AUTHOR Aimee Rubensteen
In an ideal world, Eliza Starbuck would own a factory in her neighborhood, and train a team of workers to redesign garments out of used materials. Unlike robots, these factory workers would be highly skilled DIY masters that could cut up last season’s discarded fashions and create this season’s stunner. The world needs to be reprogrammed into thinking that they should buy what they need, or simply what they plan to wear season after season. This mindset has leaked into the fashion world, with brands like Bright Young Things. Starbuck speaks sustainability.
Sustainable fashion uses what already exists: Recycled clothing from secondhand stores, vintage collections, or nabbed gems from your mother’s closet. This kind of DIY-treasure hunting isn’t exactly helping to boost our economy, but it is birthing a new fashion scene. Naturally, the established business world is resistant to change; if you’re still making money the old way, then why would you invest or risk rocking the boat by doing things differently? And you can’t blame the shopaholics who live for that moment of satisfaction in obtaining a treasure either. But, simply buying mass-produced items that everyone else has will not satisfy our craving for creativity any longer. Style is about original curation. It’s not that we should all go on a shopping strike; it’s more about weaving DIY, eco-friendly, recyclable materials into the design, production, and consumption end of our fashion purchasing choices. Starbuck herself admits her love for shopping. She’s proud that her great finds are from thrift stores rather than department stores. She claims, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it.”
Thrifting has become a bit more mainstream lately on the merry-go-round of this year’s economy. Some fashionistas have been renamed recessionistas wearing recycled gear, and proudly. Frugality is not only helping mend that hole in your pocket, but the effects of global warming. On the plus side? It’s probed all of us to take resourcefulness to the next level. If the fashion market is the totem pole we all praise, then reusable items need to be at the top of the pole. Products that are vintage, secondhand, up-cycled, and dead stock are the most sustainable items to buy. Dead stock is better to use than overstock because it is product that simply did not get used and is no longer being made, kind of like a limited edition, where as overstock sales tend to encourage the continuing of over-production spillage. A supply in excess of demand is common in a mass production economy, we have to reverse that and put the demand first. Consumers need to exercise their muscles a little more, by choosing more carefully what they buy. This in turn will steer the direction businesses take as they respond to the consumer demands.
Watch “The Story of Stuff” for a clearer explanation for why exercising your consumer muscle is important.
The best way to shop is locally. Cutting down as much shipping as possible makes a huge impact on the environment. If you think you’re helping the planet by buying something that is used or organic that’s coming from Asia, unless you live there, think again. Shipping across the globe by plane is creating an even greater carbon footprint than what was saved by going organic or second hand.
Most 1st world companies, if not all, purchase materials from abroad. While many items are still shipped by boat, much of our goods come by plane which is detrimental to the environment. There is no current solution to overseas production due to the fact that there are very few manufacturers still in business in the States and most countries where the consumer power is the strongest. Materials needed for production are either grown or made far away which makes local production costly, and quite often inefficient. But there are pioneers on the local fashion front: independent and local designers, and the shops that sell their wares do exist if you search them out. So, when shopping, buy from local sources; look for items that are made locally to at least decrease some shipping impacts.
Timeless, multifunctional clothing is also sustainable, we’d call this investment fashion. And just imagine getting a compliment for wearing a well seasoned dress to this season’s fashion show. Clothing should be made to last. Buying items that are practical and not trend sensitive, from a style standpoint, is resourceful. Trends tend to be quickly dated and look unfashionable fast. While clothes that are trendy might be fun for the evening, they will just sit in your closet to hear you complain about having nothing to wear the next night. Trendy or not, if you have any fashion sense, you’ll never wear something that is poorly manufactured and will fall apart, ill-fitting, or not particularly flattering to your figure twice; those items all end up being throw-away fashions.
Production on the other hand, has made some strides in the use of renewable resources. Everyday new designers are creating and recreating ways for sustainable production. On a simple level, renewable fibers such as tencel, hemp, flax, jute, linen, and peace silk, also known as raw silk (animal cruelty free) are great materials. Although organic cotton is better than standard cotton it does take more from the earth than it produces in fiber! Another great material being used today is corozo, a nut material used to make buttons. Designers are soon catching on to this craze, while other ideas still seem to baffle the viewer.
BioCouture creates leather jackets from the residue film on tea! “From a vat of sugary green tea, grew a textile biomaterial, resulting in seamless clothing that has the look and feel of vegetable leather.” This is when sustainable production meets creative genius. It’s just as strong as leather but animal free. Vegan products are also light on the earth, cutting down on the environmental impact of farming and the chemical processes of tanning.
Vegan labels such as Cri-de-Coeur, create heels made of recycled bottle plastic based ultra suede. With a little innovation, resources can be renewable instead of limited.
And then there is Jeremy Mays who makes jewelry from ‘secondhand’ books and green materials. Innovations like these will enable the change Starbuck hopes to see in every girl’s closet.
Sustainability is not the end all be all, it’s simply a step in the right direction. And with just a couple more bright young things out there, we can count on leaving a footprint in this world that’s got nothing to do with carbon.