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The fashion industry is one of the biggest in the world, and it's not slowing down. Fast fashion is making it easier and cheaper for us to update our wardrobes than ever before, but it comes at a cost.
On this special episode of Pocket Money, we explore the world of fast fashion from a new perspective. We learn how the industry is rife with challenges, from murky supply chains and labour rights to its ecological impact. We also examine some ways that all of us can start to play a positive role and make some changes in how we consume and dispose of our clothing.
To help understand this complicated issue, we are joined by experts and activists who are helping push fashion toward a more ethical and sustainable future. We also shine a light on the slow fashion movement, which has begun to spark more transparent conversations around our closets and clothing choices.
This episode is the latest in a series where we look at our money and the impact it can have on where we choose to spend it. Listen back to episode #130 How to travel responsibly and #131 How to go green with your money to dive even deeper.
This episode is proudly presented by GlamCorner.
Mentioned in this episode
- Finder Green: For all things sustainable, ethical and eco-friendly
- Meet Clare Press and listen to her Wardrobe Crisis podcast
- Read the Good On You Journal for tips and guides on ethical and sustainable fashion
- Browse the Good On You Brand Directory
- Download the Good On You app from the App Store or Google Play
- Learn more about Round She Goes and visit The Slow Fashion Market
- Fashion Revolution
- How to live "A Zero Waste Life" on a budget episode
- Fast fashion quick to cause environmental havoc
- Aussies spend up on gadgets and clothes
- Fast, free shipping has an environmental cost
- Make Fashion Circular Report
- Style that's sustainable: A new fast-fashion formula
- CBC News: Bangladesh Factory Collapse
- ITV News: Rana Plaza factory collapse: Families still await millions in compensation
- PBS News Hour: Are your clothes made in safer factories after the 2013 Bangladesh factory disaster?
- On-Demand News: Rana Plaza building collapse: Death toll continues to rise in Bangladesh
- The Ugly Truth Of Fast Fashion | Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj | Netflix
Additional sound and effects provided by Logic Pro Sound Library and Storyblocks
- Waiting for You by Borrtex
- Palm Trees Please by Lance Conrad
- Runaway by VESHZA
- Little Cute by Stefano Mastronardi
- First Rain by Ian Post
- Fire Again by John Isaac
- Sunday by Young Rich Pixies
- Mind Over Matter by Chelsea McGough
- Wistful by Falls
- Pocket Money Theme by Bamby Media
Read the transcript of this episode
Note: This is based on a machine-generated transcript. We've tidied it up, but we're sorry if any glitches have slipped through.
Hey friends, it's me, Sally. This month on the podcast, we've been talking a lot about values and putting our money where our mouth is. We've covered topics like zero waste living, travelling responsibly, and also going green with our money. So it makes sense that we'd eventually cover shopping and fashion, which is a topic that I'm especially interested in. No matter what your relationship is with your closet, we really think you'll get a lot from this story. I know I certainly did.
Today's episode of pocket money is brought to you by GlamCorner, Australia's leading fashion rental platform. GlamCorner has a passion for sustainability and a mission to reduce textile waste in Australia. So instead of buying a new dress for every wedding or event that you have, you can rent pieces for a fraction of the price. And we're talking high-quality fashion labels here too, including Camilla, Zimmerman and Alice McCall, just to name a few. As a certified B-Corp, GlamCorner believes protecting people and the planet is good business. To browse their collection and learn more, visit GlamCorner.com.au.
The fashion industry is one of the biggest in the world and it isn't slowing down. Fast fashion is making it easier and cheaper for us to update our wardrobes than ever.
I normally like stick to the same kind of stores like Zara, Topshop.
h&m, Zara from time to time.
Nike, adidas, Louis Vuitton, Burberry.
If I can get discount codes, student discounts.
Definitely sales, looking for the best bang for the buck.
