In a new study led by UniSA PhD candidate Erin Skinner, researchers explored Australians’ knowledge of fast and slow fashion, finding that general consumers not only lacked an understanding of the issues, but were also averse or unable to change their buying habits to support more sustainable options.

With Australians overrepresented as one of the largest consumers of textiles globally, UniSA researchers say the government and the fashion industry have an obligation to better educate consumers about the impact of fast fashion and provide alternative options and models.

And Aotearoa isn’t much better. An Auckland Council Waste Assessment from 2017 noted that rapidly increasing amounts of textiles were being dumped, and in the capital, the amount of textile waste sent to Wellington’s Southern Landfill doubled between 2009 and 2020. It’s estimated that 25 percent of those clothes were in good condition and could have been re-purposed.

“Fast fashion is all about demand-driven clothing, where buyers snap up the newest fashion styles at the height of their popularity, only to discard them after a few wears,” Skinner says.

“But keeping up with the latest trends comes at a price. Every year, Australians each consume more than 27kgs of textiles, discarding 23kg of this into landfill. That’s an extraordinary 6000kg every 10 minutes – the equivalent of the weight of an African elephant.

“But it’s not only landfill, globally the fashion industry produces about 20 percent of the world’s wastewater. This translates into 2700 litres of water to make one cotton T-shirt – enough water for one person to drink for nearly two and a half years.

“And when it comes to CO2 emissions, the fashion industry produces more emissions than the shipping and aviation industries combined.

“Such phenomenal waste is clearly unsustainable, so it’s vital that the sector educates consumers about alternative options.

“This could mean highlighting the value for money that comes with buying fewer, long-lasting garments, boosting the hire-clothing sector, using online influencers to educate, or looking to more accessible and online second-hand items.

“Ultimately, we need a shift in consumer knowledge and attitudes. This is where our research comes in. By clarifying what the average Australian knows or thinks about sustainable fashion we will be able to design appropriate solutions and policy changes to better support ‘slow’ fashion.”

The next stage of the research will examine whether psychological tools applied in an intervention-style pilot can help reduce the frequency of shopping in people who buy new clothes frequently.

The researchers also offered three tips to make positive changes to your wardrobe and protect the environment:

  • Step off the ‘trend-mill’: spend some time considering your personal style so you aren’t tempted by every influencer’s micro-trend.
  • Shop your wardrobe! The most sustainable garment is the one you already have – wear it.
  • Remember: loved clothes last. No matter where you shop from, treat your clothes with kindness so they last as long as possible.