“Win the Battle, Lose the Wardrobe”: How Can the Average Joe, Jane, and Jei Shop More Mindfully?
Mairātea Mohi continues her fashion column by documenting a shopaholic’s journey through her year without new clothes. “Win the Battle, Lose the Wardrobe” reveals what it means to be an Indigenous young adult in a rapidly globalizing society. Read his first column, here.
The overconsumption of natural resources in the fashion industry has had serious repercussions on the environment. And we, the buyers, noticed it.
There has been a clear direction in the fashion industry, towards a more conscious and circular system for clothing. Circular or sustainable fashion are all terms to describe the movement of conscious consumption that is unfolding before us.
More and more people – consumers and designers – are advocating for a system where clothes circulate for as long as possible, then return to the whenua at the end. With this thought in mind, I wanted to speak to four fashion insiders and businesses in Aotearoa leading lasting change in their own way.
* Two fashion sustainability educators on whether you can be eco-friendly and still buy fast fashion
* Five items charities want to receive more – and three they don’t
* Can our beloved blue jeans be made in an eco-friendly way?
* How New Zealand dresses: the urban style of Britomart Auckland
New Zealand prides itself on its ‘clean and green’ image, and as tangata of the whenua we have an inherent duty as kaitiaki to leave the land in a better position for the next generation. It means taking care of Papatuānuku in every way – including the impact and wastefulness of our drinking habits.
Here at Aotearoa we have a plethora of individuals and businesses doing their part for the earth – advocates include fashion brands like Aho Creative, Nisa and Love And Lend, independent organizations and sustainability consultants from the fashion like Jacinta FitzGerald of Make Good and Mindful Fashion NZ.
So using their kōrero tuku iho [wisdom] as business and fashion experts, i asked them: what can a normal person do to buy more consciously?
Don’t buy every trend. Rather rent
“It’s the ‘buy it and wear it once’ trend that we’re trying to shed,” say BFFs Carley Eklund (Ngāti Kahu) and Kristyn Taavao (Tapuika) of Love and Lend. “Too often, we don’t want to be caught in the same cut and the clothes sit untouched in our closets for months…even years!”
Discouraging contributions to your growing “dressing gown,” Love and Lend is a business that lets people rent robes or clothes for a fraction of the price of a new outfit.
For sizes 12 to 24, the pair supports both New Zealand fashion and slow fashion. From creating a buy-back initiative that buys pre-loved designer clothes from community members, to encouraging shoppers to return rented items in the same packaging they were sent in – they’ve done some tiaki whenua, or caring for the earth, a priority.
On kaitiakitanga, Eklund says it’s not just about the land but also about the people. “Our main goal is to take care of the environment and make good choices. But it’s also about letting our community know that we’re together on this sustainability journey.
Renting is an affordable way to stay on top of trends, diversify your wardrobe, and be part of a collective of many people enjoying and passing on unique memories on a single item of clothing. Did someone say “Sister of travel pants?”
Find out where your money is going
Aho Creative’s Kristy Bedi (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Māmoe) says there’s a big disconnect between consumers and manufacturers.
“You might think you’re just buying a dress off the shelf, but we don’t often stop to think about all the hands our clothes go through. Things like exploitation, malpractice, and injustice can literally be woven into its fabric.
Bedi says, “everything has a whakapapa” and this recognition must be given to how things were done and who does them.
She says working closely with people at every stage of the creative process ensures that only top-quality products, made to last, touch consumers’ hands. She insists on the need for people to see their clothes in a nuanced way.
“You shouldn’t think of fabrics alone. You should also think about how the materials were made and whether they were grown sustainably,” she says. “You can have natural fibers like linen or inorganically grown cotton, but you can also have mixed materials like polyester made from recycled plastics.”
Think not just about the beginning, but about the end of your wardrobe’s life
Question: Where do you think our clothes go after we throw them away?
Answer: “In landfills overseas,” says Jacinta FitzGerald, sustainability expert and program director at local fashion organization Mindful Fashion NZ. Out of sight, out of mind… Or so we think.
Nisa founder Elisha Watson says the “missing piece of the puzzle” in the fashion industry is the facilities to provide proper aftercare. “End of life stuff doesn’t exist yet.”
Watson thinks the future is rejuvenating and said Nisa is considering take-back programs where they collect end-of-life clothes and dispose of them safely.
FitzGerald paints a troubling picture and asks, “Imagine if every trash you created was put in your garden.
Well, yuck. The analogy describes the overconsumption and subsequent over-dumping that society has contributed to landfills. Drawing a warning to consumers, she encourages people to be more picky when choosing clothes.
So kaipānui mā [readers] – it is not because you are not too picky with your partners that the experts advise you to be more selective in your clothing choices!
Keep asking questions
Being a conscious consumer means constantly questioning everything. Why is this thing trendy? Who makes it? When am I going to wear this?
Experts also advise asking yourself “how many uses will I get out of this garment?” If your answer was less than 50… put it back up!
It’s about putting a trained eye on everything. If you can’t find the answers you’re looking for, don’t be afraid to email the companies with your questions. Your question could lead to considerable changes.
So the next time you go shopping and find something you love, ask yourself the most important question: “Do I really need this?”
Every expert I spoke to agreed that everyday shoppers need to start learning about recognized certifications such as Organic Certification, BioGrow NZ, Fairtrade and Environmental Choice. These third-party verifications provide insight into the manufacturing process and give consumers some confidence in the ethics of their purchases.
Watson, from Nisa, says the fashionable kaitiakitanga shouldn’t just be embraced here in Aotearoa, but around the world.
“We must broaden our vision of kaitiakitanga to include all indigenous people whose land and integrity have been affected by harmful fashion practices. You cannot have prosperous people without a prosperous land.