Plenty of us do it. Whether you're picking up bargains online on Black Friday and Boxing Day, shopping for a new outfit on the high street or throwing away clothes that you've barely worn, most of us have contributed to the fast fashion trend in some way. Here in Australia, we spend a lot of money on close too. $18 per person per week. It doesn't sound like a lot, but that adds up to almost $1,000 per year. And that's just on average.
$350 a month.
$20 – maybe not even.
Between 50 and 100 euros.
When it comes to the costs, it's not just about the price tags on the clothes themselves. The fashion industry also has some of the biggest impacts on our planet and its people. This is largely because of how we consume clothes today. Globally, we now purchase about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. That's 400% more than we were consuming just two decades ago. Australia is the second-largest consumer of new textiles and we send 85% of what we wear to landfill.
Today on Pocket Money, we're going to take a look at this complicated issue, and in the spirit of the podcast, we'll talk about ways we can make changes in our own lives and with our wallets that are easier than you think.
We're treating fashion as if it was disposable, but fashion's not disposable.
That's Clare Press. She's the host of the popular fashion podcast Wardrobe Crisis and has authored three books – soon to be four – on ethical fashion, sustainability and social change. She also serves as the sustainability editor-at-large for Vogue Australia.
So I focus all my work through the lens of sustainability. So I look at the fashion system and I look at how eco it is, how well it's doing on the environmental front, but also looking at the people side of the ethical and sustainability question.
Clare's sustainability editor title really caught my eye. And I couldn't help but think this position is a sign of the times.
I think that it's testament to the rising interest in consumers in all issues around sustainability. Readers want to know, and I think for a modern fashion magazine, which of course Vogue is, then leading the conversation in that way makes sense. People want to know more about how their clothes are made and what the impact has been on people and planet.
Sustainability may seem like the buzzword of the year, but Clare assured me that it's much more than a trend.
I mean, we all have to care about people and planet and the ways in which our clothes have been made. And that's not something that's trendy, that's something that's kind of, I guess it's integral to everything that makes fashion good, right? I always say that something can't be beautiful if it's been made in an ugly way.
We spoke about some of the biggest challenges in this conversation, one being the poor working conditions of the people who are making our clothes. It's always been an issue, but it was brought to the forefront of many people's minds after the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh in April 2013.
An eight-story building collapsed today killing at least 145 people and injuring hundreds of others.
It was the worst industrial disaster in Bangladesh's history. Rana Plaza today is little more than rubble.
Most of the dead were young women. Garment workers who were crushed or trapped in the rubble when the eight-story building collapsed. Investigators said the top four floors had been built without permits, and the ground beneath the structure was unstable.
The Rana Plaza building collapse follows a fire in another factory on the outskirts of Dhaka that killed 112 people in November, and another incident at a factory in January, in which seven people died, raising concerns about workers safety and low wages.
1,138 people died in that factory collapse. And I think that when that happened, it sent ripples through the whole industry, and through shoppers and through everyone who's ever thought about clothes and the fashion system.
The disaster shocked a lot of people, but it also inspired a movement. It's called Fashion Revolution. They call themselves pro-fashion protesters who love fashion and want to see it become a force for good. Their mission is to unite people and the organisations to work together towards radically changing the way our clothes are sourced, produced and consumed, so that our clothing is made in a safe, clean and fair way. Clare also sits on the advisory board of the Fashion Revolution here in Australia
It's now operating in more than 100 countries, and it's all about asking that should-be-simple question, "Who made my clothes?" So I take part in that, and that was actually one of the reasons why I started to work in this space. I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't be equally motivated by disasters or accidents that happen that involve smaller numbers of people. But when you look at more than 1,000 people dying for fashion, come on. No wonder people sat up and took notice.
The next challenge we discussed was waste and why now is the time to change our relationship with clothes.
