Clothes to Good
Dr Jennifer Botha, the EWT’s People In Conservation
- Did you know it takes 2,700 litres of water to produce a single cotton tee-shirt?[i]And that the fast fashion most of us depend on is one of the highest polluting industries globally, contributing 2 – 8% (about 1,2 billion tons) of greenhouse gases annually – higher than international flight and maritime shipping emissions combined[ii].
In addition to the widespread loss of biodiversity and habitats during production of raw materials, the industry:
- Produces about 20% of the world’s wastewater[iii],
- And 24% of insecticides and 11% of pesticides globally[iv],
- Is a major contributor to plastic pollution in oceans[v]
At the same time, the average number of times clothes are worn before being thrown away has fallen by 36% over the past 15 years in the United States, China, and other more affluent countries – and only 13% of these largely under-utilised clothes are recycled globally. It has been estimated that 21 billion tonnes of textiles are sent to landfill each year, the bulk of which are under-utilised [vi].
The fast fashion industry is booming and set to treble in size by 2050. Clearly, we need to rethink the largely “take – make – and waste” linear business model that is currently typical of this and many other industries.
What are we doing?
As part of its 50th celebration, the Endangered Wildlife Trust is implementing a series of innovative projects to reduce human impacts on biodiversity and habitats, whilst benefitting people.
In our most recent endeavour, we teamed up with Clothes to Good to support the circular economy of the fashion industry while contributing to the well-being and development of people with disabilities and young children in Kutama, Limpopo Province. The EWT works extensively with people from Kutama as they live adjacent to the Medike Mountain Reserve, one of our flagship projects in the Western Soutpansberg.
Through this integrated project, we aim to empower the Muthu Ndi Nyi Centre for people with disabilities by creating an opportunity for staff and parents to raise funds for the centre through the sale of high-quality second-hand clothing. The project also includes a health and well-being component through the provision of training and occupational health support to children and young people with disabilities from the centre and ECD training for ten creches and a facility that provides after-school care for vulnerable children.
Jesse Naidoo provided business training to enable staff and parents from Muthu Ndi Nnyi to maximise the financial and social returns through the sale of clothes. In addition, Tammy Greyling, an occupational therapist from ClothesToGood met with staff and parents to work with each of them to draw up a personal development plan for each of nine children and young adults who have disabilities to improve the quality of their lives and stimulate their personal development through improved communication, physical exercise, and specific activities tailored to each of their needs and abilities.
Early childhood development
The first three years are one of the most important developmental periods of a child’s life. In South Africa, there are still wide disparities in the quality of pre-school education provided to young children across socio-economic classes, exacerbating the learning difficulties that children face when they reach school going age.
As part of this project, we held a two-day workshop for over 30 participants from Muthu Ndi Nnyi, ten local creches, and a centre providing after-school care for vulnerable children. On the first day, Tammy Greyling, ClothesToGood’s occupational therapist, introduced an ECD kit comprising over 50 activities designed to stimulate fine and gross motor skills, perceptual skills, numeracy, and literacy. Each creche and centre received one of these demonstration kits and a training manual which will enable them to reproduce the activities for the 100 – 150 children in each of their care.
On the second day, we held a toy-making workshop to demonstrate making educational toys from recycled materials such as plastic bottle caps, cardboard, old bottles and other containers, old clothes, and other materials. The nursery schools were urged to ‘play-it-forward’ by inviting parents to toy making workshops and ensuring that their colleagues also receive training in the activity kits and toy making.
What can you do?
- Choose fashion items that will last and ensure that good quality clothes are not thrown away.
- Care for your clothes so that they last longer.
- Support fashion brands that are reducing their environmental and social impacts.
For example, Patagonia recently took an almost unprecedented step by committing to channel all its excess profits into a trust dedicated to the protection of the environment and support for communities[vii].
In addition, 200 brands have signed the Fashion Pact, which commits to restoring biodiversity loss, reducing global emissions, and safeguarding oceans[viii].
- Drop off clothes you no longer wear at H&M, who are supporting ClothesToGood collect clothes to support the above project as well as numerous others.
This project is an exciting start to a creative recycling and environmental awareness initiative in Kutama but also has the potential to contribute to substantially reducing textile waste over time. In addition, people from Kutama will benefit through access to high quality, affordable clothing as well as innovative and affordable ECD strategies that build the capacity of teachers while preparing young children for school.
- [i] By the Numbers: The Economic, Social and Environmental Impacts of “Fast Fashion” | World Resources Institute (wri.org)
- [ii] Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future (2017)
- [iii] UNECE 2018
- [iv] https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/press-release/un-alliance-sustainable-fashion-addresses-damage-fast-fashion
- [v] Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future (2017)
[vi] Silvestrii 2021
- [vii https://www.patagonia.com/ownership/
- [viii] https://www.cbd.int/article/sustainability-always-in-style#:~:text=End%20of%20life%3A%20Disposal%20of,pollutants%20into%20the%20surrounding%20landscape.