How much does the planet pay for a pair of jeans? That’s the question Estonian designer Reet Aus set out to find the answer.
“I’m a fashion designer who loves her work,” Ouse said. But I worry that we are overproducing. Fast fashion refers to cheap, trendy clothes and is always the way of the industry with a new collection for every season.
In fact, buying new clothes has increased more than 400% in the last 20 years. Clothes don’t last long in a person’s closet, but they last forever in a trash can. Many textiles never break down in nature.
Reet Aus sought to attack the problem from two sides by creating high-quality clothing that people could initially afford less, and by processing the leftovers from mass production. So she decided to visit garment manufacturers in Bangladesh to get a better understanding of the fabric supply these factories were putting out.
The shocking effects of fast fashion
What she found was surprising: every manufacturer she visited was throwing away tons and tons of material.
There were no processes to reuse any additional material. So Ouse decided to dig deeper. She visited the family farms that produce the raw material for the textile and met generations living below the poverty line. She then visited factories where chemicals were used to produce fibers such as denim.
She learned that it takes 10 cubic meters of water to make a new pair of jeans. It is as much as a family of 4 eats in a month. The chemicals used are very dangerous for the environment and human health – these chemicals are still found in the final clothing.
Aus asked herself, how much does fast fashion cost pollution, social justice and the health of workers who work with hazardous chemicals? We have very cheap items because we don’t measure these costs.
Why is a fashion designer determined to make a difference?
Desperate but not defeated, Ouse decided to do her part to raise awareness of the problem and bring about a small change in the industry. “I can’t fight mass production. [uniquely as a designer]” she realized.
Aus says only consumers can force change. Instead of always going for the next trendy thing, she says, consumers should buy quality clothing that lasts. The industry will change when there is a demand for clothing that respects the workers who work and the environment we live in.
Indeed, executives of major clothing brands have echoed her sentiments. In the documentary Out of Fashion, they admit that while the idea is good, it won’t change until they make a profit from it.
During her trip to Bangladesh, Rhett Ouse found a major producer who was willing to give her a chance. Tens of thousands of T-shirts were about to be thrown into the trash. Can Ous find a way to reuse the material to make new clothes?
How a designer is racing to challenge fast fashion.
The idea of using something old, something already made, and turning it into something useful and new is called upcycling. For Aus, “It’s about giving new life to old material through design – so trash becomes fashionable!”
To do this, the fashion designer does not make her design and then goes in search of fabric. Instead, she must look at what she has and decide what can be done. “My design has to be useful,” she says.
In her design space, she lays out the pattern pieces and covers them with fabric she salvages from piles and piles of fabric the manufacturer sends to landfills. Every piece she makes is unique. Each piece, Aus says, has a story. Each piece is a small part of the fight against fast fashion.
Although off-the-shelf clothing is a huge market these days, Auss isn’t alone. Designer Victoria Ladefogde has been doing this since before it was called Upcycle. She loves the feel of tea towels and other common kitchen linens in the wardrobe. She loves the history that industrial fabrics (eg hospital blankets) bring to fashion. She focuses on keeping the original details in the fabric while reusing them in creative ways.
Ursula De Caster, who lives in England, is also a bicycle designer. When she wanted to order an oversized jumper from a fancy boutique, she mistakenly came across cycling. De Castor says that Upward Fashion is a passion project, that her actions alone won’t change anything. The sentiment is echoed by many designers and manufacturers: the demand must come from the public.
How a designer is making small changes can make an impact.
Although the Ows T-shirt project had its ups and downs as the fashion designer at the clothing giant learned how to cope with the new process, the project was ultimately successful and Ows delivered tens of thousands of recycled T-shirts. Materials. Her upcycled products use 90% less water and energy than making clothes from virgin materials.
While these upscale clothes often cost more, Rit Aus doesn’t believe that clothes should be cheap. Her lesson is to value what we have and to be concerned about the impact our actions have on others. So while she knows she won’t be able to change the fashion industry overnight, she vows to push herself and inspire others to do the same. Many small changes can’t help but make a big impact.