Your friends have asked you to go out with them tonight. The place you’re heading to looks great and you’re excited. Your wardrobe is almost overflowing with clothes but after one quick glance, you have “nothing to wear”. You decide to spend your lunch break at the shops and choose something cheap and fast since you haven’t taken this expenditure into account in your budget. You simply don’t have time to think about where these clothes came from, let alone the ecological impact of your impulse purchase.
Unfortunately, this scenario is alarmingly familiar to so many. Once that night out is over, it’s only a matter of time until the cycle repeats itself. This is known as fast fashion: cheap, trendy clothing that will degrade after just a few wears and, ultimately, gets thrown away.
The speed at which these garments are produced means that either consumers or businesses (or both) dispose of more clothes. This mass-production model is not only detrimental to the environment and the workers who help produce the garments, but also to consumers – it’s ruining your relationship to clothing.
The alternative to mass production
Sydney-based tech-fashion brand Citizen Wolf has turned that traditional production model on its head. According to its co-founder Zoltan Csaki, “If you’re successful in fashion, you’ve been successful with a mass-production model and therefore you think it’s the only way to proceed.
“We went right back to first principles and asked ourselves: ‘If we were making clothes for the first time ever today, with the technology that exists, would we do it in the same way that everybody else does it?’ The answer was quite simply ‘no’.”
Citizen Wolf, which first formed in 2016, uses technology to automate and simplify the process of tailoring. The team built an algorithm known as Magic Fit, which requires your height, weight, age and bust for women, which can be inputted online. This data creates a mathematical model of your body so that customers can select their fabric and fit before the piece is cut on a laser and sewn by hand in Sydney.
Standard sizes fail 81 per cent of people. If your clothes are made to actually fit you, in your choice of colour and fabric, you’re more likely to take care of them and repair them when needed instead of rushing to replace items.
While Citizen Wolf currently only produces T-shirts, the idea goes beyond just the products offered. “Our mission as a company is to prove and validate that on-demand manufacturing is a viable alternative to making clothing at scale. We are a small company right now, we only make one thing, T-shirts, but it’s not about that – for us, it’s about the model, the manufacturing system we built and the technology that powers it,” Zoltan says.
“In a few years, our aim is to offer that technology to the rest of the industry. If brands adopt this as the default position for creating clothing, the world is going to be in a better place.”
In today’s tech-savvy society, it’s hard to believe that mass production is still the superior way of creating garments for most fashion brands. One in three pieces of clothing made every year goes straight to landfill unsold or burnt, like in the case of fashion giant Burberry, which admitted last year to burning unsold clothes, accessories and perfume instead of selling them off cheaply in order to protect the brand’s luxury reputation. A further one in three pieces of clothing ends up in landfill within the first 12 months after being purchased.
The reality is, forecasting fashion trends and consumer demand for these trends is near impossible and is essentially why the clothing and textile industry is the second-largest polluter in the world, after oil.
With an on-demand manufacturing model, Citizen Wolf is able to produce clothing waste-free. “We don’t sit on stock, we don’t go on sale and we don’t send things to landfill if they don’t sell,” Zoltan explains.
“All of the scrap that’s left over from our T-shirt production we keep, we patchwork together and then we make it into what we call the zero-waste collection, which is primarily tote bags at the moment.”
While Citizen Wolf’s algorithm works instantly once the required data has been received, the entire process still takes time. From the moment your piece is ordered, it takes around 10 days to receive. Therefore, they’re not impulse buys like most fashion purchases are, but Zoltan believes that this is actually the brand’s biggest strength.
“The way people buy and consume things needs to change if you believe the planet is in crisis,” he says. “If you start from the position of what we’re doing today is not okay or sustainable, and you realise we are absolutely over-stressing Mother Earth, then we all need to be more considered and more conscious in our purchase decisions.
“Getting something made for you is basically forcing yourself to wait, instead of that instant gratification and dopamine of an impulse buy.”
Five ways to reduce your fashion waste:
- Buy less. Ensure that what you buy is good quality, adaptable across seasons and won’t easily go out of fashion.
- Don’t be so quick to replace your clothes; take them to be repaired when you can.
- Shop consciously. Be mindful of where you shop, as even brands that label themselves as “sustainable” still likely use a mass-production model. Buy second-hand when you can.
- Don’t throw out your clothes. Instead, find them a new home. Be cautious where you donate as a lot of donations end up in landfill.
- Be patient. Don’t make impulse buys for the instant gratification because it will soon wear off. Wait until you find something you really love.
Unfortunately, even some brands that purport to be sustainable run a mass-production model and are still contributing to the landfill crisis.
“The landfill problem is the biggest issue from an ecological standpoint,” Zoltan says. “All the organic cotton in the world and ethical labour counts for nothing when one in three pieces of clothing goes straight to landfill in a mass-production model. It’s just crazy and nobody’s talking about it.”
So it has never been a more important time to be conscious about where you shop and what or who you’re ultimately supporting. Until more and more fashion brands utilise technology and implement an on-demand manufacturing model, you need to be well aware of how your purchases are impacting the environment.
Words LAINE FULLERTON
Laine Fullerton is a freelance writer with a journalism degree from the University of Technology, Sydney. Laine is passionate about wellness, animal rights and living a sustainable life. She can usually be found with her head in a Lonely Planet book and daydreaming about travelling to the most remote places around the world.