GETTING CRAFTY: Jane Milburn (right) teaching Mikaela Moroney (left) to upcycle a t-shirt.  Photo Lucy Smith / Daily Mercury
GETTING CRAFTY: Jane Milburn (right) teaching Mikaela Moroney (left) to upcycle a t-shirt. Photo Lucy Smith / Daily Mercury Lucy Smith

Fashionistas: Slow down and save our seas

PLASTICS in the ocean may often be attributed to water bottles and shopping bags but micro-particles from synthetic fabrics in the wash are polluting the seas too.

When scientist Mark Browne and his colleagues dissected fish as part of marine pollution studies six years ago, they found a single garment could flush more than 1900 fibres through sewage systems into the ocean.

Other environmental impacts from textile industries include landfill, water consumption (to grow cotton, for example) and passive support of the petroleum industry since many synthetic fibres are derived from petroleum.

But just as a slow-food trend has emerged in recent years to counteract unsustainable fast food habits, Textile Beat sustainability consultant Jane Milburn has vowed to help protect the environment by fostering awareness of a slow fashion movement.

"The key things are to stop manufacturing more of the synthetic clothing and be strategic about the natural fibres we buy,” she told The Northern Star in the lead-up to a free Byron Bay-based community discussion called Slow Clothing in a Fast World.

Ms Milburn researched data on the global textile industry, including figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, United Nations and one of the world's leading polyester companies, PCI Fibres, and discovered Australians were the second largest consumers of new clothing in the world.

North Americans bought an average of 37 kilos of new clothing each year; Australians 27; Western Europeans 22 and fashionistas in developing African countries, the Middle East and India bought an annual average of five kilos.

Two-thirds of new clothing bought in Australia was made from petroleum based fabrics, Ms Milburn found.

Recycling, upcycling, buying less, garment hire, learning to sew and washing less are some of the choices consumers can make when trying to minimise the impact of their wardrobe on the environment, Ms Milburn said.

"I know it's difficult in hot weather to think about washing less but often you can just hang things on the line and they'll be ok - obviously not if you've been exercising and sweating,” she said.

"I definitely think renting and leasing high end special occasion garments is a good thing.

"Clothing businesses are recognising that they've got an image problem and a social responsibility and [fashion label executives at] H&M are offering an incentive to recycle fabrics - it's not commercially possible to recycle blended fabrics but they're working on a chemical process for doing so.”

Sewing skills have been lost in recent Australian generations, Ms Milburn said but it was never too late to learn and students didn't have to rely on schools to provide classes.

She would run four entry level workshops on upcycling and reusing clothing - including a paper making class - from January 18 - 22, after the free talk on January 18, 6.30pm at Workshops of Byron Bay.

Classes were suitable for "independent teenagers”, she said and bookings could be made online by searching "slow clothing” at

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