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Sunday, January 5, 2020

Can Recycled Rags Fix Fashion’s Waste Problem?

At FabScrap’s warehouse in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, textiles from fashion studios are sorted by material and color. The organization’s goal is to cut down on design waste by recycling and reselling the swatches designers use to pick materials.

Tucked away in the bowels of the Brooklyn Army Terminal is a 4,000-square-foot warehouse filled from wall to wall and floor to ceiling with garbage bags. They contain castoffs from New York’s fashion studios: mock-up pockets ripped from sample jeans, swatches in next season’s paisley print.
There is denim here in every wash, spandex in every hue. Dig through one bag and it is possible to find a little rug of carmine-colored fur and yards of gray pinstripe wool suiting. In another, embroidered patches from GapKids and spools of ribbon in velvet and lace.
Nearly 6,000 pounds of textile scraps arrive each week to be inspected, sorted and recycled by five staffers and many more volunteers at FabScrap, the nonprofit behind this operation. Since 2016, it has helped New York’s fashion studios recycle their design-room discards — the mutilated garments, dead-stock rolls and swatches that designers use to pick materials and assess prototypes.
So far, the organization has collected close to half a million pounds of fabric from the design studios of large retailers like Express, J. Crew and Marc Jacobs and independent clothiers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Their discards have been shredded and recycled into stuffing and insulation or resold to fashion students, educators and artists.
“So much waste gets created in the design process,” said Jessica Schreiber, the executive director of FabScrap. “But it’s the tip of the iceberg.”

As climate change has accelerated, corporations of all kinds have become increasingly preoccupied with their sustainability cred. Four-fifths of consumers feel strongly that companies should implement programs to improve the environment, according to a recent Nielsen study.

FabScrap’s sorting process is run by five employees and a handful of volunteers, many of whom are design students.
Credit...John Taggart for The New York Times

Clothing companies in particular have faced pressure to change, from politicians, protesters at fashion shows and shoppers of all ages who want to reduce their carbon footprints. The fashion industry is often erroneously cited as the second-most polluting business in the world, but overproduction, chemical use, carbon emissions and waste are certainly issues it contends with.

Ms. Schreiber understood early the angst that waste was causing designers. In 2014, she was overseeing the Department of Sanitation’s refashionNYC program, which collects old clothing and textiles at farmers’ markets and in participating apartment buildings.
She received a string of similar calls from brands including J. Crew, Eileen Fisher, Express, Mara Hoffman and Marc Jacobs. The companies were sitting on piles of seasonal prints and swatches that couldn’t be donated but shouldn’t be thrown out.
“It really hit a nerve with people,” Ms. Schreiber said. Half of the designers had resorted to hoarding scraps under their desks as they tried — and failed — to find places to give them away. “There was a lot of guilt,” she said, and no clear path.
For a designer, cutting down on waste isn’t as simple as recycling a few bags of fabric every week. It requires overhauling the brand’s business model: forgoing seasonal collections; eschewing — or being rejected by — traditional retailers that accept only large orders and standard packaging; selling directly to consumers; and getting design teams to think about the sustainability and supply chain of each material and garment.

Dana Davis, the vice president of sustainability at Mara Hoffman and an early FabScrap adopter, remembered feeling anxious about how the company could better deal with waste. “It just felt burdensome,” she said. But after a conversation with Ms. Hoffman, the designer, it became clear to them that change was necessary.
The company began shipping swimwear in compostable bags and made long-term commitments to the materials it purchased. To cut excess inventory, the brand moved away from the fashion cycle and the industry norm of placing orders on projection.
There are still challenges — like making sure consumers and retailers actually compost the bags — but other brands are getting on board with changes at the design, manufacturing and distributional levels.
It’s hard to pinpoint how much waste is created before a garment even reaches the consumer. Factory waste is not tracked by outside agencies. Supply chains are now so complex and reliant on remote contractors and subcontractors that the companies can’t account for all the materials. 

Even if a brand wanted to find out how much fabric waste it created, “it would be very difficult for them to research that, because different factories might have different processes,” said Timo Rissanen, an associate professor of sustainability at Parsons School of Design.
Wendy Waugh, the senior vice president of sustainability at Theory and a FabScrap client, knew that determining the brand’s total waste would be a challenge. The company works with many different fibers, which are sourced from all over the world. The company’s “Good Wool,” for instances, comes from a farm in Tasmania, and is scoured, spun and dyed at a mill in Italy before it is warehoused and sold around the world.
After a fiber is harvested and spun, it is sent to a factory where it is cut, dyed and trimmed. Reverse Resources, a software company that works with major apparel factories in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, found that 20 percent of the fabric used in the cut-make-trim phase is ultimately thrown out.

