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FIT Offers Bright Strategies for Sustainable Fashion - Part 1

By Jackie Mallon


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On the heels of the president’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, as members of his administration continue to demonstrate an immunity to science or knowledge on matters that effect our planet, members of the fashion industry gather at FIT for its annual Summer Institute. Panelists of sustainability mavericks and leaders reveal the latest models to implement which will help our industry become more responsible. The goal of those in attendance is to cherish Mother Earth, while still operating businesses that are successful and profitable. As those in Washington continue to turn in circles and peddle the idea that climate change is a hoax, those in this room press forward with urgency, speaking in terms of recovering, renewing, preserving, never withdrawing. As knowledge is power, and even more so when shared, I will report on the program’s highlights in this three-part series.

Closing the loop

The theme of the day is Circular Fashion, as illustrated using this pretty butterfly diagram developed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which is when the fashion system can operate in a 100 percent renewable way, and the concept of waste no longer exists. Instead what we currently consider waste is repurposed and becomes a resource, a food, replenishment. Consumption becomes something not to be frowned upon, but desirable again.

Cradle to Cradle

85 percent of textiles post-consumer still end up in landfills. Circular fashion redirects the potential landfill into new products. Annie Gillingsrud, from Fashion Positive describes materials (yarn, dyes, buttons, thread etc) as “ingredients” to be borrowed, and poses the idea of “stewarding and presenting them like a gift to future generations.” A T-shirt today can be disassembled, the garment reduced to fibre again and reassembled into a skirt for a new consumer. This system has led to the trademarked label Cradle To Cradle, a certified gold standard that guarantees the entire process of creating a garment is circular. In her work with the organization Fashion Positive Plus, she tackles the challenge of how to implement this system at scale so that profitability doesn’t suffer, and has encouraged major leadership brands to work together in common sourcing goals. Currently Stella McCartney, H&M, Kering, Marks & Spencer, Maria Cornejo, and Eileen Fisher are on board.

Nudie Jeans

Ruari Mahon, former director of PR and Communications at Nudie, now of Loughlin Joseph Creative Communications, explains that Circular Fashion took off for them by accident when they offered free repairs in their first store in Gothenburg. Now it the nucleus of their brand. “We don’t believe throwaway and jeans are words that belong together.” Their philosophy in four steps: Break In: Don’t over wash your jeans initially but allow them to form to fit. Repair: Come to any of their 25 stores worldwide and have your jeans repaired for free. Re-use: Branding on shopping bags reads “I just got my jeans repaired for free” and a free repair kit is available online plus free shipping which contains patches, thread, buttons so that you can bring your old jeans to life. Recycle: A recent Nudie project involved creating a capsule collection of camper stools and rugs using 2700 pieces of discarded jeans. Although the luxury contemporary denims can cost $180, they are treated as a living breathing organism and imperfections of patching and stitch work often add to the desirability. Nudie carried out 21,000+ repairs in 2015.

The Renewal Workshop

Jeff Denby, founder of The Renewable Workshop seeks to tackle what he calls “The Great Pile-Up” to be found in warehouses and in back of stores throughout the industry. He reminds us that only 20 percent of clothes sent to Good Will is actually saved; 80 percent is tossed, and some countries now ban import of foreign used clothing due to surplus. The Renewal Workshop’s vision is to return the value to recycled clothing. In their Oregon factory, they have a repair facility, (“we call our sewers apparel surgeons”) which reincarnates clothes, with a state-of-the-art Tercel cleaning service which is actually a pressure chamber that uses neither heat nor water to clean deep inside the fibers of the garment. It can treat cashmere, technical fabrics, mix colors, and when the makeover is complete the garments are as good as new, sometimes better, and sold back to the marketplace. Denby says that they calculated within a six-month period they diverted 20,000 pounds of landfill, saved 15,000 gallons of gasoline,100,000 000 gallons of water and 60,000 tons of chemicals. Current brand partners include Prana, Toad & Co, Indigenous, Coyuchi, Thread, Mountain Khakis, and they will be announcing the arrival of two large brands in the fall.

Fisher Found

Fisher Found is an endeavor by Eileen Fisher which since 2009 has taken back 772,000 garments and remade them into desirable new iterations. It also began by accident as an effort by one store to resell perfectly good clothing. “We sell it but then we welcome it back like an old friend,” says Cynthia Power, who believes customers enjoy the emotional aspect of it. “It reminds us of the inherent value of clothing,” she says. In partnership with the CFDA, they created the Eileen Fisher Social Innovations Program which invited three students from Parsons to breath new life into the collected pieces with scale, profitability and beauty in mind. They created a 500-piece collection which was sold in a pop-up store in Brooklyn.

While it used to be considered somewhat unsavory to wear someone else’s cast-offs, now if you do, it is likely that you will be wearing a cleaner, better-made, and more up-to-date design as a result. How’s that for a paradigm shift?

By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

All images from RenewalWorkshop.com; FashionPositive.org; NudieJeans.com; FisherFound.com

Cradle to Cradle
Nudie Jeans