Waste-not Want-not Part II: New Year… New Me?

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In Part 2 of this 3-part series, Ren Min writes on fashion waste that we unconsciously generate and what we can do, as individuals, to protect the environment we all live in.

‘Tis the season to be jolly! A walk down Orchard Road to admire the light spectacle is also a reminder that 2017 is coming to an end. As you wrap up the year, you may have had a sudden deluge of End-of-Season sale offers being shoved in your face.

‘50% OFF STOREWIDE!’ screams one red signage at the entrance of a fashion outlet.

Or maybe ‘Buy 1 get 1 free!’. Ah, behold the magical word ‘free’ that sits exceptionally well with the local populace!

For some of us, the End-of-Season sale is the best time for a wardrobe overhaul. But most of us would probably not reserve our retail therapy just for December. The globalisation of production processes in the fashion industry, an increasing online fashion brand presence and numerous third-party retail platforms carrying a range of clothes and accessories have led to falling fashion prices hence, increased consumer spending. This phenomenon or culture of frequent ‘buying-throwing’ is known as ‘fast-fashion’ and it generates large amounts of fashion waste.

Clothes in the fast-fashion industry are unique. They retail at some of the lowest market prices. Which inevitably makes you wonder, how is it even possible?

Often, this is a result of lower quality cotton or worse, poor labour conditions in the production of such clothes. The former results in the cotton wearing out at a faster rate compared to more expensive pieces of clothing. Thus, consumers (you!) must consistently purchase more clothes once your older pieces are too disfigured. The latter creates a host of ethical problems in its wake, including underpaid sweatshop labour employed by some of the biggest clothing brands.

Behind a simple cotton t-shirt is an estimated 2500 litres of water invested to cultivate only the cotton crop. Suppose we drink 2 litres of water a day, the water used in the cultivation process is enough to support your daily needs for at least 2.5 years! Of course, water is also used in other stages of the production chain. One water-intensive process is dying. Poor dyeing practices have created a host of environmental problems. For example, leaching of untreated dye colour from factories into neighbouring waterways is common, leaving the same water sources people to rely on for survival contaminated beyond consumption. Amidst wry predictions of the stream colour that changes each production season, there is a serious need for us to rethink our purchase of that half-priced shirt.

As individual shoppers, we can adopt 3 simple steps to reduce fashion waste:

  1. REPLACE: Opt for eco-friendly brands. They may be a tad costly BUT for a good cause. Many brands have a sustainable clothing line which you can support instead. Some even offer clothes trade-ins so you can recycle them and get a discount on your next (necessary) purchase.
  2. RETHINK: Value quality over price. Fast-fashion clothes tend to wear out faster, ultimately requiring you to spend more by making repeated purchases.
  3. REFUSE: Trends fade over time. Getting new clothes is definitely necessary! However, we can all take some time to consider whether we really NEED that outfit. Or we could always hold out a while more till we grow out of our older clothes.


The environment is not merely the climate, nature, the air we breathe. People (both you and I) are an important part of this ecosystem as well. Every choice we make leaves an impact not just locally, but globally too. As 2017 draws to a close, maybe we can rebrand the cliché that floats around from ‘New Year, New Me’ to ‘New Year, Ethical Me’!

*Featured image from Design to Improve Life