Walking around the mall today is no longer what it used to be. There are many stores producing and selling clothing that is made unethically and unsustainably. Unfortunately, customers are still attending to the corporations needs because of the lack of awareness regarding this issue. Places such as Zara, H&M, and Forever 21 are constantly packed with consumers buying trendy clothes and are contributing to a greater fashion crisis in the world today.

Fast and fad fashion has been around for a long time, but times have changed, and many start-up organizations are beginning to implement a sustainable fashion model in order to save the environment from short term, wasteful garments.

The world is in the midst of a fashion crisis. Our clothes end up in landfills after a fleeting visit to our closets. Garments from fast and fad fashion conglomerates have a short life cycle and end up piled up in landfills all around the world.

According to the Toronto Environmental Alliance, a not-for-profit organization working to promote a greener place for Torontonians said, Ontario generates 500,000 tons of clothing and textile waste every year, with the number growing rapidly. Many people have reported that they do donate clothing but 85 per cent of used textiles end up in landfills instead.

In several countries governments are taking action to address the environmental impacts of the fashion industry. For instance, in the United Kingdom, MPs have a report commissioned on June 2019 calling for fast fashion retailers to look at their impact on the environment and their working conditions. Some recommendations, as stated by The Independent, include; “reforming tax laws and requiring firms to contribute towards the clean-up costs for waste garments.” This, however, has been rejected by the government.

The United States used to discard their recycling in landfills in China and Hong Kong, but about half of the plastic could not be recycled because the items were covered in food and dirt. The West turned Southeast Asia into one large dumping ground which created a recent outrage catching the world off guard. China has now placed a ban, discontinuing the U.S. from dumping their recyclables in their country but this has placed a strain on other countries as the U.S. tries to find other locations to dispose their waste in. This unfortunately is taking place in countries that are already piled with garage.

Guardian investigation in 2019 discovered “hundreds of thousands of tons of US plastic are being shipped every year to poorly regulated developing countries around the globe for the dirty, labor-intensive process of recycling. The consequences for public health and the environment are grim.”

In our consumer culture today, we are constantly exposed to mass sales, cheap fashionable clothes, and mindful marketing techniques that lure us to think in a buy-now mentality.  According to Neil Patel, a columnist at Marketing Land, a daily publication that covers all aspects of the digital marketing industry, says the psychology behind the buy-now act is due to impulse buying. It states that “if you want customers to “buy now,” you should ask them to do so” and there is a high chance that they will. The article states that 80 per cent of Americans made impulse purchases in the past year. However, the Recycling Council of Ontario states that the average person throws away 37 kilograms of textiles annually. 9.5 million tonnes of clothing end up in landfills every year, where most of it could be reused or recycled.

Social media platforms play an important role in raising awareness about issues like this, but they also promote our consumer habits. Platforms such as Instagram is a place where sellers are building brand sales. It is a hub where millions of people see a lot of photographed content, making it a perfect place for companies and brands to advertise their goods.

The Balance Small Business is home to experts who provide clear, practical advice on entrepreneurship and management, states that “the annual environmental impact of a household’s clothing is equivalent to the water needed to fill 1,000 bathtubs and the carbon emissions from driving an average modern car for 6,000 miles.” Furthermore, if the average lifespan of our clothing was extended by three months their carbon and water footprint would be reduced by five to 10 per cent.

Even though 58 per cent of people are donating unwanted items, not many are embracing the ability to reuse their items. According to a recent report by Value Village, 13 per cent say that it is easier to throw things out, 12 per cent are not aware of where or how to donate or reuse their items, eight per cent do not donate or recycle because it is inconvenient, and eight per cent think it takes too much time.

Source: Value Village.

Sustainable clothing does not have a singular definition. A lot of elements play a part in producing, delivering, and receiving an item which could make something unsustainable. But the Green Strategy, a company that develops sustainable strategies for fashion and apparel companies, has tried to create one clean definition of sustainability and they define it as:

“More sustainable fashion can be defined as clothing, shoes and accessories that are manufactured, marketed and used in the most sustainable manner possible, taking into account both environmental and socio-economic aspects.

In practice, this implies continuous work to improve all stages of the product’s life cycle, from design, raw material production, manufacturing, transport, storage, marketing and final sale, to use, reuse, repair, remake and recycling of the product and its components. 

In addition, fashion companies should contribute to encourage more sustainable consumption patterns, caring and washing practices, and overall attitudes to fashion. (Green Strategy, June 2014).”

Source: Mira Nabulsi

Upcycling old and used tires are a new and eco-friendly way of using an item that can negatively impact the environment, when incorrectly discarded, and recreating the material to create a fashionable and trendy item for consumers to purchase. Many believe that cars are affecting the environment due to the release of gases into the air but not many think about the effect the items that make up a car has on the environment. Some effects that tires have on the environment are leaching, landfill overcrowding, fire risks, and pest threats.

