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bringing the dark side of fashion into the light


Fashion waste material re-usePhoto credit: Planq Products

Fashion waste is a growing problem for the planet. If that isn’t bad enough, it also costs the apparel market up to €350 billion each year. To put that into perspective, that's the equivalent of the GDP of Denmark! Decades of unsustainable practices across the value chain have made fashion an immensely wasteful industry. And this footprint casts a shadow on what fashion stands for at its core: a channel for individuals to express their identity to the outside world. The fashion industry is a choreographed dance between art & science. Where art is the cradle of wonderfully beautiful creations and the science allows for it to be a thriving business. 

Now the industry is waking up to fashion’s sustainability issues: overproduction, textile waste, water pollution and carbon emissions are just a few. Consumers are also becoming increasingly active and aware about the topic of sustainability. No longer can brands (big or small) escape their call for radical change.

What's the deal with all that waste?!
Let's start at the end. To the place beyond the glitz and glamour. To the place where old or unused fashion goes, never to be seen again. We’re talking about the landfills and furnaces. Since the 1990s, these landfills in the United States alone have more than tripled in size

Across the entire industry, one garbage truck full of fashion waste is being dumped into landfills or burned, every single second! During the time it takes you to read this article (let's say 7 minutes), a staggering 420 full garbage trucks will have been dumped or burned. Spread it out over an entire year and that equals 40 million tonnes of textile fashion waste that ends up in landfills. That's like stuffing 40 Empire State Buildings full of clothes and leaving that in a hole in the ground to rot.

fashion waste landfill 2020

Landfills aren’t new to the industry and even before 2020 the issue became public knowledge. The pandemic has made it even more apparent, with unsold, overproduced stock piling up everywhere. How fashion deals with its waste issue is paramount for the industry to become sustainable, but how? 

Can fashion waste be good?
The numbers don't lie, and it's important that we're starting to recognize the magnitude of the problems leading to all this fashion waste. The economics of fashion have long relied on the notion of "more is more". But this is no longer acceptable. It is now up to the industry to turn the tables around and bring in a new balance on how fashion conducts its business. 

I was recently reminded of the power of positive psychology. And how we as humans, in contrast to that, actually have a natural predisposition towards its counterpart: negative psychology. While the sustainability issues that fashion waste causes are severe, holding a negative discourse about them does not work in favor of finding a positive solution. So, in the spirit of positive psychology, I spoke with a company that focuses on innovation in creating new materials from old fashion waste. With these innovations, they create custom, beautifully designed furniture from discarded clothing. Say what? YES, furniture. I'd like to introduce you to Planq.

Planq is a Dutch sustainable furniture brand whose aim is to bridge the gap between timeless designed furniture and environmental awareness. Their journey started from the founders' interest in waste streams. Soon, they realized that the fashion industry has one of the world's largest waste streams. Where many of us saw discarded clothes as waste, Planq saw an opportunity to make something good out of it. In other words, what a waste (*ahum*) to not use that waste for something constructive.

And so they designed a way to take discarded clothing, shred the textiles into fibers, weave these fibers into upcycled fabric and finally press them into sheet material. The pressed sheets are subsequently then made into beautifully crafted furniture parts. Together with FSC certified wood, and other natural fiber based products, their furniture are a great example of how to make fashion waste into something beautiful. According to Planq, the next step for them is to build small local facilities, where brands can start bringing their discarded clothing. These local facilities can then process brand specific clothing into brand specific furniture or other objects. Imagine a jeans brand, bringing their leftover stock to be made into custom furniture for their offices or displays for their brick and mortar stores! The possibilities seem endless.

recycle fashion waste materialPhoto credit: Planq Products

What's not to love, right?

As Planq explains, their mission is to create enough awareness and incite action with their customers and their networks, to ultimately dry up the waste stream (and with that also their source of raw materials). Self sabotage, you say? Perhaps. But their ability to turn something that's viewed as negative into something positive, may be what is needed to leave a healthy planet behind for the next generation(s). 

The current rise of social and environmental awareness is causing the industry to peel away the layers that have hidden the dark side of fashion for decades. Brands now have to be transparent about how they produce and sell products-that is good news for the planet. And in order for change to happen, the industry needs to think about its waste in a different way. While waste management may not be the long term solution we seek, it sure is a great way to reach it. 

Initiatives like Planq will not be the only answer to overproduction and subsequent waste malpractices. But they definitely raise the bar in how we can think about and act on new ways of dealing with it.  "Thinking outside the box" is the adage that is the true unlock in restoring the balance between the art and the science of fashion.

What else can we think of outside the box, to bring back that finely choreographed dance into fashion once again?