For the majority of consumers in the mass market the life of a clothing garment begins in a design room and ends on the retail floor. As a society we have fallen under the hands of fast fashion, rapidly creating and buying new garments at an alarming rate. Leading to the majority of the clothing industry now intentionally directing it's energy and ads towards consumers purchasing garments of less quality at lower prices. Retail stores are having new products drop weekly in order to feed the increased demand of fast fashion, a problem only getting worse. The consumption of fast fashion is projected to jump 63 percent by 2030. In New York State alone, residents dispose of 1.4 billion pounds of clothing and textiles each year, worth over $130 million, while also costing the city of New York just under $3 million dollars per year to dispose of the clothing.. Of course we all want the newest styles for the new season, but how long are we keeping these garments that we're purchasing at such a high rate? And what cost are we willing to pay for the misuse of our resources?
Recent studies from Mckinsey Academy show that 60% of garments will end up in a landfill within the first year of their initial creation, resulting in 26 billion pounds of textiles entering landfills annually (81 lbs per average American). Big numbers can be hard to grasp and sometimes it's hard to visualize the direct impact of the stats we read. So I want you to imagine.. in 2018, enough clothes to fill 61 empty professional football stadiums to full capacity (field included) entered landfills around the country. The textiles consist of mostly synthetic materials (conventional cotton/polyester) that take over one hundred years to fully decompose, and this vast pile of clothes is releasing millions of pounds of a greenhouse gas called methane causing water pollution disrupting local water supplies and creating unstable sub-soil conditions that make it almost impossible to grow anything on that land due to limited moisture retention, erosion, and gas seepage. There are currently 2000 active landfills (some very well hidden) in the United States, meaning on average each state is the home to 40 of them. We must begin to see the circular nature of our decisions. We can start by personally reflecting on the impact we make as individual consumers, and challenge ourselves to begin purchasing with the intent of longevity in the front of our minds, consciously buying garments and other products that will last, increasing their time in our closet or homes, deleting their time in a landfill.
In order to make significant changes within the fashion industry, the goal must be to challenge these big companies and manufactures to produce higher quality/more durable garments, assess their current business models, improve their technical systems, and innovate new solutions aiming to eliminate their carbon footprint. Achieving this with the innate power we have as consumers.. Purchasing. The right way.
Going forward, we must also collectively begin to think beyond the outdated and wasteful standards that these big companies have set for us in the past. It is a format that hasn't been changed in decades, extracting non-renewable resources to make cheap clothing, most likely headed into a landfill shortly after. Over the last 15 years, the life cycle of clothing has accelerated, only implementing cradle to grave solutions.
Cradle: Fiber > Textile production > Garment design process > Manufacture > Distribution > Retail store > Use phase
But the time has come where Cradle to Cradle solutions and resources are now available, enabling us to begin designing and purchasing with the intention of bypassing the grave phase. Cradle to Cradle solutions allow us to reuse, recycle,or upcycle valuable materials, creating closed loop manufacturing business models. Finding new uses for recycled textiles by recirculating the raw materials from each garment is the future of fashion if we wish to see any significant changes towards eliminating waste and reducing the misuse of valuable resources. A product design cycle intentionally re-directed towards sustainability expands the the life cycle of each garment, adding more dimensions, phases, and potential uses to the life of it. One of the main factors that go into this process is the materials being recycled. Blended fabric materials like conventional cotton, polyester, or other synthetic materials like viscose and rayon make it much harder for closed loop companies to reuse the textiles without significant loss in quality; Compared to using natural fibers like organic cotton and Hemp, that even with extreme wear and tear can still be reused for other purposes and if that isn't possible the fabric will decompose naturally into the earth, because it is from the earth. Cradle to Cradle solutions challenge the life cycle mindsets of consumers, expose the existing gaps of current practices, expand barriers of opportunities, and ultimately illuminate the vast possibilities that can manifest from sustainable fashion.
Imagine a world where you could buy a garment composed of natural fibers and after that garment has completed it's lifetime in your closet, you can send it back to the company you purchased it from, and from this point, the company transforms that garment into an entirely different product. Breaking down the fibers from the garment into pulp, then using that pulp to make yarn, which then makes up an entirely new garment made from recycled materials, ready to be worn. This means a sock can broken down and turned into pillow stuffing, used denim can be made into household insulation, and used towels into wiping rags.
Well... I have great news.. this technology exists and the recycling of textiles is happening right now. Thanks to amazing new innovative companies like For Days who are trailblazing ways for Cradle to Cradle solutions to enter the fashion industry today. There are so many possibilities that can branch off of this amazing innovation with the technology we possess. Knowing this, it is now OUR duty to demand leading brands and manufactures to follow the lead of sustainable fashion brands, kneading eco-friendly innovation into the fabric of our society and culture. No longer can we sit back and imagine a better world in the future without following up with significant action. You may not have the funds or resources to make high level decisions regarding business regulations, but the dollars in your wallet and how you choose to spend them hold all the power you need. Similar to the drastic increase of organic and healthier food options that are now highly accessible due to recent consumer behavior, we can change the fashion industry the same way, no longer settling for wasteful products damaging Earth as we know it. Never underestimate the power your individual behavior and avocation can make on the surrounding world.
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