So I mentioned waste, my favourite topic. Waste is one of the key drivers at this whole sustainability question. Right now, the global fashion industry is about twice as big as it was 15 years ago. So we've gone from 50 billion garments being produced every year to 100 billion in 15 years. That's crackers because there's not, like, twice as many of us. While we're making more and more clothes, we're also holding onto them for less and less time. Basically, we're buying clothes to throw them away. We're wearing them for maybe, I mean, the numbers vary, and it's hard to pin them down, but it might be four times or six times. And then people are chucking them out. It's just bananas.
Clare told me that 70% of the clothes that we wear are made from synthetic fibres. Think of materials like polyester and nylon, which will take a really long time to break down after they end up in landfill.
It's basically plastic. We can't chuck it out, it doesn't disappear, there is no away. So when we look at this crazy fashion waste problem, and this perfect storm of twice as many clothes, holding onto them for much less time, and then these things not for the most part being biodegradable – and even if they are, like if we're talking about cotton or wool, landfill conditions don't allow for these things to break down. So I think we've been sold a bit of a lie that fashion is disposable, that we can treat it like fast food, just consume it, and then it's gone. And that's not true. There are impacts to this. And I think that now, people are just waking up to it and they're starting to realise that it's not a very efficient system.
It's a pretty complex and multi-layered problem. Before we even buy the clothes, they're produced in a way that hurts the environment, then they eventually end up in landfill, and underneath it all, there's the welfare of the people who make our clothes half a world away.
I mean, it can be quite a dire picture right? We've talked about the terrible consequences for workers who are not treated with dignity in the supply chain. And you know, "The Supply Chain" – clunky words. Let's just try and get this back to the human. This is a woman sitting in a room sewing mostly. And mostly she's not paid a living wage and is toiling away for really long hours, sometimes being intimidated by the guy in the factory – and it is usually a guy in the factory – pressured to do more and more work, faster and faster, to work very long hours and overtime for terrible money, and the outcome for her is not often so great.
It's a harsh reality to come to terms with. But we need to think about the future of fashion with some hope and optimism.
All of that added up together, to me, looks like a system that is broken. And when I said that I was like, "Oh, this is so gloomy!" Broken system, supply chains, all that. We also need to try to inject some energy into this conversation and to remember that people love fashion because it's fun.
Clare's right, fashion is fun. It's a super important part of our culture and identity. And let's face it, it isn't going anywhere anytime soon. So how can we continue to enjoy clothes and fashion in a way that's better for people and the planet? It's time to slow the damn thing down. You might have heard about the slow fashion movement online or seen Slow Fashion Markets pop up in your area. Slow fashion really just flips fast fashion on its head. It's about slowing down the production and consumption of clothes, focusing on quality and longevity, and the use of sustainable resources. It encourages us to use fashion as a force for good and to think about the fair treatment of people, animals and the planet.
When we talk about fast fashion, we're literally talking about the speed with which we get the clothes from the design room, or the factory to the shop floor. And it's so fast now, it can be like a few weeks, it can be a few days.
When you visit your favourite fashion chain store, you're likely to find different stock on the racks from one week to the next. The clothes are mass-produced, cheap, and it's how retailers capitalise on the latest trends so quickly. Although the price tag might be low, we know by now that it comes at a much higher cost. The alternative to this fast fashion model is one where we consume less and are more mindful with our choices.
I think all the good parts of slow fashion are a bit like those that we have with food. It's about reconnecting, using materials that are good for us, that are safe and natural, that have been produced with care, and just reconnecting. I think we all want to do that.
It doesn't seem that long ago that the year of fashion had four seasons, and now it's infinite.
You know, when I was a kid – because I'm so old – we didn't have that. We had spring, summer, autumn, winter, and maybe you get like a holiday highlight, woo-h00, bikinis. But you didn't have all these shoulder seasons, which is fashion speak for the additional seasons. So now we have, I mean, they call them pre-fall, pre-pre-fall, come on. So resort, but then we can have pre-resort. It's just completely bonkers. It's basically just an excuse for the industry that's out of control to keep spewing out more and more stuff.
