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Sustainability In the Fashion Industry

Written By: 2022 Communications Intern, Jeanese Shanks

Society has found itself in a crux. Winters that feel like Autumn. Sea levels that are rising. If we do not do some major course reversal, the earth will be uninhabitable. People all over the globe are already feeling the effects and systematically marginalized communities will be hit the hardest. While multiple industries function unsustainably, fashion is one of the largest. Let’s explore how pursuing a circular economy within fashion can reshape this narrative. There are tangible ways for people to practice circularity within their own closet.

One of the most popular online stores is Shein, an affordable fast fashion brand. Shein premiers up to 2,000 new clothing designs every day. The sheer amount of variety that Shein offers helps maintain the brand's popularity but it also creates a lot of waste. Shein consumers will likely throw away their garments within a year of ordering due to the clothing’s poor quality or because of rapidly changing trends encouraged by fast fashion. The environmental impact of Shein’s clothing can also be seen in their use of polyester. In one year, the production of polyester creates the same amount of CO2 as 180 coal power plants.

Shein is just one of fast fashion giants but many other fast fashion companies have similar practices such as H&M and Forever 21. All three companies have made commitments to become sustainable but their practices fail to meet the standards they’ve set, let alone those demanded by the climate crisis.

Brands who have worked sustainability into their company identity have been popping up more and more lately. Everlane’s brand focuses on creating timeless clothing - you won’t see any TikTok trends on the website! Their clothing is high quality, meaning it should last you a lifetime. The brand’s sustainability features include the use of recycled and renewable materials and reduced air shipment. While these efforts are admirable, the brand has come under fire for employee treatment. A circular economy is one committed to both people and the planet. While Everlane is sustainable in production, an $80 white button down is not a feasible option for most Americans. Sustainability only goes so far when the item is inaccessible.

Buying second hand might seem like the answer to the fashion circularity issue but thrifters have noticed significant price increases. Thrifting exploded after the release of Maclemore’s Thrift Shop. After the release of the song, the demographic of thrifters shifted to include middle to upper class young people who wanted to experience the trend in addition to a well established base of low-income people. Thrift stores now cater to consumers who have more disposable income. The demographic change has boxed a lot of low-income consumers out.

A more circular approach would mean reducing consumption entirely and extending the life of the clothes you already own. When clothing begins to rip and tear, you may want to consider mending. You may even want to try visible mending which flips the practice of mending on its head by not only using thread to repair, but also colorfully decorate the exterior of the garments. The origins of visual mending can be traced back centuries to the Japanese practice of sashiko. Not only is visual mending low-cost, making a good option for people of all income types, visual mending adds one-of-a-kind flair to clothing.

Nandi Duszynski’s business, Bliss Joy Bull teaches people the art of visible mending and is a member of Plant Chicago’s Circular Economy Leaders Network (CELN). CELN empowers local small businesses to make their business more circular by offering consulting, workshops, and networking to business within the cohort.

During the first 10 years of Bliss Joy Bull, Duszynski focused primarily on crafting clothing and accessories. About a year ago, she switched gears to focus on teaching people the art of visual mending. “I had always been embellishing my clothes but not in a way that actually made them last longer,” said Duszynski. “I started to learn how to properly repair my clothes so they would last longer. When I would do craft shows, people would come up to me and say ‘I can’t even sew on a button!’ So, the idea came to me that mending and learning how to sew go hand in hand. Basic sewing techniques will empower people to repair their own clothes.”

Circularity can also look like buying clothes at a small business. Brands like Redaux, a Chicago-based clothing business, keep things circular by producing high quality garments and working reuse into their process. Redaux was founded by Aleisha Reado and is another CELN cohort member. “People should be aware of the benefits of altering their clothing and buying clothing that will actually last,” said Reado.

Readaux understands that even high quality clothing may eventually become unusable to the owner. “With the help of Plant Chicago, a goal of mine is to have a buyback program,” said Reado. “I offer clothing for newborns and up. Kids grow really fast and my pieces are quality pieces so they last a long time, longer than a baby would be able to fit them. I am going to allow customers to sell back their newborn/toddler clothing to me and they will receive a credit at the Redeaux clothing store.”

Spending money with local small businesses, like Bliss Joy Bull and Redaux, is circular not only because of their value-based practices but because you keep money in your community and out of the hands of big fast fashion companies.

Consider making your next fashion choice a circular one!

Plant Chicago hosts multiple clothing swap events throughout the year to reduce waste, extend the life of garments, and offer free options to neighbors. Keep an eye on our events page!

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