Societal Insights

New Year, New Clothes, New Me? What Chinese Singaporeans Think About Textile Waste this Chinese New Year

Written on:
January 14, 2020
Tan Yan Rong

2019 was characterised by youth climate activism and even more environmental conversations, with the likes of Greta Thunberg, who has become one of the symbolic figures of climate action.

So we asked the question -- for this upcoming Chinese New Year, where does environmentalism stand?

Wearing new clothes is a common practice for Chinese New Year, as it signifies a fresh start for the new year. However, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA), the amount of textile and leather waste has increased from 96,500 tonnes in 2009 to 205,800 in 2018, doubling just within a decade. We find out what Chinese Singaporeans think about the New Year custom of wearing new clothes in relation to textile waste - a growing problem created by the over-consumption and throwaway culture of many developed countries, Singapore included.

In a Milieu poll conducted with 917 Chinese respondents in Singapore, we find that 82% (754 respondents) usually purchase new clothes for Chinese New Year.

Although textile waste is perceived to be important to 80% of respondents, only 38% consider the environmental impacts of their Chinese New Year purchase.

In addition, environmental concerns ranked one of the lowest among factors influencing respondents’ purchase decision. Accompanying that are several important factors like:

  1. Low or affordable prices, which could signal our tendency to indulge in fashion simply because we can afford to, and
  2. Trendiness, a reflection of how our consumerist society endlessly (and perhaps, mindlessly) pursue and consume new things - which means the outdated is constantly being discarded.

However, not all hope is lost - most important to respondents is that these clothes are wearable for other occasions, showing that their purchase may not be as wasteful as one might think.

As mentioned earlier, climate change has taken the spotlight globally. Have climate conversations managed to successfully embed themselves into our consciousness and subsequently, translated into positive actions? We went on to find out further how fashion consumption during the Chinese New Year has changed over time.

43% of the respondents indicated that they have been purchasing lesser clothes for Chinese New Year over the past few years, while a much smaller group (6%) claim to be purchasing more over the same period.

For the former, the reasons for their decision to purchase less lean towards personal lifestyle choices, and the perception that clothes have become more expensive. What catches the eye most is the influence of the minimalist lifestyle - something that has recently become a trendy and popular lifestyle choice advocated by prominent figures such as Marie Kondo (does this name “spark joy to you”?). The minimalist lifestyle is especially popular among millennials, who are “more into the style of life than the stuff of life” - basically seeking life satisfaction beyond material goods.

On the other hand, reasons for the consumption habits of respondents who are purchasing more (note: low base size of 56 samples) tends to be influenced by economic factors - higher purchasing power, perception of greater affordability of clothes and additionally, the wider options that consumers have, likely made possible by the growing presence of e-commerce.

A glance at these two groups of people could be telling us that a possible approach towards discouraging wasteful consumption is one that is less direct than simply talking about how the earth is dying and that humankind is worsening this process.

We could take a step back to reconsider and encourage other lifestyles that could be equally, or even more fulfilling than one where consumption equates happiness. The minimalist lifestyle is probably a good start - especially with its popularity among younger generations who will be important stakeholders in shaping the future.

At the same time that 80% of respondents view textile waste as an important issue, a similar number (76%) see themselves as playing a significant role in this global problem. While this festive period may see more purchase of apparel, more consumers are also choosing to purchase less. As environmentalism gains more global attention, we can be hopeful that environmentalism would find its place amongst traditions for subsequent generations.

Do you think environmentalism is at odds with traditions? How can we reduce our environmental footprints while continuing this custom of purchasing new clothes for Chinese New Year? Will it - and other customs - evolve with the times to include environmentalism?

Did you enjoy this article? Here’s another article in collaboration with Rice Media and the National Youth Council (NYC) covering more issues of waste and environmental action in Singapore.

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