It can be disputed whether clothing and footwear is no. 2 or no. 4 on the most polluting industries in the world list, but it isn’t a far reach to say that our fashion choices may be to blame for global warming, contamination and other ethical and environmental woes. Though the fashion community will blame fast fashion retailers it is a problem that can’t be solved without all fashion brands looking inward to their sustainability and ethical practices. Frankly, we need to be more thoughtful about how much fashion we are consuming and how wasteful fashion can be. This sentiment has echoed throughout the fashion community and has now reached a fever-pitch making sustainability the buzzword of late.
VOGUE proclaimed that “(2017) was the year sustainable fashion got sexy.” In 2013, The Guardian published “Are Vintage Clothes More Ethical?”. It argued that wearing pre-owned goods “should be near the top. It is the antithesis of throwaway fashion, being rare, covetable and tradable. Rewearing old clothes also displaces the need to make new virgin fibres – manufactured with oil-based petroleum or using cotton – both with hulking environmental impacts.” What Goes Around Comes Around would argue that the shift happened far earlier than that. Co-founder Seth Weisser said he and his co-founder Gerard Maione founded their business 25 years ago on sustainability. “Vintage supports the circular economy for the most obvious reason because it is allowing something to be repurposed without creating additional waste in the world,” Seth said. “The concept what goes around comes around has so many different meanings. When you think about the fact that we are able to take something that one person no longer wants and repurpose it to make someone else happy creates a cycle without creating waste.”
Research has already proven how wasteful American shoppers can be and is starting to measure its effects on the environment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditures for 2016 report said the average global citizen consumes 25.1 pounds of apparel annually which produces the same amount of carbon emissions as driving a car from Los Angeles to Houston. A WWD article claimed, “If everyone in the U.S. shopped resale for a year, it would save 13 trillion gallons of water, enough to cover all of California’s estimated water needs for 14 years.”
But, can recycling fashion really save the planet and the fashion business model?“ As consumer attention on sustainability issues increases, sustainability leaders can use their advantage to promote revenue growth,” according to a Business of Fashion report. Consignment shops, resellers, and pre-owned goods sites started to pop up over the last five years. The luxury goods marketplace is seeing an influx of older merchandise that needs new homes giving buyers more options – generally at a lower price point. These products — usually cyclical hot styles – find their way to buyers looking for good deals (or items priced far less than full-retail value). On the other side of the spectrum, vintage luxury curator What Goes Around Comes Around and streetwear marketplace Stadium Goods aggregate hard-to-find pieces for eager buyers willing to pay a premium for exclusivity. Simply, well-made and exquisitely designed luxury goods should not go to waste. “With disposable fashion, the quality doesn’t allow it to become a part of the circular economy,” Seth said. “Great things have lives beyond their first life. The vintage that we offer are made in such a high-quality way that most of it can outlast our lifetime.”
However, according to Measuring Fashion: Insights from the Environmental Impact of the Global Apparel and Footwear Industries study, shifting to a circular economy may not be enough. The study states: “Circular material flow alone is not enough to ensure the apparel sector greatly reduces its impacts by 2030. In particular, analysis indicates fiber recapture and reuse alone would at best achieve only a 10% sector-wide emissions reduction within the broader apparel value chain. Even by reaching the ambitious target of recycling 40% of fibers in clothing by 2030, the study estimates the sector would reduce emissions by only 3-6%. The scale of impact reduction this industry must achieve in the coming decade will only be possible with a combination of increased circular material flow, rapid transition to renewable energy sources, a significant increase in manufacturing process efficiencies, and smart design.” According to a Business of Fashion report, “As focus shifts to a circular economy, sustainability will evolve from being a menu of fragmented initiatives to being an integral and defining part of the entire fashion value chain.”