A new industrial revolution is on which is creating the next, more sustainable economy. Sustainability and fair trading standards are gaining strength in the clothing industry. Many companies and designers now incorporate responsible and mindful choices concerning the environment throughout their business practices. They focus on sustainability, fair trade and labor with the end goal of offering consumers environmentally healthy clothing choices without sacrificing fashion. From start to finish, this includes the integration of eco-friendly fabrics, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, and consumer end-use. And, many believe strongly in giving back by donating a percentage of all sales to non-profit, non-governmental environmental and social welfare organizations. Two of our previously reviewed favorites, Edun Apparel, LTD. and TOMS, whose clothes and shoes we love, epitomize values of sustainability and living with intentionality, as does Rambler’s Way, another huge favorite.
Let’s talk about recycling, upcycling and downcycling. There’s an alphabet soup of terms (RPET-recycled poly, PCD-post-consumer downcycled) out there to confuse the consumer. Basically, here is what it’s about. We’ve all got a pretty good handle on recycling. Downcycling (or downstream recycling) is recycling a product into a material of lesser quality. Eventually, recycling sends material so far down the food chain that it isn’t useful or feasible to recycle any further. There is delay in getting it to the landfill.
What is Upcycling? The term was coined by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, authors of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. In it they state that upcycling is a component of sustainability in which waste materials are used to provide new products. The difference here is that upcycling creates a product of similar or greater value, in its second life. Aluminum and glass, for example, can usually be upcycled into the same quality of aluminum and glass as the original products.
In the clothing business, here is how this works. Clothing designers take discarded garments, customer returns, or excess production from garment retailers and turn them into new-different pieces. It’s not an easy process to establish as Patagonia has discovered. They launched a Common Threads Initiative and are still working out the kinks.
One of our favorite designers for men is Sew Last Season who upcycle their excess production and customer returns. They do the same in their women’s Elena Garcia Studio couture line. Another favorite is Ailin who uses downcycled fabrics, PCD or post-consumer downcycled filament yarn, throughout their line as both a woven and a knit fabric. The fabric used comes from PET bottles or garbage. Instead of being dumped in a landfill, Ailin’s suppliers catch the PET bottles on the downstream. Through a chemical decomposition and purification process, the bottles are broken down into flakes or pellets and spun into a polyester raw fiber. Just remember, all recycling delays the inevitable whether upcycling, upstyling or downcycling – it still ends up in a landfill somewhere. Here are some of our favorite sustainable eco-clothing resources. We’d love to have you weigh on this new wrinkle in the “rag” business.
Designer – Women
Ultra Eco-Luxury – Men, Women & Children
Ultra Eco-Sport – Women
Men, Women, Kids
Men & Women
High-end Knitwear/Apparel – Men & Babies
Designer – Men & Women
Casual – Men & Women
Casual – Women
Casual – Men, Women & Kids
- Howies UK
Casual Designer+Accessories – Men & Women
- People Tree UK
Casual – Men, Women, Home & Garden
- Eco-Eco UK