The biggest fashion trends today include way more than what's showing on the runways. For some companies, the focus is not only on what's trendy but how to produce apparel and accessories in a way that's more forgiving to the Earth. After all, it's never been a more important moment for the fashion industry to make some changes considering that the fashion business churns out more than 80 billion garments a year, according to Greenpeace. In addition, a recent survey revealed that many of us never even wear 20 percent of the clothing in our closets — all of which points to an industry (and purchasing habits) in need of reform.
Meet five companies doing their part to prompt change.
Seeking an alternative to 'fast fashion'
A model sports Zady's .01 The Sweater, the first piece of clothing from the fashion website. The sweater is Zady-branded sweater was, according to the website, created 'with a dual commitment to style and sustainability' in mind. (Photo: Zady)
For Maxine Bédat, co-founder of Zady, a website that launched in August 2013 and curates and sells only goods that are sourced by "clean" manufacturers, the idea for the company came to her after watching how quickly her favorite "fast fashion" items fell apart.
"I'm the first to admit that I grew up loving fast fashion, blissfully unaware of the consequences my fast fashion choices were having on the world," she says. "It was only after getting frustrated as a shopper that I started to do the research and discovered that the system trains us to buy more and more products of increasingly lower quality that hides the outrageously high environmental and social cost of its production."
Fashion companies are a massive contributor to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, second only to the oil industry, she notes. "We're wearing clothes infused with chemicals that get washed into our water system and that gets absorbed into our skin long after our shirt has left the factory floor," she says. "It's an industry that employs one in every six people on the planet, that are hidden in a shadow system that regularly uses child and forced labor." Today, each product on the site — sometimes described as the Whole Foods of fashion — includes the story of how it was made, including raw materials. And, in November, Zady launched a first ever Zady-branded product to see if it was possible to create not only a transparent supply chain but one that was sustainable all the way from the farm to finish factory. "Of course, it was a product that led with style," she says. "We're New York women after all, so there's no sacrificing style."
Focusing on mindful manufacturing
The Sharon clutch from Blu Salt, shown here with the detachable body strap, is made of water and stain-resistant recycled polyethylene terephthalate, organic cotton and upcycled silk. (Photo: Blu Salt)
Six months ago, when Rohini Shah launched Blu Salt, a line of sustainable clutches and wallets, Shah wanted to be sure her line incorporated the idea of living mindfully. To do this, she was determined that her collection would use eco-friendly fabrics, including RPET (that's recycled polyethylene terephthalate, which comes from plastic that has already been used in such things as plastic drinking bottles), organic cotton and up-cycled silk, using remnants from the home furnishings industry. Plus, she wanted to ensure decent working conditions for the people who produce her line. She ensures this by inspecting each manufacturing facility in person to make sure no child labor is used.
To that end, her Sharon Clutch and Rama Wallet are versatile so customers have one go-to bag that can function in any setting, reducing their need to switch bags. For Shah, the time is now for every fashion company to become environmentally responsible. "Our success lies in the support we get from the world around us," she says. "Fashion companies have so much power in how they shape consumption and dictate tastes. I think it's wonderful for companies like ours to bring environmentally responsible businesses to the mainstream."
Tending to the trees
A hoodie featuring the tentree logo. (Photo: tentree)
In a unique twist on the one-for-one fashion strategy in which for every item purchased, one is donated (as is the case with such companies as Toms Shoes and Warby Parker), tentree has upped the ante by planting 10 trees for every item purchased. This apparel company, which debuted about three years ago in Canada and has recently broken into the U.S. market has so far planted more than 4.5 million trees.
"My co-founder, David Luba, and I came up with the idea of tentree while on vacation in Hawaii," says Kalen Emsley, the co-founder and chief marketing officer whose background is in business and forestry. "We were absolutely blown away by everything nature has to offer and wanted to create a sustainable business that would protect the world we play in," he says. "The environment was always first, clothing was a means to making a difference."
For Emsley, this is more than just good business. "When you help the environment, you also help people, animals, and ecosystems," he says. "The future of this planet depends on us taking initiative. It isn't enough to protect what we still have, we have to progress and reforest areas that have been cut down. We have to empower villages and teach their residents proper forest management. Without that we will continue to see land degradation, loss of access to water, increases in poverty, and species of animals will go extinct."
Sourcing from sheep
Ibex's Shak Lite Bateau Top for women. (Photo: Ibex Outdoor Clothing)
Building a company founded on a line of clothing that uses only Merino wool, which is a natural and renewable fiber, was the goal of the founders of Ibex Outdoor Clothing. They started the White River Junction, Vermont-based company in 1997. "The founders of the company believed that apparel made from natural fibers not only performs well but is eco-conscious, too," says Keith Anderson, vice president of marketing at Ibex. Every item is sourced from New Zealand sheep that are ZQ certified, which means the wool comes from a traceable supply chain with stringent animal welfare guidelines. "At Ibex, we also believe that while the goal of sustainability is a constant, achieving it requires regular reevaluation and assessment," Anderson says. "Beginning with a renewable resource gives us a leg up in the effort to mitigate our negative impacts."
Producing meaningful apparel
Thread For Thought's Hollywood Tee is made from 50 percent cotton and 50 percent recycled polyester. (Photo: Thread for Thoughts)
It was during their senior year of college that Eric Fleet and his wife, Leigh, came up with a concept that they hoped would make a difference in the world: One morning, Leigh woke up with an idea to create a line of T-shirts made from sustainable materials that would feature graphics inspired by issues they cared about, from the continent of Africa filled with interlocked hands representing unity to one that spelled out 'May Peace Prevail on Earth' in 12 different languages. They found a factory in Los Angeles, made their initial set of samples and took them to fashion trade shows and, thanks to some great celebrity support, Threads For Thought got its start seven years ago.
Ever since, every item made by the company — it's now a lifestyle band that has gone beyond T-shirts to include shirts, pants, dressed and more for men and women — is created with sustainable materials, including organic cotton, recycled polyester made from plastic water bottles and Lenzing modal, a carbon-neutral fiber. "The fashion industry is the dirtiest in the world after oil," Fleet says. "We believe fashion companies can become more environmentally responsible and it starts with the materials." In addition, the company has also moved their distribution facility to be nearer to the port of entry to cut down on transportation. "We're constantly evaluating how we can further reduce our footprint," Fleet says.
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