The Big Waste – one artist mission to reduce fashion waste


It is a norm for people to shop for new clothes but  have you ever thought how many clothes have ended up in landfills?

According to the World Economic Forum, fashion waste has cost the global economy more than USD400 billion every year.

The Ellen Macarthur Foundation warned that 60% of the average consumers throw away their clothes in the first year and an estimated amount of 18.6 million tonnes of clothing will end up in landfills.
If this trend continues, more than 150 million tonnes of fashion waste will clog landfills by 2050.

Old clothes are also difficult to recycle since they use different types of fabrics, even if the shirt you bought was labelled as 100% cotton which makes it difficult to separate so it is labour intensive, slow and requires a skilled workforce.

Multidisciplinary artist Dhan Illiani Yusof who studied fashion design ended up questioning whether to pursue the traditional path of becoming a fashion designer after collecting fabrice throughout her student days, which accumulated into waste.

“I was raised in a family where we were sort of conscious with the way we consume resources and my parents were always particular about being very thrifty.

“They love secondhand goods, they always always go out of their way to get resources that are more or less still good and are perfectly able to do the new things they are able to do,” she spoke to The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

To raise awareness regarding fashion waste, Dhan has created an installation piece entitled “The Big Waste” which is inspired by the Dung Beetle and the Big Bang accompanied by a large pile of clothes resembling a landfill.

It plays with the idea of “origin” in a “universal” multi-layered lens, to highlight and question society’s roles in waste and consumption.

The installation makes us look at the current problematic approach in understanding the economic “growth”and layers of the how, where and who are the makers behind our fabric and clothing.

“For the installation, Fashion Revolution wanted something that had an impact on people so what better to do that than a landfill itself, because that is the most visually impacting image that we can think of when it comes to textile waste, which has to in the mountainous volumes of clothing just just discarded in like natural landscapes.

“From my perspective, I also wanted to add an element of how we needed to start questioning, what are we buying, what are we spending on what’s in our clothes as well, so that we can have a more universal view of how textile is not just specific to everyday wear, but also in terms of the value of our producers,” Dhan explained.

She also notices that not many people are aware that polyester, a non-biodegradable fabric, is one of the main factors that are used in clothing production especially fast-fashion because it is faster and easier to churn out.

Dhan added that she received the massive pile of clothes from recycling company Kloth, where it has prepared bins in specific locations around Kuala Lumpur (KL).

“The fabric on desert balls and the other planets are all from my own fabric collection of waste from my fashion college days and the bars themselves are actually from my friends.”

One of the main factors why people buy a lot of clothes is due to their lifestyle, occupation as well as keeping up with the latest demands.

Those who work in entertainment, fashion and the corporate world are required to dress more presentable so they are more likely to discard more clothes.

Dhan also believes that Malaysians are being more and more aware of the negative effects of fashion waste.

Some Malaysian families are quite sentimental with the value of things as they have a strong family bond and they are always donating their things.

Even among the Islamic communities they are always doing anything to help unfortunate communities.

“I do think we are conscious about the things that we do, but it can be better, it can always be better but we are at a good starting point.

“It just needs to go deeper and deeper into the grassroots and give people the opportunity to make that action easier,” she concluded.

“The Big Waste ” was a part of Fashion Revolution Week which was held from April 19 to 24 at REXKL, KL.

The campaign was organised by the fashion activism Non-Government Organisation (NGO) Fashion Revolution Malaysia and features a variety of interactive in-person and online events such as workshops, insightful conversations and guests are also able to swap their old clothes for new ones.

According to its Country Coordinator Melissa Tan, fast fashion is not only harmful to the environment and clothing manufacturers, it has created a toxic relationship between fashion and consumers in this age of throwaway fashion and overconsumption.

“Awareness is an important first step, but we want to activate people to question and change their relationship with fashion with the tools and education to take action” she said.

The theme of this year’s Fashion Revolution Week is “Money Fashion Power” which builds on the knowledge that the mainstream fashion industry has been exploiting labour and natural resources.

Big brands and retailers produce too much clothes at a faster rate where they manipulate its consumers into overconsumption and it also raises an issue where those producing our clothes are underpaid and have felt the impact of climate change.

Fashion Revolution co-founder and Global Creative Director Orsola de Castro hopes to expose fashion supply chains that promote inequality and social and environmental abuses.

“From the uneven distribution of profits, to overproduced, easily discarded fashion, to the imbalances of power that negate inclusion.

“Meanwhile, inspiring new designers, thinkers and professionals all over the world are challenging the system with solutions and alternative models,” she mentioned.