Whilst researching an article on the lifespan of underwear, I got to thinking, “what is the average lifespan of clothing?” International research showed the lifespan of clothing is an average of four years. Typically in a country where we play it forward, the lifespan is much longer. I decided to delve deeper to understand what processes we had in place in South Africa that tracked this and came up short, so short in fact, there wasn’t any.
This simple question has lead me on a winding path for three years where often questioning experts and authorities, I once again came up, short.
It occurred to me over time that my interest in clothing recycling was not just mere coincidence but a passion that has always been there. As a creative teenager, deconstruction and reconstructing of clothing came naturally to me. Many years later I left Edgars to start my own wardrobe styling business. With focus on that which already existed in the wardrobe, restyling new looks, adding basics and how to view the already existing wardrobe from a new and fresh perspective was the goal. Whatever could not be deconstructed, redyed, refashioned would be given away to charity, prolonging the lifespan of clothing.
On burrowing deeper still, I found that consciously apart from 2nd hand and vintage stores and the occasional swop party, not much is being done to create an awareness of the crisis facing South Africa in terms of the clothing carbon footprint.
I, myself, a lover of vintage and 2nd hand clothing receive as much joy finding a fabulous find at a fraction of the cost as I would a top fashion piece at triple the price. I am not saying we should only wear and shop for 2nd hand and vintage clothing, but we do need to concern ourselves as to where it all ends up, where our clothing ultimately “goes to die”.
We live in a country where shopping centers are jammed packed with Chinese imports, on average each and every South African has a wardrobe fitted with many items of clothing, yes we play it forward giving to domestics, charities, etc but ultimately it still has to end up somewhere. Typically clothing is designed to fall apart, even if only after 10 or twenty years but a lot of fabric is not biodegradable. With millions of tons of clothing in circulation in South Africa, where it ultimately ends up is in landfills.
landfills are the final destination
According to a top South African retailer, very little clothing ends up on landfills. However municipalities recently upped the costing of refuse removal services to develop more landfills. We don’t incinerate our clothing, landfills are the final destination. We can no longer afford to ignore the impact this is having on the environment, on the country as a whole.
And so the mission is this: to raise the awareness of the carbon footprint of clothing in South Africa. What can we do? We can all become aware of how we consume and if we choose not to change this, how can we consciously make a difference recycling our clothing.
In an effort to consciously develop and implement processes Pre-Loved has launched a clothing collection company. Travelling door to door all unwanted men’s, ladies and children’s clothing and shoes are collected avoiding direct access to landfills through traditional channels. Clothing is sorted, cleaned, weighed as process of tracking weight in volume and channeled to poorer communities providing a longer garment lifespan. There is a dire need for clothing in poorer communities and Pre-Loved provides an effective channel of distribution.
much room for community involvement
Clothing recycling has been overlooked for too long and this too needs to become a part of our everyday lives. There are many solutions to this problem with much room for community involvement, job creation and most importantly the positive impact on the environment.
Joanna joined Marks & Spencer CEO Marc Bolland on an East London street covered in unwanted clothes to highlight the problem of clothes going to landfill. Image source.