Environment & Conservation Fund
2022 - 2023
Fashion At No Cost
Funded by the Environment and Conservation Fund, ECF Fashion at No Cost is designed and implemented by Artists Co-op which seeks to drive for behavioural change to address environmental issues, especially the waste problem in Hong Kong, brought about by the rapidly growing fashion industry, particularly the fast fashion.
While environmental protection has become a common sense for most, why has fast fashion still continued to be a rising trend despite its detrimental effect on the environment? We deploy behavioural psychology and economic analysis, and have strategically formulated a year-long programme comprising three major components – Education, Empowerment, Reinforcement and Mobilisation. Programmes include Sustainable Fashion Design Talks and Design Course, Community Workshops, Online Resource Platform, Train-the-trainers, Open Call, Fashion Show etc.
We use artistic creation approach to ignite the creativity of participants to transform the abandoned clothes at the bottom of their closet into new fashion. We hope to build a community with the relevant knowledge and skills step by step.
Why are we conducting this Project?
Fashion is rapidly growing with its production scale doubled since 2000. The fast-growing industry with the high-resource demand has brought upon some serious environmental problems to Hong Kong and the World.
According to “A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future” report by Ellen Macarthur Foundation in 2017, the fast fashion brings with “quicker turnaround of new styles, increased number of collections offered per year, and often lower prices”. It is estimated that more than half of fast fashion produced is disposed of in under a year.
Waste problem related to fashion industry
The fashion industry – from material sourcing, through supply chains to washing and waste – is estimated to be responsible for 8-10% of global carbon emissions, according to the United Nations, while other estimates put the figure somewhere between 2% and 8.1%. The industry consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industry combined.
Clothing also requires considerable amounts of fresh water and is a major source of water pollution. It takes more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1 kg of cotton, equivalent to a single T-shirt and a pair of jeans. Up to 8,000 different synthetic chemicals are used to turn raw materials into clothes, including a range of dyeing and finishing processes. Once manufactured, the garments are put in containers and sent by train or container ships, and eventually rail or trucks to the retailers. The carbon footprint of one T-shirt is estimated to be 15 kg. This means a T-shirt’s carbon footprint is approximately 20 times its own weight.
Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), National Geographic, and the World Resources Institute
Polyester as one of the biggest polluters in fashion
Polyester, nylon, acrylic, and other synthetic fibers, all of which are forms of plastic, are now about 60% of the material that makes up our clothes worldwide. Among them, polyester is the most widely-used clothing fiber, as it’s inexpensive (costing half as much per kg as cotton), versatile and can be washed at low temperatures. Compared with cotton, polyester which is the most favourite material of the fast fashion is on the rise especially after 2000.
The “Fossil Fashion” report produced by the Changing Markets Foundation in 2021 revealed that the production of virgin polyester globally has doubled since 2000. The process is now generating 700 million tonnes of CO2 every year – as much as 180 coal-fired power plants.
The laundry process of polyester and other materials also release tiny fibers known as microplastics, which can be harmful to marine life. According to a study “Release of synthetic microplastic plastic fibres from domestic washing machines: Effects of fabric type and washing conditions” by Imogen Napper, a marine scientist at the University of Plymouth in 2016, it estimated that over 700,000 fibres and nearly 500,000 fibers could be released from an average 6 kg wash load of acrylic fabric and polyester respectively. A 2017 study of microplastic pollution along the shores of the Hudson River in New York state found that river transports around 150 plastic million microfibers into the Atlantic ocean every day. A 2018 study also found that around 73% of fish caught at mid-ocean depths in the Northwest Atlantic had microplastics in their stomachs.
Other problems associated with polyester
The connection between plastics (including polyester) and breast cancer was first discovered in 1987 at Tufts Medical School in Boston by research scientists Dr. Ana Soto and Dr. Carlos Sonnenschein. During their experiments on cancer cell growth, chemicals leached from the plastic test tubes into the laboratory experiment, causing rampant proliferation of breast cancer cells.
Until recently, research had not been conducted to determine if the fabric used in clothing is carcinogenic or otherwise toxic to the wearer. It is still mostly unknown how large of a role that the clothing items we wear daily have played in increased incidences of diseases like breast cancer.
An allergy to polyester is a common trigger for an allergic reaction on your skin. A polyester allergy is one of a group of allergies called textile contact dermatitis, which means that your skin reacts when it has contact with a fabric. Up to 20% of people have some form of contact dermatitis. The allergen (substance that causes the reaction) may be in your clothes, furniture, or bedding. It can cause itching, redness, tenderness, and bumps (called hives).
Cost of making clothing with natural materials
Scaling sustainable fashion materials is more expensive than conventional clothing because the organic fibers used to produce each garment tend to be free of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and GMOs. Organic fabrics often have a limited number of certified growers, and in some cases, are regulated by the government or subject to heftier guidelines. The combination of increased regulation, high demand, and limited supply all contribute to an increase in cost for sustainable fashion.
Hong Kong people‘s shopping behaviours in fashion
A recent study “Clothing Consumption, Usage and Disposal Habits in Hong Kong” by Hong Kong-based environmental nonprofit organisation, Redress, has revealed that 30% of clothing in Hong Kong people’s wardrobes are never or rarely worn with impulse buying and purchasing clothing in the wrong style being two of the key reasons behind unused clothing items in closets. Many of these clothes will eventually end up in landfills or are incinerated after a few uses. It takes up valuable land resources and will bring upon a second chain of pollution including those related to air and land as a sequence.
According to a study conducted by Greenpeace in 2015, Hong Kong people discarded 110,000 tonnes of textiles each year, equivalent to about 1,400 T-shirts every minute – an amount that could cover 25,000 Hong Kong Stadiums. Per capita, it works out to about 15 kg of clothing disposed of in a year, the weight of roughly 102 T-shirts. It will take 200 years to break down clothes in landfills.
We strive to conserve our environment without sacrificing our living standard by adopting creative solution. Our programmes are therapeutic, fun, empowering, and conducive to community building and inter-generational collaboration, cultural heritage, and social solidarity, etc.