The vast majority of the fashion industry has a totally unsustainable business model, according to a new report. So-called “fast fashion” labels churn out cheap, disposable fashion, hitting stores as often as twice a week.
One garbage truck’s worth of textiles is wasted every second, and less than 1 percent of clothing is recycled into new clothes, according to the report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. And $500 billion is wasted every year on clothes that are barely worn and rarely recycled.
Amid these dismal statistics, the report sets out a vision for a “new textiles economy” in which the lifespan of clothes is longer, they’re produced with fewer chemicals, and renting, reselling and reuse become the norm.
There are already eco-friendly innovations out there when it comes to clothes. Check out the six below.
1. Rent Your Wardrobe
The sharing economy ― in which people swap, rent and exchange the things they need and want ― is taking root in the fashion industry, and Rent the Runway is a prime example.
For $159 a month, the New York-based business lets customers rent four items of clothing at a time. They can then make exchanges as often as they like and benefit from free shipping.
For those with less money to spend, there’s a slimmed-down subscription option. Customers can borrow four pieces a month from the business’s 500-label inventory for $89.
Jennifer Hyman, the company’s co-founder, has big ambitions. “I want to put H&M and Zara out of business,” she told Bloomberg.
It’ll take a lot to knock out the likes of Zara ― an $11.3 billion behemoth. And Rent The Runway will have to change consumer behavior by weaning people off the need to own. But the company is going strong: It’s surpassed $100 million in revenue and has raised $190 million in funding.
2. The Online Marketplace
Children grow out of clothes, toys and accessories very quickly. Buying everything new would not only cost a fortune, but would be a huge waste of resources.
Kidizen is one of a number of companies springing up to address this issue through technology. It’s an online marketplace and community that predominantly markets itself towards moms (although dads and grandparents are welcome too, said CEO Dug Nichols).
The company is like a cross between Instagram and eBay: Users can share pictures of their children’s style and list and buy preworn children’s clothes, accessories and toys. Kidizen takes 18 percent of the seller’s profits. The site has over 400,000 registered users in the U.S.
Nichols said the inspiration for the platform came from being a parent and gaining “an inherent understanding of the need to cycle clothing in and out of the house as our kids grow so quickly, while also recognizing that a significant part of the parenting journey is finding others who are going through the same experience of raising children.”
He called on other brands to tap into the $18 billion U.S. secondhand clothing industry: “What I’d love to see is more retail brands embracing this growth by focusing on high-quality inventory that has long life and promotes sustainability.”
3. Buy, Sell And Trade Secondhand Clothes
Billing itself as offering an ecological alternative to fast fashion and inaccessible luxury fashion, Crossroads Trading Co. offers secondhand branded clothes at more affordable prices.
Customers can sell back clothes they buy once they’re done with them, or sell clothes they have from elsewhere. The company will calculate how much they’ll sell your clothes for and either give you 50 percent of that as store credit, or 33 percent in cash.
4. Clothes That Grow With Your Children
Ryan Yasin doesn’t have a traditional background for a fashion entrepreneur. The aeronautical engineering graduate from Imperial College London was inspired to start his business after buying a present for his nephew that was already too small by the time it reached him.
His response was to design Petit Pli, clothes that grow as children grow. The material he developed, inspired by origami, is lightweight, waterproof and can expand in two directions, meaning that each piece can span seven sizes (from six months to three years).
The magic material is not perfect, however. It’s synthetic, which means it’s not biodegradable and may be harder to recycle. But Yasin defends the choice on his website, saying “synthetics aren’t the problem, overconsumption and waste of plastic is. Whilst we provide a way to slow down consumption, we will do all we can to find alternative materials.”
5. Compostable Clothes
Swedish company Houdini Sportswear specializes in organic, chemical-free clothes that can be thrown on the compost heap when they’re beyond repair. The aim is to create a closed loop system for their sportswear in which nothing goes to waste.
“In a world where anxiety is often a key driver for consumption, a key driver for design and at the end of the day a key driver in creating waste, l truly believe our philosophy of versatile performance products that last a lifetime is the future of apparel,” CEO Eva Karlsson told HuffPost in an email.
More than 90 percent of Houdini’s range, which is sold in 20 markets globally, is made from recycled, recyclable, renewable or biodegradable fabrics.
In a recent marketing exercise, the brand worked with a composter to turn old clothes into compost, from which they grew vegetables. The veggies were served up to customers by Swedish celebrity chef Sebastian Thureson.
The drawback? The clothes are expensive. Women’s coats start from around $240 and men’s underwear starts at around $50. Karlsson admits this is an important issue, but added, “the price tag tends to reflect all the decisions we make behind the scenes.”
For those on smaller budgets, Karlsson said, Houdini does sell secondhand goods in its stores and offers rentals, too. But, she wrote, “the simplest and possibly the strongest sustainability message is this: use your garments for longer. From a lifecycle analysis perspective, the impact of a garment is reduced by every use.”
6. Sustainable Shoes
Sustainable fashion is laudable, but if it doesn’t look good, no one’s going to buy it. That’s where Veja seems to be winning. The vegan sneakers have been seen on the feet of celebrities like Emma Watson and Marion Cotillard, and Wired called them the “coolest sustainable sneakers we’ve ever seen.”
Yes, the company is producing more stuff, but it’s is doing so with environmental and social sustainability in mind.
The sneakers are made from sustainable cotton and rubber, and are produced in factories in Brazil where workers are paid above minimum wage.
While it uses leather tanned with vegetables, the company also offers vegan shoes, some of which have uppers made from recycled plastic bottles.
The company has a grand mission statement. “Day after day, prophets of all kind are pulling the emergency cord, the entire economy is turning green ... let’s try to offer a different vision which combines fair trade and ecology and links together economy, social initiatives and the environment.”
Pricewise, Veja shoes aren’t cheap, but they’re also not in designer price brackets. Women’s sneakers cost between about $100 and $150.
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