clued me in about the link between hyper-production, -consumption and the inherent lack of sustainability of the fashion industry.

Where Things Stand Now

In its current state, fashion is not sustainable. That’s not to say that this cannot be changed. This is the picture emerging about the unsustainability of fashion – as we’re currently using it:

  • Australians spend $1.7million every year on stuff they don’t use.
  • The average piece of clothing stays in a Dutch person’s wardrobe for 3½  years; is on the body for 44 days during this time and is worn for between 2.4 and 3.1 days between washings.
  • The typical garment is washed and dried around 20 times, most of the environmental impact comes from laundering, not from growing, processing and producing the fabric or disposal at end of life.
  • Washing and drying a polyester blouse uses around 6 times as much energy as that needed to make it in the first place.
  • Just by washing half as often, the products overall energy rating can be cut by almost 50%, with similar savings for air pollution and production of solid waste.
  • The biggest gains in environmental performance for many fashion and textile pieces can be made by tackling the impact arising from their washing and drying.
  • As much as 82% of energy use and 66% of solid waste and over half of the emissions to air (83% carbon dioxide) are amassed during washing and drying.

What can we do as consumers? 

Since many of the current issues with the sustainability of fashion centre on the lack of awareness on the part of the consumer, here are some things that we, you, us – consumers – can do.

  • Think critically about the things you buy. Ask questions, be skeptical of marketing campaigns. We’re used to taking marketers at their word but we are too smart for that! Vote with your dollars and where possible support companies you feel to be operating sustainably.
  • Use the Internet. It is an amazing resource! Read your favourite brands’ sustainability policy. Look for companies and designers that are operating in ways that are in accordance with your values.
  • Spend less and love more! Invest in good quality garments you will keep forever, or at least longer than a season or two.
  • Swap goods you no longer want with others. Keeping goods in circulation diverts them from landfill. Buy second hand goods too – you’re often supporting the work of charities and enabling them to continue to extend the garment life cycle, just by shopping.
  • Find your own unique style. Resist the urge to throw something away just because it is no longer on trend. Those who don’t follow trends but always look stylish set a great example!
  • When laundering, follow Tullia’s Hierarchy of Cleaning:.
    1. When taking off a garment hang it straight back on the hanger in a well ventilated place.
    2. To freshen garments leave them in the steamy bathroom while you shower, or hang them outside in the sunshine (this also negates the need for ironing, leading to greater energy savings).
    3. Spot clean with moist cloth to remove visible dirt.
    4. Hand wash in cold water using biodegradable detergent.
  • Talk to others. Challenge them to think about the impact their shopping is having. I’m not suggesting you be the self righteous type at a dinner party but raising the issues softly amongst friends is perfectly okay. Continuing this conversation is key to shoppers continuing to listen and become more educated.


Critically assess the purchase decisions you make and either purchase less or consider having a break from shopping altogether.

Invest in better quality items (and also care better for your items to ensure longevity).

By doing these things, you can go a long way to reduce the environmental impact of your wardrobe.

By being mindful of the broader social and environmental implications of our purchase decisions, we can move to shopping in a way that is more harmonious for the complex eco system we live in!

Lara McPherson

About Lara McPherson: Lara McPherson is a writer, communicator and project manager living in Melbourne. She is passionate about helping the Australian Fashion Industry transition to environmentally and socially sustainable practices.

And if this post piqued your interest and you want to explore more about sustainable fashion and the choices you can make, this is the focus of Month 9 of our Shop Your Wardrobe program.


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