clothing racks at Savers in Parkville, Md., Mariah Lamm
stumbled upon some good deals: a Tahari suit for work
and a skirt, vest and accent scarf for going out, all
for about $30.
22-year-old Towson woman makes frequent trips to the
thrift superstore — and not just for the steep
discounts. Buying used clothing, she says, lets her do
her part to curb fashion’s growing impact on the
others her age look for the latest styles from H&M
or websites ASOS or Missguided, Lamm is part of a
growing movement to embrace sustainable fashion —
keeping apparel in use as long as possible, and then
recycling it. She shops almost exclusively at secondhand
brands such as Under Armour, Gap, H&M, and Levi
Strauss & Co. have begun to join in, too, taking
steps to boost sustainability.
maker Patagonia, a longtime champion of the environment,
is going so far as to challenge consumers to think
before they buy about whether they really need something
takes so many natural resources to create the clothes,
and they end up in landfills," said Lamm, who
graduated this year from Goucher College with a major in
environmental sciences. "And we are producing much
more clothing than we need. When you’re buying
secondhand clothing, it’s a closed-loop system."
push toward a circular economy has been fueled in no
small part by the rise of "fast fashion," a
term borrowed from the fast-food industry, in which
brands and online sellers respond to trends and make
chic and affordable items more quickly and more cheaply
than ever before. Consumers are being hooked into
expanding and quickly refreshing wardrobes, treating
low-priced items as disposable.
one extreme, ASOS, a global fashion hub for
20-somethings, can add up to 4,500 items daily to its
website, said Deborah Weinswig, CEO of retail think tank
Coresight Research. ASOS, based in London, did not
respond to requests for comment.
take-make-dispose model has not only environmental but
also economic and social costs, new research shows.
About 80 billion pieces of new clothing are purchased
globally each year, and 26 billion pounds are sent to
landfills, Savers said in its "State of Reuse
Report" for 2018. The 300-store,
"purpose-driven" thrift chain, based in
Bellevue, Wash., noted that it takes 700 gallons of
water to produce a single T-shirt, and 1,800 gallons to
produce a pair of jeans.
for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey &
Co. found more than $500 billion of value lost every
year because customers throw away clothes they still
could wear. Clothing production doubled from 2000 to
2014, they said, thanks to rising consumer spending,
falling production costs and the fast-fashion
phenomenon. But people are holding on to clothing about
half as long as they did 15 years ago.
L. Cline didn’t realize she’d developed
"fast-fashion" habits until the day she looked
in her closet and realized it was out of control.
was shopping at H&M and Forever 21, and noticed this
dramatic shift in the way I was consuming," Cline
said. "All of a sudden, I had a closet full of
hundreds of items of clothes, and they were cheaply
made. I didn’t know anything about how or where they’d
decided to find out. Curiosity led to a book,
"Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap
describes the new "fast" model as a departure
from the long-established tradition of designers
offering clothes once every season, and explains how the
cycle was sped up: Clothing manufacturers moved into
low-wage countries in the 1990s, allowing them to make
and sell clothing at lower costs, while social media
exposed consumers to trends and styles more quickly,
adding pressure to appear in new outfits.
no longer comparing what we’re wearing to that person
in the office or the person on the street," Cline
said. "You can see what people are wearing all
around the world. … Now, items are released constantly
through the year, with some put out on a daily basis. It
is about creating a product that is so affordable and so
enticing in its cheapness … that it hooks consumers
into buying more and more and more."
have a whole generation growing up buying fast
fashion," she said. "If you’re trying to
sell a slightly better-made product, you’re struggling
to find a customer."
say the shift has contributed to the decline of
traditional retail. Even fast-fashion pioneers such as
H&M and Zara have stumbled in competition with
digital brands such as ASOS, Boohoo.com and Missguided,
which operate no physical stores and can take products
from design to sale in as little as a week.
that production and disposal is straining natural
resources as never before, Coresight’s Weinswig said,
and for many, supply chain sustainability has become a
has laid out steps toward a 2030 goal of using only
recycled or other sustainably sourced materials. Those
inputs now account for 35 percent of the retailer’s
total material use.
fashion industry is today too dependent on virgin and
nonrenewable resources," H&M said in announcing
the release of its 2017 sustainability report.
retailer created a swimwear collection made from
recycled polyesters, produced garments out of recycled
shoreline waste and gathered nearly 18,000 tons of
textiles, the equivalent of 89 million T-shirts, through
a garment-collecting initiative.
Strauss urges shoppers to bring their old clothes and
shoes to any Levi’s store in the U.S. for repurposing
or recycling through a partnership with I:Collect.
I:Collect reuses items or recycles them into yarn for
denim or insulation. Levi Strauss also pioneered a
technique that reduces the amount of water used in the
finishing process, expanding the technique to 70 percent
of its collections.
Gap says it’s working toward getting all of its cotton
from more sustainable sources by 2021.
Under Armour makes some shirts using Repreve, a brand of
fiber made by Unifi from recycled plastic bottles. The
fiber, which the North Carolina-based textile firm spins
into yarn for fabric, has made its way into about 2.5
million shirts over about three years — the equivalent
of 10 million plastic bottles.
are reusing a resource, as opposed to extracting new
petroleum to make the polyester you have to convert into
fiber," said Michael Levine, Under Armour’s vice
president of sustainability and corporate social
responsibility. "Unifi has gone to great lengths to
have a traceable fiber. You want to say where the stuff
comes from and trace it back. … That shows we care
about the impact we have on the environment and
recognize the way we build products (using) scarce and
Armour now uses virtual, three-dimensional images
rendered via computer instead of samples for some new
product prototypes and sizing, which saves an estimated
6,100 yards of material a year, Levine said. The brand
has a goal of increasing recycled polyester for certain
products by 15 percent by 2020.
part of an overall approach of lowering the
environmental impact of product design.
which touts its lifetime-guaranteed outdoor clothing as
sustainable, encourages customers to trade in used
Patagonia gear, which the brand resells, in exchange for
credit toward new or used garments. It also offers
garment repair services, both in stores and at a large
center in Nevada.
prefer people buy used clothing than new clothing simply
because of the environmental impact," said Corey
Simpson, Patagonia’s communication manager for
product. "The most environmental thing you can do
is buy (items) and keep them in use as long as possible,
when they break, repair them, and at the end of the
life-cycle, recycle them."
launched a campaign about the impact of textile waste
three years ago. Now the chain publishes an annual
impact report "to open consumers’ eyes to the
potential of reuse," said Tony Shumpert, the chain’s
vice president of recycling and reuse.
you think of traditional recycling activities, we’re
teaching those things at the grade-school level, but we
don’t talk a lot about textile waste," Shumpert
retailer accepts donations at its stores and through
neighborhood truck collections.
the Parkville store, workers sort clothing, putting the
best items on the sales floor and sending the rest to
recycling plants or markets in other countries. In a
typical day, workers process 9,000 pounds of clothing,
3,000 pounds of household goods and as much as 1,500
pounds of books.
turn over fast, many within 24 hours, said Barbara
Smith, a cashier. She has seen customers return, drawn
by reasonable prices and good quality.
they have to do is take their time and look through
everything," Smith said. "Most of the
customers that come in here, they say they don’t even
go to malls anymore."