Recycled Fashion and the Future of Sustainability

Sustainable fashion is…

clothing design geared toward durability and using safe practices in order to process materials. Sustainable Fashion is about knowledge. Knowing how every material you use is manufactured and produced and changing those bad habits efficiently and figuring out ways to reduce fabric waste during the manufacturing process.

A Brief History…

1990 – Vogue writes about the new environmental trends happening in the industry in their article entitled “Eco Fashion”. More designers began experimenting with vintage clothes and repurposing old into new.

2001 – Designer Stella McCartney introduces her line of animal-friendly products. She avoids using fur, leather, and other skins including python and crocodile. Their wool comes from suppliers who must prove that their sheep do not undergo cruel skin removal procedures such as mulesing.

2004 – The first Ethical Fashion show held in Paris, founded by Isabelle Quehe. The show strictly featured ethical designers whose designs were cruelty free.

 Fashion Waste

Big chain retailers such as H&M and Victoria’s Secret along with many others actually throw away massive amounts of their surplus inventory. These stores destroy leftover clothing before throwing them away by puncturing holes or cutting them in half. These companies have already spent a hefty sum of their budget on advertising – an effect that they do not want to be undone by people who do not fit their particular style. The fear of people dumpster-diving sounds a farfetched but it is enough for companies to watch their backs and avoid an image crisis.

Companies like these use cheap labor overseas and low quality fabrics in order to keep their prices low and lure costumers back into stores.

Textile waste in the U.S. has doubled since the 90s. Textiles include fleece, flannel, corduroy, cotton, nylon, denim, wool, and linens.


Organizations and Individuals

WRAP – This organization is funded by multiple governments across the UK and the EU and run programs in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. They created the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan where retailers will report to them on a regular basis on their waste statistics. This includes their carbon and water footprints. About 35 companies that represent 40% of clothing retailers in the UK are participating and are advocates for change.

Timo Rissanen and Zero Waste Fashion Design – The New School recently released an article on sustainable fashion. The article followed designer Timo Rissanen as he puts together his exhibition in support of zero waste design. Zero waste design aims to reduce the amount of left over fabric during fashion production. As stated in the New School article, this would change the way designers actually design their clothes, just by switching the order in which they do things.

“Traditionally, the fashion designer provides a finished sketch to a patternmaker, who then presents a pattern for cutting to the manufacturer. In zero waste design, the fashion designer must start with the pattern, rather than the sketch, so as to eliminate any cut-off fabric waste.”

Forum for the Future – The organization put together four different scenarios covering possibilities from climate change to population growth. They have put together animated videos to show each scenario:

Scenario #1 – Slow is Beautiful

Scenario #2 – Community Couture

Scenario #3 – Techno-Chic

Scenario #4 – Patchwork Planet


The Timeline

Fabric saving techniques will take a while to be implemented into manufacturers, especially in the US. All of the designers who are leading the charge seem to be from other countries including England, New Zealand, Malaysia, Australia, etc. These techniques require no cutting but more draping and tucking – but companies would have to do a complete overhaul to their production lines to make this work as efficiently as they want it to. So the main issue with this change is money and time, same as with any other.

We are seeing some changes in the industry now but with fashion students being exposed to these new techniques and being more aware of where their materials are coming from, the hope is that the changes will be substantial once they are running the show.

Small-Scale Solutions

1. Find a good tailor. Instead of throwing away clothes that don’t fit correctly – go and get them corrected by a professional. It’s cheaper in the long run.

2. One of the the most effective ways you could help with sustainable fashion is by taking care of your clothing. Make your clothes last as long as they can possibly last. We throw away so much reusable clothing without ever knowing it.

3. Recycle your old clothes. Take the time to donate them. Do everything in your power to prevent them from ending up in a landfill.



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