California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) has a tire management program that educates the public about the effects of tires on the environment. CalRecycle shows people different ways to recycle tires in order to prevent environmental impacts from materials that are recyclable. Some information on their website includes; when tires are left in landfills it breaks down and releases chemicals that are carcinogenic and mutagenic, meaning that it can cause cancer and gene mutation. Pests are able to breed in tires that are left in landfills which eventually spread diseases to the greater public. Tires are highly combustible, if they are exposed to fire, they release a lot of toxins into the air and it is difficult for the fire to be controlled.

According to reRubber, a company that promotes green practices in the rubber industry states that “tires are scrapped at a rate of 1.1 tire/person/year leading to over 300 million tires scrapped per year. Landfill space is becoming more and more scarce as tires do not biodegrade and have significant negative space.” However, tires are 100 per cent recyclable, which means that the global implications of reducing tire waste includes, improved socioeconomic justice, reducing landfill waste, reducing carbon footprint, and creating a safer society.

Christal Earle was working at a garbage dump in the north coast of the Dominican Republic in 2005. There, workers told her about the difficult work that goes into sorting garbage dumps. Earle recognized the tire pile ups and the available breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Pools of stagnant water trapped in the rubber tires, made these a natural breeding ground for mosquitoes. Earle has an adopted child in Dominican Republic due to this infestation. The birth mother of her adopted child had died from dengue hemorrhagic fever which is a disease she got from the garbage dumps. Her daughter was unable to come back to Canada with her, and this is where she had her light-bulb moment. After recognizing the number of tires in the garbage dump and the fact that her daughter was unable to leave the Dominican Republic, Earle decided to start her own company based there. In 2005 Earle launched Brave Soles, a foundation that upcycles tires to make shoes and accessories. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, upcycling means “to recycle (something) in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item: to create an object of greater value from (a discarded object of lesser value). Brave Soles have upcycled 1,150 tires so far and plan on increasing that number. To keep their customers in the know they have live information on their website showing the process of their production and the end result of a consumer’s purchase. Brave Soles uses Instagram as one of their leading platforms to gain consumer traffic and a place to advertise their products.

Images of Christal Earle

Chic Made Consciously is an accessories line founded by Cassanda Ciarallo. She was an employee in the corporate world then she got tired with her routine and decided to travel and backpack around Southeast Asia. There she met a woman named Dana, she made accessories from repurposed tire inner tubes and was fascinated with her work. Later, she was invited to spend a day making these accessories. Ciarallo learned about the unfortunate circumstances of tire waste in Ubud, Bali and recognized it was a global issue that needed to be addressed. This is when Ciarallo decided to spread a message about the importance of slow fashion by offering people fashionable accessories that are upcycled and designed to last a long time.

Images of Cassanda Ciarallo

As consumers we are purchasing goods and items very often to accommodate our current lifestyles. A recent article from Forbes states that “the U.S. apparel industry today is a $12 billion business and the average American family spends $1,700 on clothes annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” It also stated that the money used towards purchasing these items were not spent due to consumer needs but wants, thus seen as wasteful. The Bureau says this is because “in 1930, the average American woman owned nine outfits. Today, that figure is 30 outfits — one for every day of the month.”

According to VICE we are consuming five times as much clothing as we did in the 1980s and disposing 13 million tons each year. Jeans are items that tend to last longer in our closets, but their environmental impacts are significant. It takes up to 2,000 gallons of water to produce one pair of blue jeans. In the United States it has been calculated that once the jean item has been bought it takes 300 gallons of water to clean them over their lifetime. Blue jeans use synthetic dyes to keep them blue which is polluting the waters.  Jessica Frankel, a Ryerson University fashion student, is the founder of Twinge Apparel in Toronto. On April 5th 2019, Frankel showed her clothing line to a wide range audience at Ryerson’s Mass Exodus show. Her clothing line caught a lot of traction because she used recycled jean material and plastic bottles to create a trendy sustainable look.

Her clothing company, Twinge Apparel, was inspired by her passion to help save the environment. When Frankel was younger, she would upcycle her father’s jean jackets and alter them to her liking. Frankel is knowledgeable about the multiple negative effects that jean has on the environment and so she focused her entire final year project on this theme. Twinge Apparel uses recycled jean material to make new and trendy items. She says that jean is an easy fabric to use and recreate to make it trendy throughout its lifetime. She was inspired to create a fashion line that keeps jean trendy and wants to encourage others to wear recycled clothing as well.

Images from Twinge Apparel

Tight Knit Syria is a foundation based in Toronto, Canada founded by Dana Kandalaft. They collaborate with 25 Syrian women in refugee camps around the Middle East. Here they leverage and maximize on the skills who the women already have, including but not limited to; embroidering, knitting, and crocheting. The women make items that are being sold all around the world. The women themselves are placing a price on their work to compensate for their labour. Tight Knit Syria recognizes that “empowering women has a powerful ripple effect, promoting inclusive growth, combating child labour, preserving traditional skill sets, promoting psychological well-being and combating social isolation…and so much more.” In other words, Tight Knit Syria is a business that practices both environmental and socioeconomic practices.

Kandalaft started this project in 2013 and has seen great improvements in the way women are living their lives and connecting them to others around the world, to work and collaborate with. This gives the women an opportunity to grow and make money for themselves and their families.

Images of Dana Kandalaft