With a passion for the natural environment and a fascination with the secret language we all speak through our clothes, Hanri Taljaard is currently knee-deep in a PhD study, focusing on “voluntary simplistic” clothing consumption practices in South Africa. Nadia Krige asked Hanri a few questions:

Before we move on, tell us what ‘voluntary simplistic’ consumption is. 

Basically, it is a way of life. People choose to reduce the harmful impact they have on the natural and social environment, as well as to remove the clutter from their lives by minimising the number of products they consume or own. I am specifically focusing on slow fashion and sustainable clothing practices, which falls under the umbrella of embracing a voluntary simplistic lifestyle.

What is slow fashion? 

It is the opposite of fast fashion, which can briefly be described as the availability of clothing at your fingertips with new trends or seasons presented to consumers every few weeks.

Slow fashion, on the contrary is the slowing down of this fast-paced trend and includes a variety of ways in which one could be more sustainable in terms of your clothing consumption (buying, using, and throwing away).

It could involve limiting the amount of clothing you buy by buying good quality clothing that lasts longer, or even buying classically-styled clothing that will be worn for more than one season, being more eco-friendly in terms of clothing (buying or acquiring organic clothing, or clothing that has been recycled in some way), and being more supportive of local organisations who manufacture and produce clothing in your area.

Why are you interested in slow and sustainable fashion?

My love for the environment was inevitable from the very start; I grew up in various national parks around South Africa and the environment was always a big part of my existence. And, since a very young age, I have been mesmerised by clothes; how we adorn ourselves and tell stories without speaking a single word. This fascination has grown stronger as I have grown older and clothing is my communication tool for telling people about myself, as well as for interpreting who people are based on how they dress. It’s more than a basic physiological need; it’s a statement and a flashcard for people who cross your path.

Because of this fascination with clothing, I studied BConsumer Science: Clothing Retail Management at the University of Pretoria. I did my masters combining my two interests, namely the environment and fashion. By incorporating my love for the environment as well as the need to preserve it with fashion, which is one of the biggest polluters in the world, I found my niche in sustainable fashion. My masters revolved around male consumers’ pro-environmental motivation and intent to acquire eco-friendly apparel in South Africa.

What is the focus of your PhD?

I am focused on the consumer and how we can make the mind shift to incorporate sustainability into our lifestyles through self-determined motivation, rather than relying on external factors that “force” us into the right direction. For this shift to take place three three basic psychological needs must be met: competence (having a sense of control); autonomy (engaging in activities out of your own free will); and relatedness (a sense of belonging to a group).

I am also very interested in what consumers currently know about sustainable clothing practices and what they have experienced. This is fascinating because a vast majority of consumers are willing to change and adapt their lifestyles, but often fail to put words or intentions into actions. They might lack confidence, knowledge or interest, or there might be external components such as financial, economic or logistical aspects that might hinder their good intentions.

But thanks to the internet and social media, knowledge is available at our fingertips. These resources could be beneficial in terms of using it as a medium to inform, educate, and encourage consumers to live more sustainably.

Your current research focusses on the South African women’s market. Tell us more.

I recently conducted a survey to explore South African female consumers’ motivations and knowledge in terms of sustainable clothing practices. I am not finished analysing the data yet, but I have noticed that most of the women who participated in the survey recycle, reuse, repair and reduce clothing to live a more sustainable lifestyle regarding clothing consumption. Donating or exchanging clothing seemed to be quite popular, as well as reducing the amount of clothes you buy, use or throw away. A lot of consumers feel that it is better to buy good quality and classically styled clothing that will last longer to reduce their clothing waste.

What are some simple and easy ways to start building a more sustainable wardrobe?

To summarise, here are a few options that can be followed to start living a more sustainable lifestyle in terms of your clothing practices:

REDUCE the amount of clothing you buy, use or throw away (E.g. buy good quality clothing or buy clothing that is not linked to a trend (i.e. classic styles)).

REPAIR your clothes or recycle it (E.g. make rags out of worn out clothing).

RECYCLE OR REUSE clothing in an eco-friendly manner (E.g. donate it to friends/charities, re-sell/exchange it)

REFUSE to buy clothing that is bad for the environment and rather buy 100% organic cotton or recycled polyester.

REFUSE to buy unethical/imported clothing brands and rather support “Proudly SA” or “Made in SA”.

  • Hanri Taljaard is a Consumer Science: Clothing Management lecturer and researcher at the University of Pretoria.  She is currently studying for her PhD: “The influence of motivation, knowledge and social media on female consumers’ voluntary simplistic clothing consumption practices (VSCCP) in South Africa”.
  • Image credits: Unsplash and supplied