Admittedly, I look forward to the next season’s biggest trends the way that children wait to unwrap presents around the holidays—there’s something magical about unveiling something new. But if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the traditional way the fashion industry has produced clothing is unsustainable. The toll of the current fashion production cycle impacts every facet it touches.
For the designers and creative teams, it’s financially and creatively draining to keep up with the fashion week calendar. For employees within the garment industry (which is estimated to be between 25 to 60 million people globally), 90% of workers cannot negotiate their salaries or working conditions, meaning they’re stuck in work environments that fail to uphold living wages, legal working hours, and safe working conditions. On top of that, the environmental toll is astronomical. Textile production is one of the most significant contributors to climate change. It contributes more CO2 than international aviation and shipping combined and uses 79 billion cubic meters of water per year. Fiber production is set to use 35% more land by 2030 that could be used to grow crops or combat the rise in carbon emissions through planting forests.
Some argue that the onus should be on consumers, but it’s incredibly arduous and elitist to believe that solely buying ethically or reducing our own closet’s carbon footprint is going to solve a global issue. Really, the industry needs to embrace seasonless fashion and ethical production practices, but to combat the excess generation of textile waste (the EPA estimated that 11.3 million tons out of 17 million tons of material produced in 2018 ended up in landfills), upcycled clothing needs to be embraced.
Ahead, we spoke with 16 brand founders and designers about the future of recycled fashion and actionable ways brands can embrace recycled materials. From small labels sifting through old quilts to larger fashion houses using deadstock fabrics—upcycling is the future, and these brands are leading the way.