What would you do if you had extra clothing that you didn’t need anymore? One too many pieces of custom apparel? Maybe, if it was in good enough shape, you would use it as a hand-me-down, maybe give it away to a friend, or donate it to Goodwill. Not only is it an ethical thing to do, but society often encourages this within various religions and philosophies. We should, in principle, be able to give at least whatever excess we have to decrease the amount of poverty and human suffering in the world.
So, how would you react when you hear about someone burning brand new clothes or destroying spare shoes because they would rather worry about their profit than drop the price of what they are selling? What does it say about an industry that encourages both mass production, but still destroys the result of the work because it is profitable? How would you feel if you hear about an industry that works so hard to keep costs low that the lives of hundreds of people are expendable? It sounds like something a caricature or a cartoon villain would do. But the sad truth is that they are all very real incidents in the fashion industry.
Burberry, a luxury fashion retailer from Britain literally burned $40 million worth of unsold stock to increase scarcity and keep the value of that clothing up. Nike in SOHO, literally slashed up perfectly good shoes to prevent other people from wearing them for less of a profit to Nike or for free. These incidents were as recent as three years ago and they were all rightfully called out for it. However, these are not all one-off incidents. This is standard practice for the fashion industry.
Principle of ‘Deadstock’
With clothing creation and custom apparel, we try to provide enough stock to meet the clothing consumption rate. According to Fashionunited.Uk, “The global fashion industry produces approximately 100 billion garments per year, feeding consumers’ insatiable appetite for new clothes. But as clothing consumption rates increase, as does the end result – textile, leather and apparel waste”. If you do the math real quick, we have a population of 7.5 billion people in the world. When you divide 100 billion garments per year, that means that everyone should have 13 new outfits a year. There would be no excuse for everyone wearing rags. But we know that isn’t the reality of the world. So how much of this stuff will go to waste?
According to Orsola de Castro, Founder and Creative Director of Fashion Revolution to FashionUnited, “On the consumer side, there is zero transparency concerning how, when, where and what they are incinerating. Consumers are just unaware that this is something that has been going on for a long time”. But this isn’t something that you can blame the brands for doing. Our consumer-based economic system rewards companies and policies that scrap things that are not profitable with tax breaks and raised prices because of scarcity.
So, what do we do about this waste of fabric and apparel? We learn to customize it.
Upcycling Clothes into Custom Apparel
Younger generations and brands that cater to them are trying to turn the tide of waste with upcycling and vintage trends. According to GB news, “One of the fastest-growing fashions in eco-friendly clothing is upcycling, a method of creating sustainable apparel by converting old materials into new clothing”. Consignment and thrift stores are entering the fashion scene by buying and reselling previously used statement pieces. There are even movements that encourage people to wear their favorite clothing 100 times instead of 30.
But the biggest sustainable statement that is being embraced by younger generations is learning how to make their own custom apparel. The reaction to fast fashion, combined with social media and a need to learn a handy skill, spawned a lot of Millenials and Gen Z’s interest in making or customizing their own clothing. They are learning to reuse and upkeep what they have, as well as look into making their own higher-quality custom apparel.
Sewing classes are a growing trend. This isn’t in just Western countries either. Israel is also on the bandwagon. In fact, they are home to Kornit, a digital printing company. This company that only produces custom apparel on-demand. “What we’re enabling is a revolution in the supply chain because you print only what you sell. That eliminates overproduction, overstocks and huge inventories,” says Adi May, head of branding and sustainability for Kornit. “The picture changes from supply and demand to demand and supply.”
Now that the public is more aware of waste in fashion, we are doing something about it. Custom apparel could only benefit us. So, think about what you can do to help decrease waste on a systemic or personal level. Take a sewing class or learn how to alter your shirt. The environment will thank you for it.