The downside is that sustainable fashion has gotten a bit of a bad rap as being the more expensive option. We checked out Sydney's Slow Fashion Market earlier this year, and when we asked a few of the shoppers what the biggest challenges are for them, the cost was a common theme.
Slow Fashion Market shopper:
For people who try and buy it, it can be really, really expensive compared to what they are used to. It becomes hard to just afford a garment that's going to cost a day's wage.
Slow Fashion Market shopper:
We've gone so far down this path of exploitation of the earth and the people that make the clothes, that it's very hard to kind of backtrack and start remedying that situation.
Slow Fashion Market shopper:
And it's hard to get people to understand that walking into a shop and being able to get the latest and greatest for $10 is not the way to go.
Given some of the most popular brands fall under the fast fashion umbrella, it's arguably harder to find slow fashion alternatives as well. Luckily, there's an app for that. Good On You does the hard work of sifting through fashion brands to highlight businesses that have a focus on people, animals and the planet. The UN sustainable development goal of ensuring sustainable production and consumption patterns is at the heart of everything Good On You does, and it's even been endorsed by sustainable fashion pioneers, including my girl crush, Emma Watson. I spoke with Good On You co-founder Gordon Renouf about the app, how the rating systems work and why it's so important for us as consumers to shop a little more mindfully.
People use the app for two main things. They want to find out how their favourite brands impact on the issues they care about. So they can check, you know, the big brand that they wear a lot and they can see what's it like on labour rights, what it's like on environment, how does it impact animals. But also they can discover new brands which are better aligned with their values, and see if they are also aligned with their fashion style or their particular needs that they have in relation to clothing.
But how do we know if a brand we're supporting is ethical?
The first step towards sustainability, the first step towards ethical production, is transparency. So the obligation is on the brand to tell their customers and other stakeholders exactly what they're doing in relation to climate change or chemical use or waste or worker safety or living wages or animal impacts. And so, what we do is that we assess brands based on the information that is publicly available. You know, are they telling people where their factories are? Are they reporting on the percentage of employees who are getting a living wage? Are they disclosing climate change targets and reporting against them in ways which are generally accepted as valid? We only respond to things like, "Here are our factories. Here is our climate change target. Here is the percentage of workers getting paid a living wage." In part, because that's true information and in part because, if you say things like that and it's not true, then you're breaching the law.
He also emphasised that we all need to focus on things that brands can be held accountable to, like actual targets for emissions and sourcing, not just the easy stuff like using biodegradable packaging or recycling at the corporate headquarters.
By all means, improve your packaging, but also address the fundamental issues that really go to your environmental impact or your impact on workers and animals.
When you're doing your research on a brand, beware of greenwashing or other dodgy marketing strategies. The Macquarie Dictionary defines greenwashing as deceptive corporate advertising designed to portray the company as caring for the environment, when in fact little effort has been made to reduce energy, waste or undertake other measures to reduce harm to the environment. Words like "sustainability", "ethical" and "eco-friendly" aren't regulated, so they don't necessarily mean that a company is doing the right thing by the planet when they release a "conscious" fashion line. On a recent episode of Patriot Act, Hasan Minhaj explains it pretty well.
Everybody should be sustainable now. But sustainable has no legal definition. It's like when businesses talk about synergy, or when Subway talks about meat. They use ambiguity to sell you the feeling of responsibility.
If companies only look at their profits, fast fashion can be a tempting business model.
If you're paying workers proper wages and you're complying with environmental regulations and doing more than that, it's going to cost you more as a company. So in some ways, you will expect properly made clothes to cost something more than the cheapest and nastiest fast fashion. On the consumer side, you do your part by thinking about the true cost of clothes. We can also compare the cost of clothes today to the cost of clothes 20 years ago. Clothes were way more expensive as a percentage of people's budget. So even well made slow fashion clothes now don't really cost any more than our clothes cost 20 years ago.
