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RMIT University Library - Learning Lab

Sustainable industries: fashion


The clothing industry is global, extremely large and prolific because we all need clothes to wear.  However, the fashion industry is creating a lot of waste due to the high turnover of clothes, which have short lifespans as they are discarded due to poor quality manufacture, or quickly changing fashion styles.

Big companies can sell cheap clothes by manufacturing them in countries where workers may not be paid a living wage. In more affluent societies, these garments are considered disposable and not kept as long as they could be.

A ‘living wage’ means paying workers enough to take care of themselves and their families, which includes affording things like housing, food, health care and education for their children.  

Brown paper label attached to a shirt, showing care instructions for sustainable fashion
Image attribution: HollyHarry on Adobe Stock

Pressure is rising for designers and clothing manufacturers to reduce the impact of fashion. There are many areas of manufacture in the fashion and textile industry where changes can be made to make this industry more sustainable.

Textile recycling – the textiles (fabric and other materials used to make clothing) can be broken down and the fibres (threads that make up the fabric) can be recycled into new clothes.

Repair – creating garments that are easy to repair ensures that they can last longer.

Wages – garment workers (people who make clothes) are paid a living wage.

Reuse - high quality, well made clothes can be resold many times. Cheap, badly made clothes cannot.

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is growing around the world. Fast fashion are clothes made very cheaply and quickly that are only worn a few times before being thrown away.

People today own far more clothes than they used to in the past, and some of these clothes are cheap and not made to last. The actual cost of the clothes is much higher than the price people are paying to buy them if we think about the cost of waste produced.

Some experts have suggested that by making clothes more expensive to cover the cost of dealing with clothing waste, we might stop people from buying so many cheap clothes.

Woman with shopping bags standing in the middle of a garbage dump
Image attribution: Halfpoint on Adobe Stock

The rise of Internet shopping, propelled further by the recent pandemic, has made it very easy to buy new clothes. Many of these clothes are very cheap. No one needs to buy new clothes every week or every month. Making clothes more expensive to cover the cost of waste is one way to change fast fashion.

There are companies recycling textiles that break down the clothes and create new threads and materials. There are many drop-off points in Australia that will accept old clothes for recycling. Buying recycled clothing can help to make the fashion industry more sustainable. If you are choosing new clothes, look for recycled fabrics and support companies that recycle, or are 'fair trade' and pay their workers a fair price for their labour.

For more information, visit the RMIT Library subject guide on Sustainable fashion and textiles.