In with the old, out with the new: How upcycling tackles the industry's textile waste problem.
The current fast fashion schedule is based on a throw-away economy where we consume fast and toss our unwanted garments without a second thought. This often breaks the emotional connection we have towards a garment as consumers tend to replace it entirely rather than taking the time to mend. With this fast turnover rate comes high levels of production waste. Indeed, the fashion industry is the second biggest contributor to waste in the world (with the oil industry being the first). China alone produces at least 70,000 tons of textile waste per day. The waste begins even before the clothes reach the stores as around 20-30% of fabric is discarded in the process of creating each piece of clothing. Within this percentage, only 20% of this is recycled while the rest is thrown away. Moreover, the fashion industry estimates that between 3% to 5% of factory inventories are lost because of manufacturing and ordering mistakes which can amount to tens of thousands of clothing units per order.
On the flip side, upcycled fashion has given the industry a new life and an opportunity to merge style with sustainability. A term first coined in the 1990s, upcycling essentially means to recycle (something) in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original itemto create an object of greater value. This process closes the loop between production, distribution, collection and re-manufacturing, thus creating a circular economy in an industry infamous for its wastefulness.
'It’s only by scaling these practices that we can make them as financially interesting as their fast fashion counterpart.'
GOOD KRAMA’s modus operandi is based on utilizing existing textiles discarded by local Cambodian garment factories and upcycling into a new design made ethically. You can discover our entire upcycled fabrics range here. However, only a handful of us are doing this in Cambodia and our overall textile volume diverted is significantly lower than the waste generated locally on a daily basis. As one garment factory insider who wishes to remain anonymous said “One big problem is that it’s simply cheaper in many cases to dump waste, rather than upcycle. The fees for industrial disposal are so low that there is little incentive to segregate waste, find dealers interested in collecting and then finding facilities that can process it.” Furthermore, the lack of legislation to hold factories and brands accountable for their textile waste is a huge barrier to put in place better traceability systems and incentivize towards upcycling and re-purposing textile waste.
On the other hand, some European countries are adopting measures to avoid wasting finished garments, another huge issue in the life-cycle of a garment. For example, France is hoping to ban the disposal of fashion products altogether so that companies are actually re-purposing garments rather than burning or dumping them. Although many businesses in the fashion industry are making positive changes in their supply chains, the majority still produce quite wastefully.
With consumers being increasingly conscious about wearing their values, it is important for the fashion industry to increase their supply chain transparency. This accountability will push companies to adopt a better and circular business model. Sustainable fashion should be the norm, and as more fashion companies adopt this mentality, the cost of sustainably made garments will be more inclusive. It’s only by scaling these practices that we can make them as financially interesting as their fast fashion counterpart. The responsibility should not fall solely on the consumer as, for some of us, fast fashion prices are the only ones we can afford and the global pandemic is straining our purchasing power even more.
While most brands struggle to accept that textile and post-consumer waste is also the company’s responsibility, many creatives are showing that upcycling at scale is indeed possible. Yes, it is more strenuous as we are working against the current fashion system with no organized framework in place - but for us, it is the only way forward. Through transparent communication, traceable impact and collaborative effort, we can build a successful infrastructure and lead by example.