Let me just pop in here to say Good On You has a great blog full of articles and strategies like the ultimate guide to making your clothes last longer and how to shop vintage. These can help you get better value out of your fashion dollar and, as Gordon put it, stop supporting brands that really are at the bottom of the pack. If you think about your wardrobe as an investment, not only are you making a better decision for the environment and workers overseas, but also for your wallet.
Yeah, there's this idea of cost per wear. If you buy something you're going to wear 30 times, and it only cost five times something that you're only going to wear once, it's actually six times cheaper to buy that item than to buy the one you can only wear once because it's so distinctive and on-trend it'll be unfashionable in two months time.
It's true. Investing in an ethically made garment from a local designer is likely to have a higher price tag then it's fast fashion counterpart. But slow fashion encourages us to stop treating clothes as disposable, invest in more sustainable pieces and overall spend less. Clare, who you'll remember from earlier, also made some interesting points about how we value our clothes and how fast fashion can end up being the more expensive option in the long run.
I do think that we have trained ourselves as consumers to expect to pay too little and we have to remember that someone always pays the price for too cheap. When I talk about necessities, that's a real thing. But is it necessary for me to run out and buy like the latest Gucci knockoff fast fashion frock? No, that's a choice. So if you are in the habit of like running out on a Saturday morning and spending, I don't know, $80 on three cheap things, maybe you could spend $80 on one good thing.
It's kind of about changing the way we think about our clothes and our money, right? This includes the clothes we already own. That's why when Gordon told me about the four Rs of slow fashion, I got pretty excited. Number one, reduce.
To reduce obviously is about quality, it's about less clothes but better quality clothes, it's about clothes that are more your style rather than whatever style has been pushed on you by Instagram at the moment. Reusing is about restyling clothes, about wearing them in different ways, about swapping them with other people. Repairing is about obviously learning to fix clothes, or getting friends with a repairer, or buying from brands that will give you free repairs – there's a number of brands around now, things like jeans in particular, where they will repair your jeans. And then of course, we've talked a lot already about resale. So going to the various sites and apps that will buy your clothes from you.
These four Rs are key. If you take anything from this story, remember these: reduce, reuse, repair and resale. And you may be wondering, what about donating? It can play a role, but there are way more clothes being donated than are needed. Last year, the National Association of Charitable Recycling Organisations, which includes Vinnies, Salvation Army, Lifeline, reported that they send 60,000 tonnes of unwanted items to landfill every year. And that's just here in Australia. The next time you're about to buy a new shirt, think about if you really need it. If you're Marie Kondo-ing your closet, maybe you can repair or repurpose those old clothes instead of tossing them away. You could even swap them with a friend or have a market sale and get some extra cash.
Remember that Slow Fashion Market we were at earlier? It's actually a regular event all across Australia. The market is founded by a woman called Emma Morris, and this isn't the only market she and her team put on.
I also run another market called Round She Goes, which is a secondhand clothing event. And the Makers and Shakers, which is a locally made homewares and food market.
These markets aren't just here in Sydney. You can find them in Adelaide, Canberra and Melbourne. The movement's growing fast.
I think that what this market has been about is like, come and support these brands because they are all trying to really do the right thing, and I've been really excited to see how many people and the different kinds of people that have turned up today as well has been really nice to see. It's a start, I suppose is like my overall broad point. It is a start.
Slow Fashion Market shopper:
And that's why I came today because I just thought it's such a perfect opportunity to actually meet people that are actually making the clothes.
Slow Fashion Market shopper:
I think we're educating a lot more now, so the movement's started.
Slow Fashion Market shopper:
I do like to shop local, I try not to shop at any department stores, chain stores, etc.
You can make a difference just by getting started.
You'll never kind of find these ways to save money by not shopping so much if you don't have a bit of a think about why you shop so much. I think that's kind of a fundamental starting point. And then there are lots of directions you can go in, whether you're a secondhand person or not. Whether you want to save up and just buy occasionally good things, you know, there's lots of strategies you can adopt once you get out of that kind of treadmill of having to have what everybody else has.
