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Cork Lives
How often do you put a newly purchased top in your wardrobe with tag attached — and forget all about it? Picture: Stock
How often do you put a newly purchased top in your wardrobe with tag attached — and forget all about it? Picture: Stock

Colette Sheridan: The terrible toll of the 'fast fashion' industry is quite shameful

ARE you one of those people who, like The Smith singer, Morrissey, can’t go out tonight because you haven’t got a stitch to wear?

What rubbish. In our disposable culture, where clothes, sometimes manufactured in sweat shops, are incredibly cheap, we have got into the habit of unthinkingly adding to our wardrobes, to a ridiculous degree.

I mean, it’s not as if we’re celebs on show to the world. Kate Middleton is praised for sometimes wearing the same piece of couture twice. TWICE? Big swing.

She and other famous style icons should limit their wardrobes and rotate clothes with different accessories to set some sort of example in a world where 73% of all textiles end up in landfill or incineration.

The ‘fast fashion’ industry is the fourth largest cause of environmental pressure, according to World Vision Ireland and the Irish Environmental Network.

The NGOs are calling on the next Irish government to take urgent action and place restrictions on the fast fashion industry to make it more eco-friendly by moving the sector away from unsustainable production and consumption patterns.

You might think this sounds like spoiling the fun in shopping for clothes, but we’re talking about the future of the planet here.

Clothing production has doubled from 2000 to 2014, with more than 150 billion garments now produced annually. It’s crazy.

Our propensity for fashion consumption knows no bounds. We are slaves to fashion but it comes at a huge cost — and I’m not talking about pricey haute couture.

It’s the sheer waste that needs to be highlighted because dispensable fashion takes a huge toll on the planet.

In December, research from the European Environmental Agency found that, after food, housing and transport, textiles are the fourth largest cause of environmental pressure. They also cause the second highest pressure on land use and are the fifth largest contributor to carbon emissions from household consumption.

The United Nations points out that the textile sector is responsible for between 8% and 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions from household consumption. It estimates that, by 2050, fashion could be responsible for a quarter of all carbon emissions.

It has been said that we own at least four times more clothes than our parents did when they were younger. How often do you put a newly purchased top in your wardrobe with tag attached — and forget all about it?

There was a time when buying new clothes was a bit of an occasion. You saved up to buy a dress or a pair of jeans.

Now, you can kit yourself out in the likes of Penneys for very little money during your lunch break.

But, really, buying the synthetic fashion on offer is not doing the planet any favours. We should be supporting Irish businesses that use sustainable textiles in their production lines. These include hemp fibres, nettle fibres, pineapple fibres (known as Pinatex), lotus fibres and wool.

On a positive note, charity shops have become popular with many people for buying ‘pre-loved’ clothes, as second-hand fashion is euphemistically referred to. There’s nothing wrong with wearing second-hand gear.

As a student, I used to trawl the former stalls on the Coal Quay for second hand fashion and I bought fabric in a shop there and made my own clothes — nothing too ambitious, mostly summer dresses in granny prints.

Now, I wouldn’t have the patience for that kind of labour intensive activity, laying out material on the floor, pinning a pattern to it before cutting it out and sewing it together on the electric sewing machine that my mother bought for my sister and I in the hope that we would have some domestic accomplishments!

And besides, it’s hard to find a fabric shop in Cork these days.

Unlike some of my friends, I have very little luck in charity shops. But I know several canny women who know exactly where to go for second-hand designer items or good labels.

I was chatting to a very well dressed woman the other day. She recently bought a Sarah Pacini cardigan for €10. It would retail in Brown Thomas for more than €100. She showed me a photo on her phone of a friend who was feeling somewhat smug because she had bought a Cos dress for €6 in a charity shop in Midleton.

For those of us who worship at the altar of Cos, a bargain like that is hard to come by.

Just as there is an art to clothes shopping in TK Maxx (which I have mastered), there is a special skill needed to hit on fashionable items in charity shops. I haven’t cracked it but half the fun is trying. I have bought far too many bargains in TK Maxx. It’s time for a cull. Roll on second-hand pre-loved fashion.