In the world of fashion, trends burst onto the scene almost as quickly as they fade away. However, there is one trend in fashion that is here to stay. Sustainable fashion, or more specifically, sustainability in the form of recycled clothing, is becoming more recognized and utilized in the fashion industry.
In the United States, an estimated 85% (or approximately 13 million tons annually) of textiles are thrown away. On a global scale, it is estimated that 92 million tons of textiles go to waste each year. We can compare this to having an industrial-sized dump truck filled with clothes getting tossed into a landfill every second. This colossal waste produces methane gas and toxic chemicals, all of which greatly affect the environment.
In an effort to be more conscious of the environment, more fashion brands are turning to sustainable efforts and incorporating recycled clothing items into their collections.
Fashion brands are making more of an effort to counteract this waste through sustainable fashion practices. By using recycled fabric to create new clothing, retailers are taking small positive steps towards a more sustainable future. But what exactly is recycled clothing made of?
The two main types of recycled fabrics are generated from:
These used textiles or waste materials are broken down and repurposed into new fibers used to create recycled clothing.
Due to the complexity of breaking down raw materials and current recycling technology, there are certain recycled textiles, fabrics, and waste materials that are more commonly used than others. In a study conducted by StyleSage, all United States clothing made from recycled materials that were sold from June 2018 to June 2021 was analyzed for fiber content. The fiber content percentage was broken down from most used to least used.
While recycled clothing is good for the environment, it doesn’t necessarily mean the process is easy.
Although recycling used clothes seems like the easiest way to create new recycled clothing, the process is quite cumbersome. Because clothing is a final product of fibers that have already been spun together, in order to reuse the materials, the process is reversed. Textiles are sorted into:
Once the textiles are properly sorted, the items are mechanically shredded. This results in a fiber that can be used to create new fabrics. The entire process requires a high amount of intensive labor and can be quite pricey.
Another way to create recycled clothing is through repurposing waste materials. Depending on the waste material, each item goes through various processes like collecting, sorting, washing, and drying and is later sent into processing and manufacturing. One waste material that is on the rise is recycled plastic bottles. The process for recycling plastic bottles starts by breaking down the bottles into small flakes. These flakes are melted down into small pellets and are melted down once again. The bits are then filtered and spun into usable threads. It is from these threads that new textiles can be created.
With sustainability gaining more attention in fashion, more brands are hopping on the recycled clothing train. From June 2018 to June 2021, fashion brands in the United States unveiled upwards of 18,500 new clothing products generated from recycled materials. These recycled clothing items fell under various fashion brand genres.
In the StyleSage study, the findings reported that some of the highest fashion brands embracing the recycled clothing movement were sporting and fitness fashion brands. Among retailers in the United States selling recycled clothing, the brands at the top of the scene are Adidas and Lululemon. From June 2018 to June 2021, the percentage of recycled clothing among total clothing produced by Adidas was 54.27%. Clothing items ranged from track pants, leggings, and sports bras to athletic shoes and accessories. Other fashion fitness brands included Lululemon, with a percentage of recycled clothing per total clothing of 22.70%, and notorious fitness retailer, Nike, with a recycled clothing percentage of 15.98%.
In the same study, retailers with sustainability as a core value in their mission made up the upper-middle tier of recycled clothing per total clothing percentages. Clothing retailer, Cos, is known for its sustainable practices. The StyleSage study showed that Cos had 19.33% of recycled clothing per total clothing. Other retailers like Everlane and Madewell had recycled clothing percentages of 17.54% and 16.65%, respectively.
Fast fashion is a term used to describe fashion brands that rapidly mass-produce clothing. These retailers often mimic catwalk fashion and produce it with lower quality materials, allowing the general public to purchase current trends at a lower price tag. Although there are some controversies with fast fashion methods, some of these fast fashion retailers are making more of an effort to incorporate recycled materials into their clothing.
In the StyleSage study, the amount of recycled clothing as a percent of total clothing for the popular retailer Gap was 16.06%. H&M, another prevalent fast fashion brand, had a recycled to total clothing percentage of 13.01%.
With sustainable fashion on the rise, sustainability-focused marketing, also known as green marketing, is also becoming more popular. For brands that are looking to start a marketing strategy centered around sustainable fashion efforts, here are just a few foundational tips.
As cliché as it might sound, the saying, “Before you can talk the talk, you need to walk the walk,” holds merit for sustainability-focused marketing strategies. When it comes to sustainable fashion, significant change needs to occur behind the scenes—through sourcing materials, manufacturing, and production—before it can be honestly marketed to the general public. Finding sustainable, recycled materials and using ethical practices may be tedious, and the process may take longer, but at the end of the day, the final products are creations both the organization and prospecting consumers can be proud of.
Once the behind-the-scenes operations have a sustainability focus, the next step is to market your sustainable mission with direct transparency. Fashion retailer, Cos, is a great example and highlights sustainability as one of the main components of their mission and brand. You can find a sustainability page on their website dedicated to a breakdown of their sustainable efforts. Cos itemizes their use of organic, responsible, recycled and repurposed, and conventional clothing materials used, along with statistics on how the current year compares to the previous year. This way, consumers can clearly see how Cos continues to progress their sustainable tactics year after year.
The company also goes beyond clothing to show how they are integrating sustainable practices in other areas of their retail business. Sustainability can be found in various efforts, including:
In order for sustainability-focused marketing to work, consumers need to know what they are specifically buying. This is where product messaging comes into play. Every recycled clothing product should include a detailed description of any recycled materials or sustainable practices used to bring the product to fruition. Through clear-cut product messaging, consumers know what they are buying and how they are contributing to their environment.
To make online or in-store shopping experiences even easier for those who value sustainability, have a recycled/sustainable clothing collection displayed on your website or in stores. By clearly identifying and organizing your recycled clothing products, consumers don’t need to scavenge for individual sustainable items hidden in your store or website. Instead, they can easily shop while knowing all the products in that specific collection align with their values.
Trends come and go, but sustainability in fashion is always in. Although using recycled materials and altering your retail strategy can be intimidating and a slow process, the journey and positive contribution to the environment are well worth it. If you find yourself searching for an extra hand amidst your process, explore the talent found on Fiverr. With a plethora of fashion design artists, 3D garment design specialists, e-commerce marketers, and marketing strategists, you can find the help you need to take your retail brand to the next level.