Fast fashion is wearing out the planet. Here are the people determined to change that.
By
Jess Hill

15 Mar 2019 - 11:05 AM  UPDATED 15 Mar 2019 - 11:05 AM

Some choices in life are easy. If you care about the environment, it’s easy to be against coal-fired power, single-use plastics, and those absurd little figurines from Coles.

But how easy would it be to change the way you dress? Would you make different choices if you knew, for example, that the fashion industry produces 8 per cent of the world’s global emissions? That’s just for starters.

Seriously, there are some brutal truths about the fashion industry we all need to know. Did you know, for example, that buying one t-shirt is equivalent to flushing your toilet 250 times? Or that more than 150 million trees are logged every year to make synthetic fabrics? Or that a staggering 85 per cent of the waste that washes up on ocean shores comes from the plastic microfibers in our clothes?

The statistics on dirty fashion are dizzying, and Australians are some of the worst offenders. Only Americans buy more clothes than we do – on average, we buy 27 kilos of textiles each year, and chuck 23 kilos of that into landfill. In 2017, one in six of us tossed out at least three items they’d only worn once (which is really taking the whole KonMari method nuclear, let’s be honest).

So who’s the devil in our clothes drawers? Its name is ‘fast fashion’, and it’s been a thing for about as long as millennials have been alive. It really got going back in the 2000s, when consumerism was king and the high-fashion look became something we could all have – as long as we didn’t care if our clothes fell apart after a few wears. Since the turn of the century, our fashion consumption has gone through the roof – the amount of clothing produced per year has more than doubled since the year 2000. Most of these clothes are not made with natural fibres - like cotton and linen – but plastic. That’s right, about 60 per cent of clothes today are made with synthetic fibres like polyester and nylon, which are basically just forms of plastic. When these clothes go to the tip, they don’t just degrade quickly into harmless rags – they take 200 years to decompose. What’s worse is that the annual emissions produced by the manufacture of polyester is equivalent to what comes out of 185 coal-fired power plants.

That’s a lot of bad news. So here’s some good news: there’s a new kind of model disrupting fast fashion, and it’s turning pollution on its head. From hiphop wunderkind Pharrell Williams turning ocean plastic waste into denim clothes with G-Star, to cutting-edge designers cultivating human sweat (seriously) to make zero-waste crystal embellishments, ‘circularity’ – or sustainable fashion - is the next big thing. And some of the most exciting possibilities are being hammered out right on our doorstep.

In the spiritual capital of hemp and cheesecloth, Byron Bay, two clothing brands are forging brave new ground in the world of sustainable fashion.

In Episode Two of The Few Who Do, co-hosts Jan Fran and Marc Fennell take a running leap at the problem of fast fashion, and look at two ways in which it’s being tackled. We meet the brains behind Conner Hats – whose Stockman’s hat (think Crocodile Dundee) made them world famous in the 1980s - and the dynamic duo that drive Spell & The Gypsy Collective

The Few Who Do_Adv 2_ Spell Collective

We’re not gonna plot spoil – you have to listen to the podcast to hear their incredible stories. But these are the kind of creative solutions we’re looking at: Will Conner, who grew up making hats with his dad, is working with a Florida company that makes foam out of algae bloom – a type of algae that gets supercharged by heat and pollutants and wreaks havoc in water systems – and using that foam to make the brims of his hats.

The Few Who Do_Adv 2_Conner hats

That is the kind of creative genius that is revolutionising fashion, and turning it into a truly 21st century industry. The question is: how close are we to a tipping point? What kind of choices will you make? In our lifetime, will we see ‘fast fashion’ consigned to the dustbin of history?


 The Few Who Do

Hosted by The Feed’s Marc Fennell and Jan Fran, The Few Who Do is a new podcast from SBS.

Over 16 episodes, Marc and Jan will tackle the big questions in society and culture today, and hear personal stories from Australians with big ambitions, entrepreneurs and small business owners advocating for change.

Because there is often more than one approach to our biggest problems, each episode, Marc and Jan will delve into different possibilities and get to know the people behind the ideas.

Listen to Episode 1 -  'The Quality of Equality: Transgender in the Workplace'

Upcoming episodes of The Few Who Do will examine 

  • Can we ensure that Artificial Intelligence and machine learning isn’t biased?

We’re worried about the robot apocalypse, but we should probably be concerned about accidental bias in the programming.

  • Why are Australians risk averse?

Only a small numbers of Australian companies are developing bold global innovations. How do we inspire more ambition and innovation?

  • How do we secure our food future?

Global population is predicted to hit 10 billion by 2050. Coupled with extreme weather patterns caused by climate change, our daily meals will look a little different.

Two Hosts, One Problem, Two Possibilities


This podcast is brought to you by CGU Insurance, who have been proudly backing ambitious Aussie Small Businesses for over 165 years. Visit CGU.com.au to find out how CGU can back you.