December 4, 2023

Early in 2023, like millions of other Australians, Kate Hulett made a new year’s resolution.

Knowing it was a pledge she would struggle to keep, she put it on social media, declaring to her 8,000  followers:

“If I write this one out loud, I’ll feel [more] guilty if I break it,” she wrote.

“And seeing as I’m a grown woman, mainly fuelled by guilt, this should prove an effective technique.

“No new clothes in 2023.”

woman looking at black and white top on hanger, with blurred clothes on rail in background
Kate Hulett loves clothes but has become increasingly concerned about the impact of the fast fashion industry. (ABC News: Claire Moodie)

It might seem like a small, extremely first-world, gesture.

But for the artist, small business owner and lover of clothes,  it felt like the only useful thing to do in the face of mounting evidence of the cost to the world.

“I think it was mainly the waste that really got me,” she said.

“There were all those images in the media of the masses of mainly western clothes in landfill in poorer countries that have just been dumped.

“And then understanding that most of the people that make our clothes are women and children and they’re paid an absolute pittance in order to make a $20 T-shirt.

Liz Ricketts on the beach in Accra.
Clothing “tentacles” up to 10 metres in length have been found on a beach in Ghana, where used clothes from the UK, Europe, North America and Australia are sent.(Foreign Correspondent: Andrew Greaves)

“I think once you’ve learnt some of that stuff, you can’t unlearn it and pretend it doesn’t exist.”

Little discarded clothing recycled

According to a recent report by the Australian Fashion Council, about 227,000 tonnes of discarded clothing is sent to landfill in Australia each year. 

Only 7,000 tonnes is recycled.

On top of that, more than 100,000 tonnes that cannot be sold in charity shops in Australia gets exported overseas each year.