Clothes Belong in Closets, Not in Landfills
“There’s so much textile waste: postindustrial waste, which comes from industries making the garments, and post-commercial waste, which is the byproduct of an industry such as hotel towels and linens,” explains Gabriella Smith of UpCycle Project. “But we as individuals have the responsibility to reduce our postconsumer waste.”
Before chucking a used clothing item in the trash, take it to a seamstress to zhuzh it up, whether it be with new buttons or a reimagined hemline. Alternatively, consider donating pieces to a charity such as Miami’s Lotus House Women’s Shelter, which services homeless women and children, or Dress for Success, which provides women in the Miami and Palm Beach areas with professional attire and development tools to gain employment.
When shopping for new pieces, opt for something that’s new to you instead. Check out thrift stores such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army, as well as South Florida’s plethora of consignment and vintage shops. Highlights include Consign of the Times on Miami Beach, Miami Twice, Church Mouse on Palm Beach, The RealReal on Palm Beach, and Kismet Vintage in West Palm Beach. Online alternatives include Poshmark and ThredUp.
Sustainability Spotlight: Gabriella Smith
In 2017, Gabriella Smith launched the nonprofit UpCycle Project to host sustainable design workshops for local students. She has since expanded to include consultations on sustainable sourcing, curating ethically made products, and closing the loop in textile waste. Smith has partnered with Design and Architecture Senior High in Miami, Istituto Marangoni in the Miami Design District, and the Miami Fashion Institute at Miami-Dade College, providing students with textile waste to upcycle, including secondhand denim, abandoned items from drycleaners, and Soho Beach House’s discarded bedsheets, towels, and linens.
“Sustainability starts with the designers,” Smith says. “The designer has the first decision to make about which materials they’re going to use and knowing where their garments are going to be made. And where do designers start? In schools and colleges.”
Through the sale of UpCycle Project’s recycled fabric T-shirts, 4.2 million plastic bottles and 3.7 million kilograms of textile waste have been kept out of landfills. This year, UpCycle Project is launching a take-back program to recycle school uniforms.
“Fashion works in a take-make-waste model,” Smith adds. “It’s a linear model, but we want it to be a circular model, so you don’t have to ‘take’ from the environment anymore.”
In 1995, when South Florida native Marci Zaroff coined the term “ecofashion,” it became the sole listing on Google. “The term has become ubiquitous for the global movement driving the fusion of ecology and fashion,” she says. “It’s about leveraging the power of fashion to transform the world.” Zaroff’s Ecofashion Corp now comprises four sustainable brands, including YesAnd, which specializes in fair-trade apparel for young women. And while brands and retailers as a whole are becoming more sustainably conscious, ultimately, individuals hold the power. “The roadblock historically was accessibility, affordability, or design compromise,” adds Zaroff. “But today you can get everything you want. So, it’s not why would you buy sustainable fashion, but why wouldn’t you?”
Did You Know? Biodegradable Materials
As the fashion industry finds environmental solutions to its waste problem, new materials are emerging to replace their nonbiodegradable counterparts. Last year, vegan designer Stella McCartney released the Frayme Mylo, a luxury handbag made from mycelium, the root-like threads of fungi. In Vogue’s April 2023 issue, McCartney introduced the experimental BioSequin jumpsuit, featuring biodegradable, plastic-free, nontoxic sequins made from plant-derived cellulose. While these new advancements in biodegradable textiles are becoming more widely available, Smith also stresses the importance of natural materials like hemp, cotton, and linen. “Learn to read the clothing tag as if it were a nutrition label and move away from synthetic ingredients, such as polyester or rayon,” she says.