A certain degree of waste in fashion is, perhaps, unavoidable — excess material during production, clothing that gets tossed instead of recycled or reused, and heaps of unsold product. However, there’s a significant and important spectrum of waste, with the work of innovative Good Companies attempting to mitigate these outcomes on one end and more “traditional” industry practices on the other.
Take unsold product, which was put in the spotlight when Burberry revealed this summer that it had burned 28.6 million pounds (or about $37 million worth) of its unsold goods. According to The New York Times, the practice of destroying product is fairly widespread among luxury brands, and is justified as an effort to maintain brand value — hypothetically, it prevents unwanted items from being stolen or sold at a discount.
When consumers learned of the issue there was, understandably, an outcry: it shows neither respect for the labor and resources required to make a product nor awareness of the far-reaching environmental and social impact of waste.
In response to consumer pressure, brands are beginning to recognize the need to improve — Burberry announced that they would not only cease destroying unsold merchandise but stop selling products that use real animal fur, too. They’re also partnering with Good Company Elvis & Kresse to take 120 tons of Burberry leather waste and turn it into entirely new products over the next five years.
Industry leaders working to become more sustainable are worth applauding — but so are the fashion companies going above and beyond to not only reduce waste, but also pioneer entirely new products, production processes, and business models to radically change how waste is conceived. Check them out:
- Elvis & Kresse → Upcycles products from difficult-to-recycle materials like fire hoses, parachute silk, coffee sacks, shoe boxes, auction banners and leather waste.
- ECOALF → Creates fabrics from reclaimed waste materials, including decommissioned fishing nets, plastic bottles, cotton waste, used tires, and discarded coffee grounds.
- Eileen Fisher → Incentivizes customers to return used Eileen Fisher apparel in return for a $5 gift certificate per item, and then refurbishes or repurposes those items for resale.
- Reformation → Uses ~15% dead stock or vintage materials and offers prepaid shipping labels to encourage customers to recycle their clothes in the “RefRecycling” program.
- MUD Jeans → Known for their “lease a jean” program, where customers pay $9/month to rent a pair of pants to either return or keep at the end of use; they can also purchase up-cycled and/or recycled jeans named after their former owners.
- Girlfriend Collective → Transparent about their process for sourcing and transforming post-consumer water bottles into biodegradable fabric for their leggings and sports bras.
- Aeon Row → Uses repurposed materials to make their clothes, and incentivizes customers to recycle their clothes by giving them 15% off purchases as a reward.
- Better World Fashion → Uses 2nd generation materials, gives customers a 50% discount on new jackets for every old jacket returned, and operates a leasing program.
- Patagonia → Uses recycled polyester and organic cotton in their products.
- Bluer Denim → For every pair of jeans purchased, they’ll buy back a user pair for $5 and deliver them to someone in need, incentivizing customers to recycle old clothes.