Textiles standing the test of time is fashion's way forward

Article content

When Alyssa Lau decided she didn’t want to pursue a graduate degree in biochemistry, she needed a new plan.

Her cousin had just given her a copy of Naked Fashion: The New Sustainable Fashion Revolution, the 2011 book by Safia Minney that explores the wastefulness of the fashion industry and plots possible paths forward, advocating for a “buy less, but buy better” philosophy — consuming less but more ethically-produced and environmentally-conscious clothing. It was a response to the proliferation of disposable “fast fashion” brands like H&M and Zara, which make affordable clothing that comes at a steep environmental cost.

The harms of the fashion industry are well-documented by this point: it accounts for 10 per cent of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources and pollutes rivers and streams. Even worse, 85 per cent of all textiles end up in the dump each year.

Less, but better

Inspired by Minney’s book, in 2014 Lau launched New Classics, an online store that curates its pieces entirely from brands dedicated to ‘slow fashion’ — a term coined by design activist and professor Kate Fletcher to describe companies that produce less clothing, unify sustainability with ethics and invite consumers to invest in well-made and lasting clothes.

Advertisement

Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

“I took a closer look at my own clothing and shopping habits, and I realized that there was nowhere for Canadian consumers to access these very new and emerging sustainable brands,” says Lau. “I started New Classics as a platform for these new and emerging brands as well as a tool for education. We try to provide consumers with as much information as possible so they can make informed decisions.”

New Classics has continued to grow, and so has the sustainability movement in fashion. Now even some of the industry’s worst offenders are trying to get their slice of the pie. Last August, H&M was called out for “greenwashing”, the corporate practice of making sustainability claims to cover a questionable environmental record when it released its Conscious collection, which the Swedish retailer claimed was made from more sustainable materials.

Accountability demanded of retailers

The problem was H&M failed to divulge exactly how these materials were better for the environment.

“When you see brands like H&M co-opting the sustainability movement, you know that it’s really blown up,” explains Lau, who started a fashion blog in 2011 before eventually landing a part-time job at Coup Boutique, a now-defunct clothing shop that carried contemporary women’s fashion and operated out of Manulife Place.

“Now all these fast-fashion brands are greenwashing their products just to hop on the sustainability bandwagon,” she says. “But sustainability shouldn’t be a bandwagon because it’s ultimately what’s going to prolong our time on this planet.”

Advertisement

Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

The pivot toward greener fashion doesn’t end with brands that make new clothing in more sustainable ways. In the last few years, another approach has also gained steam: vintage fashion.

Even Virgil Abloh, designer and artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear collection, predicted that instead of buying new clothes, shoppers would continue to gravitate to secondhand clothes for more individual looks.

The numbers lend credence to his prediction: the vintage market is expected to more than double by 2023 (from $24 billion in 2018 to $51 billion), and consignment sites such as The RealReal and Vestiaire Collective continue to pop up on an almost daily basis.

NEWLIFE

For Robbie Yamada, who runs an online vintage shop called NEWLIFE with his girlfriend Kate Indzeoski, the stigma that was once associated with secondhand clothing has disappeared.

“Now it’s cool to say you found something at a thrift store,” he says. “When you thrift, you know no one is going to have the exact same piece. I remember walking into high school and four other people would be wearing the same shirt I was wearing. When you buy vintage, that doesn’t happen. Why would I go to the mall and buy a shirt everyone has when I can spend five minutes on the internet and find something one-of-a-kind that’s also half the price?”

And much like slow fashion, it’s the sustainable aspect of vintage clothing that creates the brunt of its appeal.

“Buying a used t-shirt reduces its carbon footprint by 82 per cent,” explains Yamada. “There is so much clothing in the world already that there’s really no reason to produce new clothing. And consumers are leading the charge with their dollars.”

Advertisement

Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

Robbie Yamada owns NEWLIFE, a vintage clothing company which seems to be trending in Edmonton.
Robbie Yamada owns NEWLIFE, a vintage clothing company which seems to be trending in Edmonton. Photo by Ed Kaiser /20093007A

Acknowledging its own potential to help create a more sustainable future, NEWLIFE, which opened in 2019, donates a portion of each sale to the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Since 1962, the NCC has helped conserve over 2.8 million acres of ecologically significant land across Canada.

Like Abloh, Yamada thinks vintage clothing will comprise an increasing proportion of people’s wardrobes moving forward.

“There will always be brands that make trendy pieces that fall apart after one wear, but I think we’ve passed the peak of fast fashion. People are more informed now.”

yegarts@postmedia.com

News Near Stratford

This Week in Flyers