The fashion industry consumes a vast amount of resources that often go to waste. It is estimated that by 2030, the industry will need 50% more water and its carbon footprint will surpass 2500 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum. One of the major waste factors attributed to the fashion industry is the sheer number of garments that are either discarded too early or never worn.
The average lifetime for a piece of clothing is just over two years, however, more than half of garments purchased are thrown away within the first year, according to management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. This disposable outlook in the fashion industry and amongst its consumers is contributing to a growing problem of waste garment items that end up in landfills.
Second-hand clothing is a smart solution
So how can South Africa and the global fashion industry best tackle garment waste? One solution is to grow the second-hand clothing market, where good quality clothing can be purchased at a markedly reduced price. This will also keep clothing out of landfills and allow it to retain some of its value.
“The single most important action we can all do is to prolong the life cycle, which starts by never putting clothes in the bin,” says Stephanie Campbell of the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) Love Your Clothes campaign. Instead, unwanted fashion garments should be donated to charities or thrift shops where they can be resold as second-hand goods.
The second-hand clothing industry is growing rapidly around the world. Fashion blogger, Charlotte Yau, writes that “from reselling, recycling, gifting, swapping and reusing, the second-hand [clothing] industry is becoming one of the largest growing consumer segments.”
Online resources are driving second-hand fashion sales
Online e-commerce websites, such as Gumtree, as well as second-hand trading groups on Facebook, are a booming industry that see hundreds of thousands of fashion items trading hands every week. These websites allow people to sell their unwanted clothes to willing buyers and earn some quick cash in the process. The clothes are passed on and their lifecycle is extended.
Head of communications at Gumtree SA, Estelle Nagel, says that the second-hand clothing market on the website is significant in South Africa. Over 20 000 clothing items are listed for sale at any one time on Gumtree. “The status issue was big for so many people – they weren’t confident to admit to buying second-hand but now it seems smart, savvy and eco-friendly. Previously unthinkable second-hand niches like wedding dresses and matric dance outfits are growing all the time,” explains Nagel.
Even top fashion designers, such as Stella McCartney, are launching campaigns to encourage consumers to purchase sustainable clothing. McCartney’s ‘The Future of Fashion is Circular’ campaign is aimed at making people aware of their clothing consumption habits and to retain the garment’s value by reselling it or donating it to a charity. The ultimate aim is to keep clothing items out of landfills and in circulation for as long as possible.
Averda is a leading waste management provider with over 50 years of experience across three continents. Through growth, transformation and engagement, we strive to find new ways of managing waste while protecting the community and environment.
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