Fast fashion, sustainable clothing, and ethical purchases - what does it all mean and why should we care? Reporter Jenny Ling explains.
In a small space in the Salvation Army's Whangārei Family Store, a small but seismic shift to sustainable and ethical fashion is taking place.
Volunteers – fabric lovers, craftspeople and environmental activists – are rifling through mountains of clothing donated to the charity shop and sorting them into boxes by nature of their fabric.
Then creative residents like fabric artist Jenny Hill take to their sewing machines, transforming the garments into better versions of themselves, making the old and damaged wearable and new.
The items are then tagged and hung on racks in that corner of the Sallies store where Intercept Fabric Rescue has carved out its niche, helping the planet by upcycling items that would otherwise end up in landfill.
"We decide if it's worth the time fixing it – and usually we do," Hill said.
"People don't realise how labour intensive making clothes is.
"To make a pair of jeans you've got to grow cotton, dye it, cut it, put on studs and zips ... so much work and resources both human and the environment goes into a garment.
"For it to be worn once or twice and sent to landfill is an absolute crime.
"The fast fashion industry is really bad and we're fighting that."
Hill's foray into sustainable fashion began when she was volunteering for Colour Our City, a group created to celebrate Whangārei's creative talent, several years ago.
She was working on a mural at the back of the Salvation Army building on Vine St when she struck up a conversation with the manager about clothing donated and dumped at the store.
Intercept Fabric Rescue was established in 2019.
"I noticed a lot of good fabric had to go to the dump because they had no other way of getting rid of it. It was costing them a lot each year to dump this treasure.
"I had an idea that I could get a group of like-minded people together and rescue the fabric and turn it into better products.
"The idea caught fire quickly and within 24 hours we had 100 people like the Facebook page.
"It was like spontaneous combustion; there were people who could see the big picture of this plan and wanted to support it big time.
"Before long we had a really good team of people who knew fabrics."
The not-for-profit group now has 1100 followers and around 28 volunteers.
Items that are already in good condition go straight onto shelves in the family store, and damaged ones head to the Intercept team to revive.
All the proceeds from the sales go back to the Salvation Army.
Hill said the volunteers only work with natural materials such as wool, silk, linen and good quality cotton.
"We only use natural fibres which last longer and eventually they will break down whereas synthetics don't last as long won't break down."
The vintage range is the only exception, but that's because even synthetic fabrics were of better quality back in the day.
Hill also liaises with community organisations, channelling the clothing they can't use to help needy Northlanders.
She collaborates with the SPCA and local pound, giving old blankets and towels to their animal shelters and kennels.
"The rescue rate has gone way up; there's very little sent to the dump now. We find a use for almost everything that comes our way."
In the past fortnight alone they have saved 370kg of fabric and clothes from being dumped.
That's close to 10 tonnes a year.
Hill is among a growing number of people – both consumers and retailers – who are making efforts to be more sustainable and stem the tsunami of clothing sent to landfill.
With clothes cheaper than ever before many succumb to 'fast fashion', a term used to describe the quick transition from catwalk to customer.
These garments are made at reduced cost and with reduced quality and are not designed to last.
According to One Planet New Zealand, 75 per cent of all textiles manufactured each year are sent to landfill by consumers.
Just 12 per cent are recycled, and another 12 per cent are lost during manufacturing in the form of cutting and production waste.
But it's not just the waste that's the problem; there are manufacturers that outsource labour to countries where workers are exploited and regulations are lax.
One deadly example was the 2013 garment factory collapse which killed more than 1100 people in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The collapse of the eight-storey building called Rana Plaza, which housed five garment factories, sparked serious questions about the fashion industry's use of sweatshops and cheap labour.
It's an issue on New Zealand retailers' minds.
Retail NZ is holding a Sustainability Forum in Auckland on June 25.
Its chief executive Greg Harford said the forum is a chance for retailers to talk to each other and share best practice around sustainability.
There are various aspects to it, he said, such as ensuring good working conditions throughout supply chains, product waste, and working to reduce emissions to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
There has been a "significant shift" in customers wanting clothing to be ethically sourced and produced, Harford said.
"Retailers have responded to that to make sure they're doing the right thing.
"It's a massive beast.
"We've got issues around procurement, climate change, and waste and particularly given the government desire to phase out plastic, so there are big bits of work going on."
Even chains like the Warehouse are working to ensure clothing produced in factories is well-governed and managed and complying with terms of contracts.
"What started as a middle-class customer trend impacting on higher-end labels has spread right through the retail sector," Harford said.
"A lot of businesses are working really hard to try and make things better."
Whangārei businesswoman Bronwyn Summers runs Pattern Postie, a website based in Parua Bay that sells sewing patterns locally and internationally.
Since Covid-19 there has been a "massive increase" in the demand for patterns as people dusted off their sewing machines, she said.
"It's something people have come back to, and it's across all crafts.
"I think people have really started thinking about what they want to do with their time and getting more creative. It's definitely changed people's mindset.
"People suddenly thought 'what if I can't go to the shop and get what I want ... maybe I should be more self-sufficient'."
Summers, a former librarian and mother of two, learned to sew at school and has always made her own clothes.
She had the idea for her business nine years ago, when her youngest child was a baby.
"I always really liked sewing and went to a shop in town to buy patterns and there was nothing there.
"I thought I'd order it online and when I looked there were no patterns in New Zealand at that time.
"I decide to start a website ... within three days I had my first sale and it never stopped."
The biggest proportion of her customers are aged under 40, Summers said, and increasingly young people are taking up sewing.
The benefits include "being able to wear what I want to wear instead of being stuck with what's in the shops".
"You go shopping now and there's not a lot of natural fibres anymore, there's a lot of synthetic fibres.
"I like the idea if I make something no one has been exploited. It's my labour and my time and it hasn't been made in a Third World country and shipped right across the world.
"It's nice when someone says where did you get your skirt from and I say I made it."
How to be an ethical shopper
* Reuse what you have: Repurpose old products into something functional or interesting.
* Repair what you can: Sew buttons, patch holes, learn to sew.
* Rethink your wants and needs: Spend more time with family and friends and less time at the shops.
* Hold clothes swaps with friends: Out with the old and in with the new!
* Buy second-hand: Check out op shops and online marketplaces.
Source: Gen Less