The way we see waste needs to be radically redefined. For most of us, if it’s not perfect, we discard it, which adds to the volume of textiles being thrown into landfills. Big businesses are at the heart of this problem, many regarding waste as a problem that they can’t fix. But Dr Whitty, senior lecturer of fashion design at Massey University and director of social enterprise Space Between, say that businesses need to start thinking of waste as a resource. Damaged textiles can be down-cycled into fibres that can then be re-spun into yarn and given new life. Similarly, Space Between is committed to upcycling techniques that repurpose damaged garments and clothing scraps into wearable items. “Slow fashion methods are important as they allow for us as producers and consumers to pause, to stray outside the dominant paradigm of speed and to reflect,” says Dr Whitty.
In Los Angeles, clothing brand Christy Dawn collects textile scraps, which would normally go into landfill, from large fashion houses and upcycles them into beautiful dresses. Not only does this drastically reduce pollution and waste, it means buyers purchase unique items because often there is only enough of a certain print to make two or three dresses. Locally, businesses such as Smoove Reworked Vintage are repurposing old clothing into retro dresses and skirts to give garments a new life.
Founder and creative director of Kowtow, Gosia Piatek, says a designer’s responsibility shouldn’t end once a sale has been made: “We as designers and makers need to create ways to help consumers responsibly dispose of their unwanted goods.” In line with this mode of thought, H&M has created an in-store recycling service for its customers.“If you don’t want a piece of clothing anymore you recycle it or give it to charity,” urges Ann- Sofie Johansson, creative advisor for H&M.
To help consumers make smart shopping choices, fashion manufacturers should be more transparent about their goals and the impact they have on the environment. For Piatek, transparency is essential to the Kowtow brand. “We are committed to transparency, screening and innovation,” she says. “This includes the paper we use and coffee we drink in the workroom and, most recently, all the materials used within our flagship store.”
Brands looking to improve transparency can look to the Higg Index, a score-based system that helps them measure and track their sustainability. While only in its infancy, Anna Gedda, head of sustainability for H&M, believes the Higg Index will make it easier for consumers to identify sustainable brands, too. “It’s like a map,” she says. “And it will be easy for brands to see how they increase their score. It will show them exactly what they need to do.”
Basically, there is plenty big businesses can do to reduce their environmental impact. To find out more about how you can reduce your waste as a consumer, click here.