This article was originally written and published by PARO Store, a marketplace for sustainable fashion.
The truth about waste in the fashion industry
Imagine floodwaters carrying piles upon piles of second-hand clothing down your main high street, as waves brush against the coastline, bringing discarded clothing with them onto the beach; labels from high street brands clearly visible in the debris. Sounds like a dystopian novel set in a future world overrun by the fast fashion world. Sadly, this is in fact the current reality in Accra Ghana, a casualty of fashion’s current waste crisis, overrun by clothing donations from the Global North, exported there for profit.
But this isn’t the only place the fashion industry spews out its waste, starting early in the production process; waste chemicals are spilled into fresh water and limited resources like water are wasted in the making of new materials, only for the materials themselves to be wasted through sampling and garment production, the garments themselves subsequently wasted through over-production and online returns, which are often sent to landfill rather than re-processed.
So, wouldn’t a good way to reduce the massive environmental impact of the fashion industry be to reduce the amount of waste?
How much waste is produced by the fashion industry?
As the volume of production grows so too does the amount of waste produced by the fashion industry. And thanks to fast fashion, the volume of production is only going up – McKinsey first reported fashion production exceeding 100 billion items per year back in 2014 (McKinsey) and in 2017 the BCG predicted this to rise by 63% before 2030. So what does this mean for the amount of waste in the fashion industry?
- An estimated 92 million tons of textile waste is created annually from the fashion industry. 
- Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned globally. 
- Nearly 20% of global wastewater is produced by the fashion industry. 
- Approximately 15% of textiles intended for clothing ends up on the cutting room floor. 
- Around 30% of all clothes made around the world are never sold. 
- After use, less than 1% of the material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing. 
How to reduce waste in the fashion industry
Of course, reducing this insane volume of production would make the biggest difference to the environmental issues associated with the fashion industry. All of the brands on PARO are small, independent brands producing responsibly both in terms of volume and production methods.
Many of the brands on PARO STORE are also reducing waste by working towards business models based on the circular economy – moving away from the traditional take-make-waste model of production, by keeping materials circulating in the system. These brands are working in different parts of the supply chain to start the shift towards a closed-loop industry; re-using and reducing waste through take-back programs, up-cycling, and designing durable or recyclable clothing. Their methods are helping to tackle the huge waste problem in fashion and reduce the impact of making new materials.
11 brands tackling waste in the Fashion Industry
Archivist Studio saves discarded high-quality textiles from the luxury hotel industry and turn them into timeless, well-constructed shirts and blouses that suit any occasion.? Hotel bed linen is known to be of the highest quality and is often discarded when it is still in a perfect state to be up-cycled to quality clothing. Archivist Studio avoids waste from off-cuts as much as possible, and even if the material contains small defects, they embrace and embellish them with dyes, decoration and embroidery, in order to save the material from landfill. Archivist Studio got us wondering which other industries produce textile waste we could use for clothing?
Kerriih started with a shared passion for handmade knitwear and crochet, combined with an experimental approach and the necessity of change in the fashion system. Kerriih’s aim is to use the reusable and produce zero-waste by using regenerated yarns from old jumpers and stocks meant to be thrown away, to create unique knitted pieces. Kerriih shows the creative possibilities of what you can actually do with it without leaving one tiny thread behind, blending colours based on the available yarns to create beautiful patterns.
Cardiff based, MAKE tackle fashion’s waste problem by creating bright multi-functional technical apparel using only deadstock materials sourced through their Global factory network. Deadstock materials are materials that have been produced (grown or made) by other brands, only to end up unused for a whole host of reasons like cancelled orders, changing collection plans, or overstock. The ethos of MAKE is simple. Search hard for the best available technical materials. Work with smaller quantities. When the chosen material is no longer available, move on to the new and freshly available excess which factories have earmarked for waste.
MYAR up-cycle and customise vintage army uniforms into unique tailored pieces that reflect army life’s values. Their materials include globally sourced military garments and second-life fabrics that have been certified by ReLiveTex; verifying that they have been saved from landfill or incineration and promoted to new uses. MYAR re-tailor and customise the garments through printing to create a modern interpretation of the past. Every MYAR garment comes with a QR code to discover the origin, re-creation and production process of the piece.
Cavia’s mission is to not produce anything from zero. Each reworked item they produce is a one-of-a-kind experimentation created with vintage items, excess of production yarn and sustainable fabrics. The knitwear is handmade with up-cycled excess yarns that create multi-colour patterns, the patchwork items are hand-assembled with up-cycled vintage clothes. Cavia works as made-to-order to minimise overproduction, every piece is individually assembled by hand by local seamstresses and knitters.
Ukrainian brand Sinobi uses metal-free leather deadstock and leather waste; two surplus material sources re-using leather which has been produced for another brand but left unused, or leather which has been wasted during another brands production. The minimal waste approach continues to their packaging, each pair of sandals coming with a shoe bag, made from the leather waste generated in their own production. Given the high greenhouse gas emissions associated with animal agriculture and the human and environmental impact from chemical-based leather tanning, is this the only acceptable kind of leather nowadays?
SOTTES have collected discarded fabric over many years to create a library of upcycled materials used to create their collections. SOTTES handmade & unisex clothing has a messy and childish collage aesthetic which references days of farmworkers who would roughly stitch and repair clothing to leave their mark, with imperfections that give personality to each individual piece.
Full Circle are the Amsterdam based brand behind the tee you buy once, swap for life. A 50% organic and 50% recycled cotton tee shirt, that you send back to Full Circle at the end of its life, to be disassembled and recycled in Spain and then turned into a new t-shirt in Portugal. Reducing the need for new materials is especially important when you consider how much water cotton farming requires – around 20,000 liters to produce one kilogram of cotton; equivalent to a single t-shirt and pair of jeans – if you can cut this in half by re-using existing materials you’re on to a winner.
Virón is a Parisian brand whose circular business model is also based on a customer take-back scheme. Their shoes – which are made with vegan leather or up-cycled canvas, and recycled rubber soles – can be sent back at the end of their life for the soles to be ground down and recycled to create new soles.
Norwegian design studio, Studio Mend uses visible mending as a way of giving broken high-quality garments a new life. Inspired by the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi, each garment is approached with the aim of using the imperfection to heighten its quality and uniqueness; the repair becoming a precious trace of the garments lifetime, and a visible statement about the material and emotional value of what we wear. As well as offering a limited collection of up-cycled designer pieces for sale, Studio Mend’s mending kits (also available here) and workshops empower people to mend their own garments at home, helping our precious clothes last longer.
New Order Of Fashion
Eindhoven based foundation, New Order of Fashion is to advance the fashion industries transition towards circularity through talent and innovation. Combining the two in their From Scratch project, NOoF partnered talented designers with industry partners to turn old discarded clothes from the people of Eindhoven into a completely new fabric, from which they made these multifunctional zero-waste bags.
Although the waste and environmental crisis can feel overwhelming, moving towards a circular economy will drastically reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry. We’re constantly inspired by these small, independent brands who are leading the way with new solutions and business models, without compromising on the design aesthetic of the clothes, and hope to see some of the larger brands follow suit, not to mention cutting the amount of clothing they produce.
Sources:  Ellen Macarthur Foundation (2017), A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future  Global Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group, Inc. (2017), Pulse of the Fashion Industry  United Nations Partnership on Sustainable Fashion and the SDGs  Timo Rissanen (2005), ‘From 15% to 0: Investigating the creation of fashion without the creation of fabric waste’  Australian Circular Textile Association (ACTA)  Ellen Macarthur Foundation (2017), A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future