Mairātea Mohi continues her series that documents the journey of a shopaholic in her year without new clothes. 'Win the battle, lose the WARdrobe' reveals what it means to be a young indigenous adult in a rapidly globalising society. Read her first column, here.
The over-consumption of natural resources in the fashion industry has had severe impacts on the environment. And we buyers have noticed.
There has been a clear direction in the fashion industry, particularly from patrons, towards a more mindful and circular system for clothing. Circular fashion or sustainable fashion are all terms to describe the conscious consumerism movement taking place in front of us.
More people - consumers and designers alike - are campaigning for a system where garments are circulated for as long as possible, then returned to the whenua at the end. With this thinking in mind, I wanted to talk to four fashion insiders and businesses in Aotearoa heading sustainable change in their own way.
New Zealand prides itself on its ‘clean, green’ image, and as tangata of the whenua we have the inherent duty as kaitiaki to leave the earth in a better position for the next generation. This means caring for Papatuānuku in any and all ways - including the impact and waste of our consumption habits.
Here in Aotearoa, we have a plethora of individuals and companies doing their bit for the earth - advocates include fashion brands like Aho Creative, Nisa and Love And Lend, independent organisations and fashion sustainability consultants 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 shop more consciously?
1. Don’t buy into every trend. Rent instead
“It’s the buy it and wear it once trend we’re trying to get rid of,” say best friends Carley Eklund (Ngāti Kahu) and Kristyn Taavao (Tapuika) of Love and Lend. “Too often we don’t want to be caught in the same fit and clothes just go untouched in our wardrobes for months… even years!”
Discouraging contributions to your growing ‘floordrobe,’ Love and Lend is a business that allows people to rent frocks or garments for a fraction of the price of a new outfit.
Catering to sizes 12-24, the pair are supporting both New Zealand made and slow fashion. From creating a buy-back initiative that purchases pre-loved designer clothing from community members, to encouraging buyers to send back rented items in the same packaging it was sent in – they have made tiaki whenua, or taking care of the land, a priority.
On kaitiakitanga, Eklund says it’s not only about the land but the people also. “Our main focus is to care for the environment and make good choices. But it’s also about having our community know we’re in this sustainability journey together.”
Renting is an affordable way to stay up to date with trends, diversify your wardrobe and also be part of a collective of many enjoying and imparting unique memories on a single garment. Did someone say ‘Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants?’
2. Research where your money is going
Aho Creative, created by Kristy Bedi of Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Māmoe says there is a big disconnect between consumers and manufacturers.
“You may think you’re just buying a dress off the rack, but we don’t often stop to think about all the hands our clothing passes through. Things like exploitation, malpractice and injustice can quite literally be woven into its fabric.”
Bedi says, “everything has a whakapapa” and that recognition must be given to how things were made and who makes them.
Bedi says working intimately with people at every stage of the creation process ensures that only top quality, made to last products are touching consumers hands. She emphasises the need for people to view their garments in a nuanced way.
“You shouldn’t be thinking about fabrics on their own. You should also be thinking about how the materials were made and if they were grown sustainably,” she says. “You can have natural fibres like linen or cotton grown inorganically, but you can also have mixed materials like polyester made from recycled plastics.”
3. Think not only about the beginning, but the end of your wardrobe's life
Question: Where do you think our clothes go once we throw them out?
Answer: “In landfills overseas,” says Jacinta FitzGerald, sustainability expert and programme director of local fashion organisation Mindful Fashion NZ. Out of sight, out of mind… Or so we think.
Nisa founder Elisha Watson says that the “missing puzzle piece” of the fashion industry is the facilities to provide proper aftercare. “End of life stuff just doesn’t exist yet.”
Watson believes the future is regenerative, and has indicated that Nisa is looking at take-back schemes where they collect end of life garments and safely dispose of them.
FitzGerald paints a disturbing picture and asks, “imagine if every piece of litter you created was put in your backyard.”
Well, yuck. The analogy describes the overconsumption and subsequent over-dumping society has contributed to landfills. Enticing a wake-up call to consumers, she encourages people to be more picky when choosing clothes.
So kaipānui mā [readers] - just because you're not too picky when it comes to your partners, the experts are telling you to be more selective with your clothing choices!
4. Keep asking questions
To be a conscious consumer means to constantly question everything. Why is this thing trendy? Who’s making it? When will I wear this?
Experts also say to ask yourself, ‘how many uses will I get out of this garment?’ If your answer was less than 50… put it back!
It’s all about putting a discerning eye over everything. If you can’t find the answers you’re looking for, then don’t be afraid to email companies with your enquiries. Your question could lead to considerable change.
So next time you go shopping and you find something you love, ask yourself the most important question: “do I actually need this?”
All of the experts I spoke to were in agreement that more everyday buyers need to start familiarising themselves with recognised certifications like certified organic, BioGrow NZ, Fairtrade, and environmental choice. These third party verifications give insight into the manufacturing process and give consumers some confidence in the ethics of their purchases.
Watson, of Nisa, says kaitiakitanga in fashion should not only be adopted here in Aotearoa, but the whole world.
“We need to expand our view of kaitiakitanga to include all the indigenous populations who have had their land and integrity affected by harmful fashion practices. You can’t have thriving people without a thriving land.”
This is a Public Interest Journalism funded role through NZ On Air