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#Climate Urgency, #Consumption & Lifestyle

SCMP: The 16-tonne mountain of clothes, spread several metres high and wide on the 11th floor of an office tower in Hong Kong’s Quarry Bay district, is a jaw-dropping sight.

Sifting through it are volunteers taking part in a three-day “Sort-A-Thon” organised by Redress, a Hong Kong-based charity that raises awareness about the fashion industry’s damaging environmental impact.
The floor in Lincoln House is a hive of activity as garments are sorted into boxes labelled according to category, from baby clothes and business shirts to shoes and sportswear. Others are marked “summer” and “winter”, while top-quality pieces end up in resale boxes.

The scale of the pile may be shocking, but the director of Redress’ circular fashion programme, Aurianne Ricquier, says it represents just a fraction of the volume of waste textiles thrown away in Hong Kong every day.

“In 2022, an average of 388 tonnes (428 tons) of textiles were discarded into Hong Kong landfills every day, with 50 per cent estimated to be clothes,” Ricquier says. A 2020 Redress report on consumer usage and disposal habits found that two out of five Hongkongers discard their clothes after wearing them for a year or less, she notes.
“Look at the clothes in this box – some have never been worn,” she says, holding up a top with tags dangling from it.

The collection is the result of a clothing drive held in May as part of Get Redressed Month, the city’s largest clothing consumer awareness campaign.

With the motto “Your Clothes, Our Planet”, the campaign encourages consumers to rethink their relationship with clothing and the environment by highlighting the benefits of circular fashion, a system that aims to extend the life of garments through innovative design, repair and recycling initiatives.

Past “second life” campaigns have been successful: in 2022, Get Redressed Month collected 16.2 tonnes of clothing, with 60 per cent redistributed to Redress’ charity partners and 17 per cent resold at Redress’ pop-up shop.

Clothes donated in its most recent drive will either be repurposed, resold, repaired or recycled, says Ricquier.

“Giving away unwanted clothes means they are put back into circulation so they can be reused by others,” she says. “Some will be distributed among Redress’ network of charity partners, or responsibly downcycled.” The latter process can include clothes being shredded and repurposed as insulation material.

Quality pieces such as designer label garments and those made from expensive materials will be resold at a Redress pop-up at Lincoln House in Taikoo Place from June 18-23.

“People will have the chance to buy from our huge selection of affordable, quality second-hand clothing and accessories – there is something for everyone, and you’ll be saving carbon emissions with your ‘new’ pieces,” Ricquier says.

Removing the stigma that is often attached to second-hand clothes is vital, she adds.
“Some think second-hand clothes are like those found in a flea market but for our pop-up, everything is cleaned, steamed and hung nicely and colour-coded,” she says. “It’s done properly so the buyers have an enjoyable shopping experience.”

It seems attitudes are shifting if the rise in popularity of clothes-swap events is anything to go by.

“The fashion industry has a major environmental footprint, but we believe there are many amazing solutions and alternatives emerging,” says Georgie Harvey Ross, founder of the community-run Swop Society, which hosts pop-up swap events throughout Hong Kong. The next one – a Circular Fashion Fair – takes place on June 23 at SoHo House in Sheung Wan, on Hong Kong Island.

“Our goal with the Circular Fashion Fair is to inspire people to rethink their clothing consumption habits and discover the incredible potential of the circular fashion movement,” Harvey Ross says.

Non-profit organisation Take Out Plastic is also committed to reducing fabric waste in Hong Kong via its second-hand clothing exchange, Top Swop, which drives circular fashion initiatives in the city.

Also spreading the message is Hong Kong 2050 is Now, an initiative led by independent think tank Civic Exchange, which collaborated with singer Luna is a Bep to release a song, “Buy Less Buy Better”, to raise awareness of fashion overconsumption.

The song encourages consumers to buy fewer and better quality garments and to keep them for longer.

These are important messages, says Kitty Tam, programme lead of Hong Kong 2050 is Now. The average consumer buys 60 per cent more clothing items than 15 years ago, with each garment kept for half as long, she says.

“Based on our annual youth programmes, we have observed that students show a strong interest in making fashion sustainable,” Tam says.

“I hope that through this fun collaboration, we can reach more young people and show them what can be done in their daily lives regarding climate action, demonstrating that looking good and doing good can coexist.”

Fashion is one of the world’s most environmentally damaging industries, with fast fashion a significant contributor to the climate crisis and responsible for as much as 10 per cent of annual global carbon emissions.

Globally, up to 20 per cent of industrial water pollution is caused by textile dyeing and finishing.
The human cost of fast fashion cannot be ignored either, with the sector dependent on an exploited labour force in developing countries where workers – some underage – are often underpaid, overworked and exposed to dangerous conditions.

 

Originally published on SCMP on 13 June 2024.

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