Not so Happy Foot: penguins need sweaters too

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011
Penguin sweaters needed

With news of another oil spill, this time off the coast of New Zealand, requests have been made for people to send knitted sweaters for the rescued penguins. 100 percent wool only, and yes, this is 100 percent true.

There is a strong link between knitting jumpers for penguins, dealing with the consequences of our consumer society, swap parties and being happier.

The natural world is suffering because, simply, we consume too much. We use oil in almost all our products. Oil must be transported across the globe, burnt or processed and then it’s thrown away.

One way to reduce the amount of stuff that goes to landfill is to reuse. One of the easiest things for us to control is how we treat our clothing. The message is simple: If you don’t want it any more, swap it with someone who may well treasure your trash and if you do want it but it’s broken, learn how to sew and knit and fix it, or, even easier, get it fixed.

Clothes are important. Saving money is important. Therefore, in Hong Kong, swapping or swishing (as folks like to call it in London and New York) is taking off in a big way. A swapping party is easy to organize. A pleasant indirect consequence of swapping is that it’s an opportunity to raise money for charity by charging a small entrance fee. Alternatively, just organize your own. All you need is three or more people, some clothes (DVDs, books or magazines) to swap and that’s it, you’re ready.

As Mark Twain once said, "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society." Of course we need clothes, there’s no denying that. However, the way we use them and replace them should change. And it’s easy to change.

Secondhand threads are among the most fashionable and eco-friendly garments around. Vintage clothing is sought after in many of the fashion hot-spots across the globe – London, New York and Paris. There’s no reason why Hong Kong can’t be the same.

In addition, swapping helps combat “fast fashion” – cut-price clothing that help create a disposal society. Fast food refers to the over-consumption of burgers, fast fashion refers to the over-consumption of cheap clothing. Which is bought, worn a few times and disposed of.

Why is it important to reuse clothes anyway?

  • When clothing isn’t recycled, it means more has to be produced and that means more pollution and waste. For example, the production of cotton destroys farmland and pollutes waterways. 22.5 percent of all agricultural insecticides and 10 percent of all pesticides used each year go into cotton farming.  Cotton, found in most clothing, is the most pesticide-dependent crop in the world.
  • Dyeing textiles requires a huge amount of water, and it often pollutes rivers and sewers.
  • The production of one cotton t-shirt requires one-third of a pound of pesticides. That fast fashion 50 dollar t-shirt you just purchased is certainly not a bargain for the planet. Save 50 bucks and go to a swapping event instead.
  • Synthetic polyesters and nylon are made from petrochemicals, a byproduct of oil refining which increases our need and reliance on oil and which in turn increases harmful pollution. Clothing and household textiles make up 4.67 percent of the waste stream.
  • Polyester, the most commonly manufactured fiber, is made from petroleum in an energy-intensive process that emits volatile organic compounds and acid gases into the air. The process also uses large amounts of water for cooling.
  • The manufacturing of nylon emits nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with a carbon footprint 310 times that of carbon dioxide.
    “Easy care” and “permanent press” cottons are treated with formaldehyde, a toxic chemical.

So organize a swap, which in turn promotes community engagement, which in turn apparently makes us happier! Connecting with people around you is a great way to stimulate yourself, learn new things and be happy. Londoners and New Yorkers in particular have embraced swapping, and are hopefully happier as a consequence.

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