Bales of Clothing Bales of Clothing \ Craig Huffman, Goodwill Industries, Inc.

Look down at the clothes you have on right now. I’ll give you 10 points if you can tell me where each item was manufactured – and don’t forget your socks and undergarments. Ten more points if you know the type of material each piece of clothing is made from and another 10 if you know the sustainable features of every item.

Last year, I posed these questions to a group of fourth-year environmental students in their class on social marketing – and I was surprised by the responses. While many of these students make conscious efforts to walk or take public transportation, bring reusable mugs to the coffee shop, buy local food from the farmers’ market and compost their lunch waste, they rarely think about the sustainability of their clothes. And yet putting on clothes is pretty much how we start each day.

The state of fashion in North America today reminds me of an exhibit I once saw at the Queensland Art Gallery in Australia called “The way we eat” by artist Liu Xiao Xian. In the exhibit, a single pair of chopsticks is juxtaposed with various-sized eating implements such as cake servers, tablespoons, caddy spoons, cheese knives and fork sets. Described by the artist as a summary about human invention and choice, I was struck by the dissonance between the two sides. It was, in essence, a display of simplicity versus excess, the latter analogous to our current and ever-increasing consumption of fashion.

Incidents like the 2013 tragedy in Bangladesh have heightened the need to examine the true cost of the clothes we wear.

The four seasons of the year no longer determine when we buy new clothes. The fast-fashion industry creates and meets consumer demand by providing up to 52 microseasons of designs – with many items at a fraction of the price we paid a few decades ago.

Against this background of consumption are events like the 2013 tragedy in Bangladesh where more than 1,100 workers died and more than 2,000 were injured in a building collapse at a clothing manufacturer. Such incidents have heightened the need to examine the true cost of the clothes we wear.

In this issue of A\J, we explore a range of issues related to sustainable fashion. We start with an excerpt from sustainable textiles expert Kate Fletcher on the concept of “consumerization” and the political and economic issues that need to change to move the sustainable fashion dialogue forward. Kelly Drennan, executive director of Fashion Takes Action, then presents insight into the social and environmental costs of fashion – and actions the clothing industry has taken to address these issues, particularly in the aftermath of the Bangladesh tragedy.

In her revealing article on textile waste, Sabine Weber draws on two decades of professional experience as a fashion buyer to reveal opportunities to keep textiles out of the landfill. She also provides a sneak peek of her latest research on fashion disposal behaviour among Ontarians and a quiz to test your fashion trend sensitivity. A\J associate guest editor Jessie O’Driscoll unravels the science behind recycling plastic bottles into fuzzy polyester fleece, and just when you are ready to join a local naturist club, we offer ways to stay well clothed and reduce your fashion footprint.

Whether you consider yourself a fast-fashion vanguard or thrift-shop rebel, we hope this issue of A\J will inspire you to rethink the clothes in your closet, where they came from and where they will go on their next journey. 

Jennifer Lynes is associate professor and director of the Environment and Business program at the University of Waterloo. She is also the chair of REEP Green Solutions. Her research focuses on the intersection of marketing and sustainability.

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