Page 80 - Sharp September 2021
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   “By spending money on upcycled products rather than big name brands, consumers are forcing influential industry titans to act on the realization that nothing...
say, Savile Row, where you might go to get a suit or coat made to measure, the whole idea of that luxury garment is that it has a value it continues to hold” throughout seasons or even generations, says Radclyffe-Thomas. The mindset of mending and longevity under- pinning circular fashion “really does provide a more meaningful space for people to consume,” she says.
The market sweet spot that upcycled clothing hits — its fusion of stylishness and virtue — is especially valuable now, when shoppers want responsible brands they can trust and are not easily deceived by PR fairytales. Often a step behind today’s priorities, the big luxury labels that have traditionally dominated designer fashion are grap- pling with their relationship to meaningful consumerism. Plenty of upscale fashion names started out as small family businesses and, at some level, cherish an artisanal self-image despite having long since transformed into vast corporate entities with mass-market reach; their size, entrenched practices, and shareholder commitments can make them slow to change, and often unwilling to do more than pay lip service to environmental commitments by, say, releasing an upcycled capsule collection while quietly burning unsold bags off their factory line. By spending money on upcycled products rather than big name brands, consumers are forcing influential industry titans to act on the realization that nothing wasteful, unethical, and polluting really feels like a quality good anymore.
Some labels do seem to be taking cues from young upscale upcyclers like Lantink and Marine Serre; in 2018, Gucci launched its upcycling initiative Gucci-Up and adopted parent company Ker- ing’s environmental profit and loss tool, a method of measuring environmental impact. Committing to tracking impact and waste creation is perhaps one of the most meaningful first steps big fash- ion conglomerates can take when setting sustainable development goals; otherwise, the effects of the company’s practices can be a
mystery — even to themselves. For instance, Stella McCartney’s 2014 EP&L notably revealed to the brand that cashmere, which represented just 0.1 per cent of all the materials it uses, accounted for 42 per cent of its total environmental impact, resulting in its switch to an upcycled yarn.
Whether big established brands will ever be incentivized to gen- uinely become circular or something closer to it depends on a variety of factors, from consumer pressure to resource and material shortages to the priorities held by the next generation of fashion executives. Whether the rise of circular consumerism will result in a net benefit for (let alone save) our degraded environment is another issue entirely.
“I would classify upcycling and recycling of clothing to be part of the greening-of-consumerism type solution,” to fashion’s environ- mental problem, says J.B. MacKinnon, environmental journalist and author of The Day the World Stops Shopping (2021), a speculative exploration of post-consumerist life. “I think of that as the level below the one that we should focus on, which is the reduction of the consumption of products,” he says. MacKinnon is of the eminently realistic opinion that upcycled clothing isn’t particularly impactful because, for now, we’re buying it in addition to other clothing — and an upcycled overshirt or weekend bag here or there is just a drop in the ocean of human consumption.
It would be more helpful, though perhaps capitalistically counterintuitive, for the fashion market to downsize — for the “buy less, buy better” concept to apply not only to shoppers but also to brands making less and making better. “I think that’s the question that people don’t want to answer: how much stuff do people need?” says Radclyffe-Thomas. Take it too far, and millions of garment workers lose their livelihoods, but decelerate consciously and life could improve for workers as the industry reduces its environmental footprint.

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