As a kid, I volunteered at a few community ministries in my town that accepted clothing donations. Part of my job was to sift through the mountains of discarded clothing and shoes. What we considered “unusable” was thrown in a truck and shipped off to third world countries. I also lived in Haiti for a few years, and then I was able to see where these donations were actually going. Right outside of the capital city Port-au-Prince, there’s a slum called Crois-des-Bossales. There I saw massive piles of unused clothing polluting the area. James Conca, in a Forbes article titled “Making Climate Change Fashionable”, says that the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of carbon emissions and is one of the biggest industrial polluters. Overproduction is a huge factor in this. In Fashion United, Marjorie van Elven writes: “The fashion industry clearly has a problem with overproduction. In March, fast fashion powerhouse H&M reported to be sitting on a pile of no less than 4.3 billion US dollars worth of unsold inventory.” So what is a good alternative to fast fashion for a more conscious consumer?
Streetwear culture might hold the solution. Any item from a hype drop will go through several life cycles, and because of it’s high value and prestigious reputation, it will be much less likely to be discarded than it’s cheaper fast fashion relative. Hype items are limited in production, which eliminates the possibility of overproduction. Many highly coveted items are often sold out immediately after the scheduled drop. For example, Supreme’s FW17 box logo hoodies sold out in Europe in just 13 seconds. This eliminates the possibility that pieces will end up stuck on the shelf unwanted. The pieces are then resold as a collector’s item and increase in value over time. For example, Travis Scott’s retro Air Jordan 1’s retailed at $175, but are now worth well over $1k!
Another popular trend in streetwear culture is thrifting. This is a great way to not only find vintage streetwear, but to also do your part in reducing waste. Some stores both online and physical such as Duke Cupboard in London resell old clothing by searching for desirable “grail’ pieces and reselling them. I’ve seen numerous Instagram accounts compromised of nothing but thrift store finds for sale. I’ve even seen an account called “laflame wears” which is a collection of vintage finds inspired by the outfits of Travis Scott.
More environmentally friendly materials are also being introduced in streetwear. Patagonia and others are upcycling plastic bottles to make synthetic polyester. Designer Sean Wortherspoon has introduced two cruelty free vegan sneakers, the Nike Air Max 1/97, a collaboration with Nike, and another collaboration with Guess. Noah NYC has also recently introduced a line of high quality tees made with recycled cotton. They also encourage consumers to make an effort as well, “We as producers need to take the small steps of producing products differently and as consumers, we need to buy less things and keep them longer.” (Noah NYC, “This Tee is Garbage”, August 21 2019). They have a great point. It’s everyone’s job to make sure that we enjoy streetwear in an environmentally conscious and ethical way.
So, whether you’re a streetwear designer, re-seller, or consumer, I hope that you’ll realise that we all have a part in making this industry more environmentally conscious. Whether it’s by thrifting instead of buying new, doing some research on sustainability before creating or buying a product, or by using the things you already have before buying more, anyone can help make streetwear more sustainable. What can you do to reduce waste and work towards a more sustainable streetwear industry? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comment box below.