We've got to stop trying to have the perfect model and just accept that some people are doing as best they can for what they're doing.
That's right. Although this is really heavy stuff. Don't let that eco-anxiety get to you. It's easy to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of these problems, but you can make some small steps to help the cause. Small steps lead to bigger ones, and they can help us feel more motivated.
I think overwhelm is real. So if you're faced with too much this stuff, it can lead to inaction. And I think one of the key things is to find your people. It's really hard to fight all this stuff on your own, but if you can find a group to join – like I joined Fashion Revolution at the start of my sustainability quest – if you can find a local group that fights the cause that you're particularly thinking about, whether it is beating plastic pollution or trying to solve climate change, that's the first place to go. You can find them online, but their best in real life. Think about the person who made your clothes, how they were made, what it took to produce them. And when you foster that connection, I just think that you look after them a lot more and you get more joy out of them. And you can also beat the overwhelm too. You can become your own eco-warrior. I think you should.
Thanks for joining us on this special episode of Pocket Money. If there's someone in your life you think would love this topic as much as you have, send them a link. And of course, feel free to drop us a review on Apple Podcasts and let us know what you thought of the show. Right now, we're gearing up for our second season next year and we'd really love to hear from you about what areas of money you want to learn more about with us, so hit us up.
You can find us on Instagram @pocketmoneypodcast or join us in our private Facebook group. Our show notes and credits can be found at finder.com.au/podcast. There's a ton of resources and references from the episode. You'll also find links to Clare's podcast Wardrobe Crisis, the Good On You app, the Slow Fashion Market and Fashion Revolution.
I'm Sally McMullan, and this episode was co-written and produced by Franko Ali. Also thanks to Brianna Ansaldo of Bamby Media, our superhero of an editor who helped put this episode together. A massive thank you to everybody who shared their time and insight for this episode, including Clare Press, Gordon Renouf, Emma Morris and our friends from the Slow Fashion Market in Petersham. A big shout out to everyone who took the time out of their busy Thursday night shopping at Pitt Street Mall to chat with us.
It's amazing that these conversations about slow fashion, even happening, with initiatives like Fashion Revolution leading the way, but we still have a long way to go. So whether it's vintage shopping, using the Good On You app, hosting a clothes swap with your friends, or just buying fewer clothes, there are plenty of ways that we can make better and slower choices when it comes to clothes. Thanks for listening to Pocket Money from Finder. Head over to finder.com.au/podcast for the show notes for this episode. The Finder podcast is intended to provide you with tips, tools and strategies that will help you make better decisions. Although we're licenced and authorised, we don't provide financial advice. So please consider your own situation or get advice before making any decisions based on anything in our show. Thanks for listening.
The Finder Pocket Money podcast is intended to provide you with tips, tools and strategies that will help you make better decisions. Although we're licensed and authorised, we (and our guests) aren't providing any form of financial or legal advice. So please consider your own situation and get proper advice about your individual circumstances before making any decisions based on anything in our show. Thanks for listening.
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Pocket Money is hosted by Sally McMullen and Marc Terrano, co-written and produced by Franko Ali, with editing and theme music from Brianna Ansaldo of Bamby Media.
finder.com.au (ACL 385509. CAR 432664) is Australia's most popular comparison site. We like to help, and we understand that our podcast provides information, insight and entertainment, but it's not personal advice. Consider your own circumstances and get advice before you make any decision based on our general comments and commentary.
Sally McMullen is a creative content producer at Finder, co-hosts our Pocket Money podcast and wrote about credit cards for almost five years. Her byline can be spotted on Yahoo Finance, Dynamic Business, Financy and Mamamia as well as Music Feeds and Rolling Stone. She has a Bachelor of Communication and Media Studies majoring in Journalism (Hons) from the University of Wollongong.