Kate Sylvester heats up as she talks about the cheap, mass-produced clothes that are coming to New Zealand with the click of a button.
Fast fashion is “evil and immoral”, says the famous designer. Speaking through Zoom from his Auckland home, Sylvester said, “For the planet to survive, it is not sustainable that fast fashion continues. Sure, it’s convenient and easy, but if it’s destroying the planet, we just have to say we can’t do it anymore.
“We should stop sending money to multi-billion dollar fast fashion brands. There is nothing lasting about that. They are evil here. It is immoral what they are doing.” ‘
Two years ago, Sylvester co-founded an industry-wide group, Mindful Fashion, which promotes sustainable practices in fashion. She sets the tone: her brand offers a free repair service and a recycling program, while old clothes come back to life in upcycled collections.
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Elsewhere in the industry, Kowtow’s swimwear is made from recycled nylon like old fishing nets, and Deadly Ponies recycles old bags and scraps of leather into new pieces. However, as New Zealand brands do their part to help the planet, they face a fast-paced global fashion industry that shows no signs of slowing down.
A Levi’s poll, published exclusively for Thing, shows that Kiwis wear only half of the clothes hanging in their wardrobes. More than one in three respondents own between 50 and 200 clothes, but regularly wear only half of their clothes.
From the results, we’re still addicted to fast fashion: 45% of 1,000 people surveyed revealed that cheaper clothes don’t last as long as they did a decade ago, but they will always buy them. Our clothes don’t wear us in the long term: more than half of respondents describe their clothes as out of season, old-fashioned or tired of wearing them.
The research was commissioned to coincide with the launch of Levi’s Buy Better, Wear Longer campaign, a global initiative to raise awareness of the environmental impacts of clothing production and consumption. The global fashion industry produces 150 billion pieces of clothing each year, 100 times more than three decades ago.
Sylvester deliberately avoids trendy and seasonal collections, striving to create timeless pieces that remain in circulation for years to come. “One of our key messages at Kate Sylvester is that we make clothes for a living. The last thing we want is for our clothes to be in the back of a closet or for heaven to forbid us to be. landfilled, ”she said.
The designer spent most of her childhood wearing second-hand, often repaired clothes. “The new clothes were an incredible treat,” she says.
Today, the designer wants us to return to those same philosophies – reuse, transmit and recycle. When we buy new, we have to buy consciously and sustainably, ideally by supporting local New Zealand designers, without giving our money to huge multinationals that produce millions of clothes.
Sylvester’s Lucie dress, for example, is recycled from Theia dress from the Frances Winter 2019 collection.
Sylvester highlights fast fashion brands like Chinese company Shein – which generated US $ 10 billion (NZ $ 14.4 billion) in the year through June, and is now the biggest brand fashion line to the world, overtaking H&M and Zara – for contributing to a rising tide of clothes cluttering up wardrobes and filling landfills.
The brand’s global influence is huge, promoted by influencers on TikTok and YouTube: “They make $ 10 billion and sell clothes ranging from $ 5 to $ 20. I’m really bad at math, but I think it’s a billion clothes. It’s so important that people know what fast fashion is doing to the planet, ”Sylvester says.
Ephemeral fashion is a major polluter: 10% of the total global carbon footprint comes from the clothing industry, against 2% for the aviation industry as a whole. Clothing is also the second largest freshwater polluter in the world.
One of Shein’s clients is a 15-year-old from Wellington who has bought his clothes online five times in the past two years. She requested that her name not be used to protect her privacy.
The 15-year-old says she’s not the only one buying Shein’s products – many of her Wellington friends are as well. She was excited on Wednesday when a 14-pack of Shein’s clothes arrived in the mail. On social networks, the concept is presented as “a garment to wear”.
“Shein is cheap and I can’t afford a lot of other clothes. I can’t afford to spend $ 50 on a top. Even vintage clothes are quite expensive, ”she says.
