Fashion forward: UP PhD grad advocates for new clothing consumption practices for better sustainability

Posted on June 05, 2020

Dr Hanri Taljaard, a lecturer at the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Department of Consumer and Food Sciences in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, is one of 11 000 UP graduates who were awarded their qualifications in absentia during a virtual ceremony necessitated by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Her PhD thesis unpacked the concept of voluntary simplistic clothing consumption practices and why women in South Africa choose to take part in activities such as recycling and reusing their clothes and reducing their consumption.

“I used Qualtrics, an online data capturing programme, to develop and distribute my questionnaire via a link to women aged between 21 and 65,” explains Dr Taljaard about her research approach. “My sampling approach entailed focusing on younger to middle-aged women, as they are generally more willing to take part in socially responsible initiatives and may act as early adopters of voluntary simplistic clothing consumption behaviour.”

Dr Taljaard was born in the small town of Kareedouw in the Eastern Cape, and spent her formative years in various towns and national parks because of the nature of her parents’ vocation. Perhaps growing up in places like Tsitsikamma is what influenced her affinity for environmental sustainability – much like fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, Dr Taljaard is passionate about raising awareness about the environmental and social impact of overconsumption. She believes people should live in a much simpler manner by buying less, choosing better options and making their clothes last.

“The clothing and textile industry is the second largest polluter in the world; this necessitates [that] new ways [be developed] to reduce the environmental footprint,” Dr Taljaard says. “Customers also contribute to environmental and social issues by purchasing, wearing, washing and disposing of their clothes in environmentally unfriendly ways. This is why it is equally important to establish more sustainable value chains in the clothing and textile industry, but at the same time, encouraging consumers to adapt their lifestyles by lowering consumption levels and/or choosing more sustainable options.”

Getting people involved

Due to the diversity of South Africa’s population, communicating a single message in an inclusive manner is challenging.

“One of the main mechanisms to educate people from all walks of life on voluntary simplicity and the circular economy is awareness creation on concepts that might not be familiar to many as yet,” Dr Taljaard says. “For example, a circular economy can be explained as ‘an approach designed to reflect the systems of reusing and recycling products such as clothing and textiles, as opposed to just throwing them away’.”

She suggests that retailers explicitly promote these alternative concepts and market their clothing products in such a way that consumers can be educated on how to live more sustainably.

Dr Taljaard discovered that most women who participated in her study felt competent to recycle and reuse their clothes to avoid unnecessarily throwing them away. She further noted that quite a few also repaired their clothing in an attempt to be environmentally and socially responsible, which resulted in fewer clothes being bought.

“Easy guidelines and tips should be provided on how to live a voluntary simplistic lifestyle or how to take part in a circular economy without needing additional resources, finances, time, etc. The easier and clearer it becomes to people, the more willing they will be to learn about it and try it out.

According to Dr Taljaard, voluntary simplicity and the concept of a circular economy in terms of clothing can be explained by means of five Rs:

  • Reduce the amount of clothing you buy, use or throw away.
  • Repair your clothes or recycle them (make rags out of worn out clothing, for instance).
  • Recycle or reuse clothing in an eco-friendly manner.
  • Refuse to buy clothing that is harmful to the environment and rather buy 100% organic cotton or recycled polyester.
  • Refuse to buy unethical/imported clothing brands and rather support "Proudly SA" or “Made in SA” brands.

“Explore the clothing options you still have available in your cupboard, then determine whether you actually have clothes to wear or not,” says Dr Taljaard. “Always choose to reduce, repair, recycle, reuse and/or refuse rather than throwing your clothes away. It’s as simple as that; once this becomes a habit, you will start living a more sustainable, simplistic, circular lifestyle that not only benefits you, but also contributes to a better environment and society.”

- Author Kaya Nocanda

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