In a world of endless fashion trends and must have consumerism, sustainability consultant and founder of Textile Beat Jane Milburn 'upcycled' old clothes into a new item each day for a whole year. She writes about her journey.
My journey into clothing excess began back in 2011 at a fashion fundraiser for Brisbane flood families when I bought 30 tops for just $60. I started visiting op shops and rescuing natural-fibre clothing – wool jumpers with a small hole, cotton shirts with a button missing. Because I grew up on a farm and studied agricultural science, the waste of resources troubled me.
After I fixed and refashioned these opshop finds into office wear for my day job as a communications manager, I did a leadership course and set up Textile Beat. The need for a more ethical approach was affirmed when Rana Plaza collapsed in 2013 and fast-fashion exploitation was exposed.
In 2014, I engaged my skills as an issues-based communication consultant to undertake a 365-day upcycling project Sew it Again in a journey of wardrobe discovery. It was fun and challenging to make and blog every day, yet it transformed me into a natural-fibre champion speaking out about the need for a more sustainable clothing culture.
Textile Beat now works with local governments, teachers and community groups, sharing our Slow Clothing Manifesto on ways to reduce our material footprint: think, natural, quality, local, care, few, make, adapt, revive and salvage.
During 2016, we are telling the stories of Australians who choose to sew something for The Slow Clothing Project and enabling conversation about their substance, not just style.
Clothing is as essential as food for our health and wellbeing because clothes do for us on the outside what food does inside – they nourish, warm, and engage body and soul. They have profound influence on how we feel and how we present to the world, yet sometimes we are too busy to think much about where they come from.
The swing to fast, processed food has impacted health across the population in recent decades and similarly the shift to fast, manufactured clothing is impacting in ways we are beginning to understand.
The shift during the past two decades in the way we source, use and discard our clothing has major social and environmental implications. With dangerous climate change acknowledged by nations worldwide, it is time to consider ways we as individuals can contribute by living more sustainably.
" ... it transformed me into a natural-fibre champion speaking out about the need for a more sustainable clothing culture."
Consumption of apparel fibre has risen as prices have fallen. Based on the annual global average, we now buy twice as much as we did two decades ago. At the same time, there has been a major shift towards clothes made from synthetic fibres derived from petroleum. Two-thirds of new clothing is now synthetic, which research shows is shedding microplastic particles into the ocean with every wash.
Clothing is the cheapest it has been in history, mainly due to global supply chains accessing low-wage labour in developing nations. About 90 percent of clothes sold in Australia are now made overseas, mostly in Asian factories with the potential for exploitation of vulnerable workers.
This outsourcing of clothing needs has led to a population-wide loss of knowledge of the making process and disregard for the time and resources involved. This loss of simple sewing skills means an inability to repair, or resew a button, leading to dependency and a lack of autonomy.
The connection between healthy-eating behaviours and teaching children to cook and grow food has been recognised by teachers, health groups, food leaders and governments. The rise of television cooking shows and cooking classes is providing some opportunities to learn these skills.
In a similar way, revaluing the skills of mending and making can empower us to make something uniquely individual and reduce our footprint by extending the life of clothing already in circulation.