A household buys 15 kilograms of clothes per year and per capita. Buy fast, throw away fast. More is more, the main thing is cheap. That is today. And what about tomorrow?
I vividly remember how my grandmother would cut off the worn and roughened collars and cuffs of the shirts, turn them inside out and sew them back on. The shirt was almost like new again.
My childhood and youth were and still are characterized by the respectful and careful use of resources.
(me and my younger sister)
We didn't know fast food and fast fashion. But our mother was fashion-conscious and we were always beautifully dressed. There were few, but pretty and high-quality clothes. They were true favourites that were mended, where necessary fabric was put on and worn until they no longer fit or were definitely worn out. Afterwards, such discarded clothes often served as spare parts storage or cleaning cloths for a long time.
The direct comparison between my childhood and today's fashion consumption is hair-raising. Studies, figures and statistics not only speak a clear language, they also reflect our development. Looking away is no longer an option today.
At present, every household consumes almost five times more clothing per year than in the 1950s, but spends massively less money on it proportionately. A single comparison from the 2016 "Sustainability" study by Swiss Textiles already demonstrates the dimension of the disaster.
1950: 11.1% of the household budget for 3.7 kg of clothing
2013: 2.2% of the household budget for 15 kg of clothing
This development is also likely to be causally related to some unpleasant facts that affect the textile industry and are inseparable from our clothing.
- 48 million tons of textiles end up in landfills worldwide every year
- 10 percent of global CO2 emissions are attributable to the textile industry
- The textile industry is also responsible for 20 percent of water waste
- A single pair of jeans requires 10,000 liters of water in production, a T-shirt 2,000 liters.
- Women perform 80 percent of the work in the textile industry
- 98 percent of the workers are not receiving a living wage and are trapped in the cycle of poverty.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development here.
WWF rating of the clothing and textile industry here.
The tragedy is that every year all that effort, often under inhumane conditions, ends up in landfill, worth $500 billion. This is not just simple waste, but the total devaluation and degradation of labour - the textile industry can afford to throw the added value created by cheap labour onto the garbage heap. Faster and faster, more and more, cheaper and cheaper.
So, the question is, how do we as a society, indeed as a community, get out of this vicious circle? The signs are not bad, it seems as if a change is imminent. Many people are slowly but surely becoming aware of the need to use resources carefully.
This attitude is becoming increasingly pronounced. 82 percent of baby boomers see serious difficulties ahead for people if the economy continues as it is. This is according to the trend study on ethical consumption conducted by the German Otto Group for the fifth time.
"Living More Consciously. Consumer Ethics in the Wake of Climate Change and the Covid 19 Pandemic" is the title of the study by the online and mail-order retailer, which states, among other things, that "ethical consumption has become established in the mainstream of Germans, and the throwaway society is a discontinued model."
Download the Swiss Textiles trend study here.
One of the biggest challenges, however, is not simply to curb consumption, but rather to prevent fashion waste, just like food waste. How can we stop used or unused clothing from going to landfill and bring it back into the cycle as an existing resource?
Wearing clothes for a long time was something I was practically born with. Even though it's normal for me, when I think about it, I'm also kind of proud of the clothes I've always lovingly freshened up: 15 or 20-year-old timeless coats with linings that have been repaired or replaced several times, high-quality shoes that give pleasure year after year thanks to good quality and care. Not always having to have the latest thing and taking care of what I have is my small personal contribution.
To be honest, I have a hard time buying secondhand items, especially clothes, even though I am absolutely in favour of this and find it fascinating. For this, I can warmly recommend the Neuen Zürcher Zeitung article "In Japan flourish the secondhand stores" from 5.1.2021 (in German).
In Japan, shopping in stores with used goods is a kind of national sport and is deeply rooted in the culture. This is sometimes also about repair & upcycling, about Boro (wearing ragged clothes on which the patched and repaired remains visible) or Sashiko (kind of sewing with "small stitches", which is comparable to our "riffle", only with decorative sewing thread).
I also follow the sharing economy with great interest and find it extremely useful. However, my involvement so far has been limited to renting cars and motorcycles. Sharing clothes is definitely not my thing.
"Individuals' efforts to make or change consumption sustainable is one thing.
Breaking the holistic principle of systematic waste - entirely something else."
The above described from Secondhand to Sharing Economy are all questions of attitudes, values and aspirations of us people and our communities, which are subject to social currents in the emergence and development. Influencing and changing them in a targeted way is usually hardly possible - and if it is, it cannot be planned in time.
But what can definitely be developed and changed effectively, and can also be planned, are processes and technologies. Here we can fall back on a well-known constant - don't we Swiss like to call ourselves recycling world champions? What works with plastics, rubber, metal and glass also works with textiles. Take them apart, separate them, process them, make them available and reassemble them.
A newly developed technology under the registered name Yarn-to-Yarn ® is particularly promising for the future. In an enzymatic process, materials are degraded and directly converted into new materials. This also works with polymers (synthetics): viscose and cotton are converted back into viscose and cotton, spandex and viscose in blended fabrics are processed out and directly converted back into yarn made of spandex and viscose. So, if I have a worn-out T-shirt that consumed 2000 liters in production among many other things, it will be directly reprocessed into a high-quality yarn in the future that will be used to make a new garment. Without any loss of resources.
"Yarn-to-Yarn® breaks through the holistic principle of systematic waste on a technological basis and enables the textile industry to make a structural change with regard to Fashion Waste. That is why I am committed to this new process technology."
About the Author:
Paloma Szathmáry has worked for many years for a company with production facilities in emerging markets. Issues like human rights, health, safety, working conditions, education, environmental conditions and corporate governance have in particular preoccupied and driven her. She has a long-term track record in corporate communications in an international environment in the luxury goods and branded articles market with core expertise in crisis communications and a passion for corporate social responsibility. Among others, she holds a Swiss Federal Diploma as PR Consultant. Her agency Kontor für Kommunikation advises companies and institutions in the field of public relations and communications. As a Co-Founder of Yarn-to-Yarn ® and sister of the Founder and CEO Sandra Grimmer, she is committed to support this new technology to enable the textile industry to make a structural change with regard to fashion waste.