By Neva Knott
Every August, I go back to school shopping, even though I’m no longer a student. But, I’m a teacher, and having a few new clothes is just part of my routine as summer ends and I return to work. The last few years, I’ve joined a friend and her two daughters, and we make a day of it. And we’re not the only shoppers out there looking for that first-day-back perfect outfit–according to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent $26 billion in July 2014 for back-to-school fashion. NRF also reports that clothing is still the largest category of customer spending for BTS, outselling electronics, even.
Part of my new clothes ritual is cleaning my closets and drawers. I am not a wasteful person, thus rarely throw away a piece of clothing unless it is truly worn out. I pass items on to friends, give to women’s shelters and homeless teen programs. But this year, I took time to research what to do with the worn out items–rather than throw them into the trash bin. What I found was encouraging:
H & M runs a recycle program in each of their stores, and not just for clothes bought there. So as I sorted all those stretched and stained t-shirts and the favorite cashmere sweater with the moth holes, I put them in a bag and dropped them in the bin next time I was at the mall. Bonus–I got a $15 coupon to use in-store.
H & M states that “Of the thousands of tonnes of textiles that people throw away every year, as much as 95 percent could be re-worn or recycled.” The company is working hard to promote fashion waste reduction, both in manufacturing and by encouraging customers to rethink what they do with clothes they no longer wear. Their promotional video, “The Break-up,” narrated by a talking shirt, explains the program:
As much as I love autumn and returning to work, I love my flip-flops. As an avid flip-flop wearer, I was enthused to find that Old Navy works with TerraCycle to collects worn-out flip-flops and send them to recycling to be made into an array of new products. This youtube clip shows the store-to-new things process. Some flip-flops become picnic tables, some become pavers. I’ve even seen them made into door mats.
And who doesn’t buy new jeans, the American uniform, for back-to-school? H & M will take in jeans along with everything else, but I wanted to find a denim specific recycling program. JCrew is currently–until September 30, 2014–running a Denim Drive for blue jeans recycling. Any jeans, any brand. And you’ll get a $20 coupon toward a new pair of JCrew jeans for donating your old blues. While talking with a salesperson there about the promotion, I learned that the jeans will be recycled into fiber insulation.
In addition to the innovative and useful recycling programs (I say useful become some recycled goods don’t become a truly useful something new), a I found a couple of clothing labels that are striving for waste reduction in their sourcing of materials and production processes.
prAna has a comprehensive sustainability program, often choosing organic cotton and hemp as raw materials, and works with The Textiles Exchange, “a non-profit organization operating internationally committed to the responsible expansion of sustainable textiles across the global textile value chain.” They also work with bluesign, a worldwide standard that is applied to production chains to measure the safety and sustainability of raw materials used by chemical and manufacturing companies: “For prAna, the bluesign partnership allows us to assess every aspect of our supply chain for guaranteed environmental and human safety, as well as easily identify like-minded companies for future partnerships. Globally, bluesign partners embrace a holistic approach to production that’s a step further than simply ‘eco-friendly’, and considers such additional aspects as air and water emissions, occupational health and resource productivity – that’s a step forward that we believe in, and are proud to be part of.”
And here’s a bit about organic cotton:
Patagonia launched its Common Threads Partnership program in 2005. The Partnership is more comprehensive than recycling: “Through our partnership with bluesign® Technologies we are reducing energy and water use and toxic substances in our manufacturing processes. We also use environmentally conscious fibers in many of our products, including organic cotton and recycled polyester, and try to minimize our packaging and transportation waste.” More about materials sourcing for Patagonia products can be found at The Footprint Chronicles. Patagonia also urges customers to wear the heck out of their clothes. Here’s a great little video from Patagonia about the stories well-worn clothes:
It’s encouraging to know that a such a huge industry as fashion is looking toward a sustainable future. What our clothes are made and how they are manufactured is as important as the growing of our food. Sustainability in the fashion industry promotes clean water and air and soil quality, reduces exposure to chemicals and toxins for garment workers, and reduces chemicals in the finished products.
In terms of individual contributions to making life better on our overcrowded and resource-depleted planet, the types of clothes we buy–and how many of them–are a significant factor.What we do with them after also carries weight. It is exciting to find these programs, and to know I can keep my worn-out duds out of the landfill. And, maybe my old flip-flops will welcome you home.