Buying new clothes sustainably is possible. Here’s how.
Image: Simon Schluter
When the word “sustainable” is used in fashion, it can be confusing. Does it mean clothes swaps? Vegan leather? And is it possible to buy new clothes without feeling guilty?
Megan Park is one of several designers who is expanding the notion of sustainability, only her method is particularly unusual. Rather than creating any new collections, she decided to sell her archive of 10,000 pieces instead, releasing 40-50 styles every week over the next two years.
The idea came up when the pandemic halted distribution and she had time to contemplate fashion’s mindfulness. “Last year gave me the opportunity to jump off the fashion train.” She hopes her solution places a high value on clothing made with integrity and craftsmanship, while also allowing her older pieces to be loved afresh instead of dwindling in storage.
But it’s not the only way to buy new in a sustainable way.
Invest in made-to-order pieces
Zoltan Csaki, co-founder of custom-made T-shirt business Citizen Wolf, firmly believes that made-on-demand clothes provide the best way to be sustainable.
“Over-production is the dirty little secret at the heart of the fashion industry that no one wants to talk about… One third of clothes made globally every year go straight to landfill unsold, often with tags on them and holes punched through them to preserve brand integrity.”
Although his t-shirts cost more than fast fashion options, “we attract customers who use their wallet as a political tool to pull forward the future they want to see.” The pandemic, he says, didn’t hinder sales but instead got rid of people’s desire to bargain shop.
“We saw that price sensitivity went away a little bit…shoppers wanted to think about these things more.”
When customers opt for bespoke items, they tend to care about them more, says couturier Julie Goodwin, who recently developed her White Label so that her clients can buy made-to-order shirts rather than pricier made-to-measure ones, which generally require new patterns and several fittings.
“With made to order there’s no wastage and if you have one good piece, you’re going to get more wear out of it.”
Another way to minimise waste? Incorporate upcycling, which is no longer the domain of the vintage shopper.
At demi ds, Dominique Burgoine and Sandra Shmith buy dead stock – unused material that’s been lying stagnant – from fabric suppliers all over the world for some of their shirts. As menswear designer Christian Kimber, who often sources vintage fabrics from Milan, points out, this is no compromise.
“These are from vintage luxury fabric shops who might have one roll of an old herringbone wool cashmere left that’s crazy beautiful, and you can’t copy it; it’s really special,” he says. “We might only make three overcoats from it but I like that people can buy something that no one else can have.”
Designer Kara Baker, meanwhile, is piecing together her ever-growing collection of offcuts to make a series of hand-finished stoles and scarves that she has dubbed “Fichu”.
Get to know your fabric
For Dana Burrows of Banded Together, the key to helping the environment lies in the fabrics: organic cotton, silk, cashmere and merino wool. “Natural fibres are better for the world. They use fewer chemicals, they’re more comfortable to wear – so people keep them for longer – and they have long-term viability. Polyester is going to take up to 200 years to decompose, but if you buried silk, it could take a few months.”
Last month, Megan Park began releasing her single-edition pieces, including a jacket that singer Beyoncé once bought “with about 250 hours of embroidery [work] on it”. When it comes to designing her next collection – with a planned September release – which will sit alongside her archival pieces, she’ll be cognisant of her customers’ ever-expanding mindfulness.
“I think we all want to live our lives more consciously since last year, which also includes deciding where we spend and who we support.”
This article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald