How retailers are tackling textile waste as Aussies

Amid the rise of fast fashion and social media platforms accelerating consumptive behaviour, it appears that many Australians aren’t wearing or re-wearing the clothes they purchase. This was highlighted by the Fashion Resale Report from online retailer Reluv and Monash University. While 73 per cent of those surveyed said that they buy pre-loved clothes, about 80 per cent of Aussies admitted to wearing less than 60 per cent of their wardrobe. This follows a previous study by Reluv, which found

found that 73 per cent of textiles used in the global fashion industry ended up in landfill. Research by Levi’s also highlighted that about one in three Australians own 50-150 items of clothing, with only 55 per cent of those items worn regularly. 

Research by the Australian Fashion Council in 2022 found that 260,000 tonnes of clothing in Australia was reaching landfill each year, at a consumer cost of $9.2b.

As a means of tackling this issue, the European Union is seeking to extend the right to repair products beyond the expiration of the sales guarantee. According to Reuters, the European Commission recently proposed rules obliging producers to offer repairs for products between five to 10 years after it was sold.

Managing partner of The Growth Activists, Rosanna Iacono told Inside Retail that she wasn’t surprised by the research, which showed that Australians weren’t making best use of their wardrobe. She believes that the rise of fast fashion, and platforms like Instagram, Youtube and Tiktok, have exacerbated the issue of textile waste. 

According to Iacono, as retail companies like H&M and Inditex started to gain momentum around the year 2000, the number of garments produced each year grew to 200 billion units per year – well exceeding population growth.

Meanwhile, she said that newer players such as Shein had fuelled a cultural phenomenon where consumers were obsessed with newness. 

Iacono also noted that consumer behaviour was quite polarised. On one end, she explained that innovators and early adopters embraced sustainability. On the other end of the spectrum, the majority and laggards were still consuming at an excessive rate.

“Over the coming years we will slowly see that latter group begin to shift towards more responsible consumption as the regulatory and legislative environment forces fashion businesses to modify their operating models,” she said.

This legislation might feature as part of Federal Minister for the Environment, Tanya Plibersek’s commitment for Australia to transition to a circular economy by 2030.

Ianoco predicted that this current climate of excessive consumption is probably at its peak, and will hopefully subside as businesses shift their emphasis toward the circular economy, and add “resale, rental, repair and refill” to their operating models.

“Consumer behaviours will also inevitably change. The introduction of levies and other penalties for fashion producers are not off the table, and this may eventually curtail the accessibility of what constitutes fast fashion today,” Iacono said. 

Rampant Buying

Iacono pointed to a number of brands in Australia and internationally that have launched successful initiatives with regard to the minimisation of textile waste.

She pointed to Eileen Fisher’s take back scheme in the US, which resells gently worn clothes, and transforms damaged-beyond-repair items into new products.

Other brands mentioned include Dutch brand Mud Jeans, which has a rental scheme for return jeans, and Kitx’s ‘Kitxchange’ platform, which enables customers to buy or sell their pre-owned garments. 

Online clothing store Birdsnest has established its preloved marketplace, ‘Birdsnest rehatched’ which enables its customers to contribute and buy second hand products. 

A spokesperson for the brand said that it has a range of other initiatives to avoid textile waste, including (but not limited to) extensive filtering options, capsules where customers can unlock many outfits with just a few pieces, and lifetime returns for worn clothing.

Patagonia has also launched a number of schemes – such as its ‘don’t buy this jacket’ and ‘buy less, demand more’ campaigns – in order to promote conscious consumption.

Patagonia’s marketing and environmental impact director for Australia and New Zealand, Naima Wilson told Inside Retail that many people feel they don’t wear enough of the clothing they own, with the data from Reluv and Monash University reinforcing this.

Wilson said there’s still lingering trends of rampant buying in Australia, which is fuelled by advertising that persuades people that they need more, new and updated items.

“Patagonia has always been committed to making quality, multifunctional gear that’s reliable and lasts. We continue to appeal to our community to really reconsider if they need something, and always reuse and repair first,” Wilson said.

Circularity programs in place by Patagonia to “keep gear in action for longer” include its ironclad guarantee – a lifetime warranty on its products – as well as its worn-wear program and in-store repair hub in Sydney. 

The company recently launched its tee-cycle campaign, with items made from a 30/70 blend of post-consumer garments and Patagonia factory offcuts. Patagonia’s worn wear website also features over 100 repair and care guides for consumers. 

According to Wilson, the company’s environmental profit and loss metric – which calculates the carbon, water and waste costs of all items it sells – ensures that the brand is accountable to its customers and the planet.

Regarding how Aussies can make more ethical and sustainable choices about the items they purchase, she suggested they research how clothes are made.

“People can demand transparency from businesses [and] informed buyers can force industry to drop unsustainable practices. It’s this idea that ‘what you buy is what the industry will become,’” Wilson said. 

She also pointed to independent certifications like Fair Trade Certified, Global Traceable Down Standard, and BCorp certifications, which can be used as strong reference points regarding the impact of a brand’s sustainability agenda.

Wilson also hopes that initiatives like Patagonia’s Worn Wear program will become more common among the fashion industry moving forward. 

‘Patagonia has seen our Worn Wear program grow, expand, and inspire other businesses,” she said.

“There are some very exciting things happening in terms of leveraging online platforms to scale up these types of initiatives across industries.”

Fewer, better, longer mindset

While Wilson believes that capsule wardrobes might be part of the solution to reducing textile waste, she said that it’s primarily about changing consumer relationships with products, and for brands to encourage customers to buy only what they need.

“One of the most responsible things we can do as apparel companies, or any product industry, is build durable things that last. It’s also important to think about quality in terms of multifunctionality and repairability at the start, the product design phase,” she said.

“The ultimate hope is that this work will encourage other businesses and, as a result of transparency, people will be informed to think and act more responsibly.”

Iacono explained that retailers must embrace a full suite of initiatives including resale, rental, repair, responsible recycling and consumer education, in order to address this issue.

But, she said the most significant change is an industry shift toward more responsible consumption.

“Australians are buying 56 new items of clothing per year, making us one of the highest consumers of textiles per capita in the world,” Iacono said.

‘Moving to a ‘fewer, better [and] longer’ mindset, and cutting this number by even 10 or 20 per cent would make a significant difference to the industry’s environmental impact.”

She added that textile recycling would be an important solution in the future, but the technology in this space is still nascent, and not appropriately distributed across Australia. 

“There are some incredible players abroad like Recover and here in Australia like BlockTexx, but we are still very far off textile recycling being a solution at scale,” Iacono said.

“This will change over the next 3-5 years.”