Her favorite top in the package – an orange cropped top – costs just NZ $ 7; the equivalent at another online fashion retailer was $ 50. The set costs $ 100, it took a fortnight to get here and the delivery was free. She will be wearing everything except a skirt and dress that looks nothing like the photos on the site. Shein has a no-return policy, so they’ll stay ‘in my cluttered drawers’.
“The main problem with Shein is that they’re so poorly made. I had things from Shein that I can only wear a few times before they collapsed or the waist wasn’t right or something like that. ”
The 15-year-old feels bad about the environmental impact and that those involved in producing her $ 7 top would have been poorly paid. She thinks that one solution would be for other clothes to be cheaper. “I don’t think the business is going to change, so I think it’s probably the consumers who need to change.”
Get rid of old clothes
When we clean our wardrobes, two-thirds of us take our old clothes to charity stores and charity trash cans. The rest is languishing in our wardrobes, according to the Levi’s survey.
However, while we may think that we are doing something good for the planet by taking bags to charity stores, the result is often the reverse, according to Jacinta Fitzgerald, program director of Mindful Fashion.
This week, Fitzgerald received an email from an Auckland charity store that dumps three garment bins every day. “They were wondering if we could use these items. They cannot resell them because they are of poor quality. Covid made it worse because everyone is cleaning up, ”says Fitzgerald.
“It’s better to keep your shoddy clothes at home to use as rags or to stuff cushions rather than taking them to charity stores or putting them in charity bins where they are sent overseas for. become the textile waste of another country. “
Globally, it is estimated that more than half of fast fashion production is sold in less than a year. Textile waste clogs landfills: A 2019 New Zealand study found that textile waste accounted for 5% of landfills; another report found that 220,800 tonnes of textiles are buried here each year, or 44 kg of textiles per person (compared to Europe which generates 27.9 kg per person per year).
Fitzgerald is worried about how social media is fueling fashion waste. The fast fashion brands only operate on TikTok, and they are huge and influential.
“As a society, we have created and brainwashed a throwaway culture. We need to reduce our demand for this stuff. Our planet simply cannot continue to support it. ”
The luxury leather goods brand Deadly Ponies will not put its leather goods on sale on purpose, fearing that it will feed on waste. Instead, at popular selling times of the year, it offers a limited edition product made from recycled leather to show consumers a different way.
Co-Founder and Creative Director Liam Bowden thinks Kiwis are so addicted to sales that we buy things just because they’re cheap.
Said Bowden: “[Deadly Ponies] wants to completely remove us from the culture of demarcation and double demarcation which I think fuels waste in our society. People think I’m going to buy it on sale in the Christmas sale or the Black Friday sale. It just means that people will buy because it’s cheap. It is not a need, it is a desire. They think, “Well, it’s 50% off, so you might as well buy it.” “
Bowden has about 200 items in his wardrobe. “I would say 80% of my wardrobe is second-hand, other than my shoes. I also like to shop and think about something for a while to make sure I really like it before I buy it. I don’t buy trendy things and I like to buy things that I am passionate about. ‘
“I have had a problem for years [about fast fashion]. Even just with friends and family, seeing them go to Zara and buy big and come back three months later and buy a million and one things. I didn’t like it. ”
Bowden talks about what he says is a culture clash between people talking about their concern for the planet, “and on the other hand, they want the last top they saw on TikTok. Buying habits are often at odds with values.
“One thing I would say, though, is that it’s very easy to say that if you have disposable income you can shop consciously, but if you are on a tight budget it’s hard. People often choose what to buy based on their income. ”
There are good signs, however, as Bowden is more into vintage clothing, especially Gen Z. Sylvester’s three sons – twins Tom and Isaac, 20, and Cosmo, 19 – prefer vintage clothing to new ones.
“They see vintage as something they can brag about, and I think it’s glorious,” she says.
“It always comes back to this message: buy clothes you love. Wear them and wear them and if you don’t like them anymore, give them to someone who will. ”