As ‘fast fashion’ increasingly consumes us, we need to think seriously about its impacts; the average American discards 70lbs of clothing a year and between 1999 and 2009 textile waste volumes rose by forty percent. In spite of age-old wisdom telling us that quality is better than quantity, it’s hard not to be tempted by the fashion bargains of today. One week you’re watching Kate Moss wear Burberry on the catwalk and the next week you’re wearing the high street version yourself, made possible by quick and cheap manufacturing processes.
What’s ‘in’ and what’s ‘out’ of fashion changes so quickly that we tend to ignore the vast trail of ‘undesirable’ clothes left behind, not thinking about the other options like the reusing, repairing and/or recycling of old clothes.
Maybe you've heard of the Kon Mari method, which is increasing in popularity. The premise being, if your possession does not "spark joy" in you then throw it out! But, an important follow up question comes to mind – what happens to those items not kept?
It would be useful if we all knew where our possessions go once we have thrown them out. For clothing, sadly, the answer lies in landfills. 85 percent of post consumer textile waste ends up in landfills, occupying five percent of total landfill space. Anaerobic conditions in landfills cause clothes to break down and release harmful green house gases like methane, while toxic chemicals and dyes from the clothing can leach out of landfills and seep into underground waterways thereby posing a risk to human health.
Now what if we go back and re-examine the aforementioned three alternative options to throwing out our old clothes. Reusing, recycling and repairing old clothes are certainly better ways of dealing with post consumer textile waste.
Fortunately, there are notable companies forging the way to a better future. For example, Patagonia has long been a leader in corporate social responsibility. Its famous 2011 Don’t Buy This Jacket ad campaign juxtaposed the crazy consumerism of Black Friday and acknowledged the huge environmental costs of making their R2 jackets. The ad concluded that ‘there is much to be done and plenty for us all to do. Don’t buy what you don’t need. Think twice before you buy anything.’
Over the years Patagonia has continued to stick with its sustainability goals and one particular area of focus has been repair. If it’s broke, fix it. On their website Patagonia provides detailed, easy to follow DIY guides of how to repair and care for their products.
If that wasn’t good enough Patagonia also has ‘Worn Wear’ mobile repair shops, which travel across the globe and offer free repairs for their clothes, including ski wear. The idea being that we should keep our clothes going for as long as possible!
So, although we know Patagonia, a mission-driven company, is doing good, what about a company like H&M?
H&M does not have the same long-standing sustainability credentials as Patagonia, in fact many question if H&M and ‘fast fashion’ can ever be sustainable, yet H&M is taking steps in the right direction. In 2013 H&M launched a garment collecting initiative, which has gained traction. Customers can bring in bags of clothes they no longer want and return them to stores across the country, regardless of condition or brand. These clothes then go onto be recycled (turned into textile fibers), reused (turned into other products like cleaning clothes), and reworn (sold as second hand clothes).
It is these kinds of forward thinking brands that will define the future landscape of fashion, so get onboard before it's too late!