Bags upon bags of textiles fill the room.
Credit...John Taggart for The New York Times
Many retailers offer denim recycling programs, but not for scraps.

Credit...John Taggart for The New York Times
Unsellable material gets turned into shoddy or shredded fibers used for stuffing and insulation.
Credit...John Taggart for The New York Times
Linda Greer, the founder of the Clean by Design program and a former toxicologist at the N.R.D.C., has advised many garment and dyeing factories in China. She said that brands frequently reject fabrics because they don’t match the desired shade exactly.
“I’ve seen so many ‘weeping piles’ of miscolored fabric,” Ms. Greer said. “Sometimes they can touch it up. And sometimes they throw it away.”
Once a garment is complete, it can present another problem: excess inventory. In some cases those garments are incinerated, which prevents them from being resold at a discount, Mr. Rinassen said. 

Stephanie Benedetto founded Queen of Raw, an online marketplace for dead-stock fabrics and a FabScrap partner, after seeing how much manufactured material was sitting in warehouses ($120 billion worth, by her estimate). At that volume, she said, waste isn’t just environmentally irresponsible — it’s “a C.F.O. issue.”
Apparently, also, a marketing issue. Fashion companies have been quick to invest in environmentally friendly marketing. There have been capsule collections derived from natural fibers like orange pulp (Salvatore Ferragamo), pineapple leaves (H&M), grape skin (& Other Stories) and mushrooms (Stella McCartney), and a wide selection of recycled polyester made from fishing nets (Burberry) and beach-strewn plastic bottles (Adidas).
These usually amount to little more than P.R. gambits and short-term fixes.
Samantha MacBride, an assistant professor at Baruch College and a waste management professional, said that the ideas big brands implement often reflect a lack of understanding about waste management. 

The way to minimize trash, she said, isn’t by devising a green marketing strategy or using new technological fixes. “The key is to produce less,” she said.

The organization also accepts rolls of extra fabric from designers.
Credit...John Taggart for The New York Times

Standing on the FabScrap floor, it is impossible not to feel overwhelmed by the enormous pile of trash.
Ms. Schreiber noted that the bags in the facility were “almost irrelevant in the scheme of what is probably generated.” None of the overstocked garments languishing in company warehouses are here. Nor are the huge quantities of fabric that are tossed from the factory floor.

Beneath the heap, seven volunteers slowly and manually sorted by material every scrap that came in. They inspected and removed labels and rubbed the fabric between their fingers. It could not have been further from the mechanized processes at a recycling plant, which employ feats of engineering — eddy currents, magnets and near-infrared scanners — to identify and categorize various types of metals, plastic and paper.
There is no technology in use that can detect the differences between, say, spandex and wool. “The infrastructure is lacking,” Ms. Schreiber said. “Like the fact that the sorting still all happens by hand is bonkers.”
The recycling processes are similarly decades behind. Today, there are a number of companies, like Evrnu and WornAgain, that are just beginning to recycle fibers, a process that involves shredding and dissolving the fibers into a pulp that can be respun into a new fabric.
Ms. Schreiber said that if clothing scraps were treated “as a waste-commodity stream, not a nonprofit-managed material, we would be further along in the tech.”

In the back corner of the warehouse is one of FabScrap’s two shops, where it sells many of the larger pieces its employees and volunteers find among the scraps. On any given day, some fashion students stop by, shopping and drawing inspiration from the ends of dead-stock rolls that are cheaper here than at fabric stores in the city.

Ray Cruz delivering fabric scraps to the FabScrap warehouse in Brooklyn.
Credit...John Taggart for The New York Times

Jasmine Velazquez, a fashion student at F.I.T., studied some green leather that she wanted to use for an upcoming assignment. “I’d rather buy leather from here than support the industry like that. Sustainability should be more important to me because I am a student,” she said.
In June, FabScrap opened a second shop, on a block in the garment district teeming with secondhand shops, and just a stone’s throw from F.I.T.

Camille Tagle, the director of reuse and partnership at FabScrap and a former evening wear designer at Pamella Roland, pointed out some of the special fabrics that filled the shelves. There were rolls of baby blue suede and white cotton with geometric fil coupé accents. Above the shelves were nearly full cones of thread in colors that evoked a Pantone guide.
“If it doesn’t match by a fraction of a shade, it’s out,” she said.
One piece in particular, a shawl’s length of pink crinkle chiffon with sequined flowers, caught her eye. Each flower had at least three or four colors arranged in a different pattern. “It takes a lot of time,” Ms. Tagle said. “A designer had to communicate all of those details to the mill.”
A steady traffic of students and hobbyists came in to peruse the shelves and scour the scrap bins. Olivia Koval, who is pursuing an M.F.A. in textiles at Parsons, left the shop with a tote bag full of mutilated jeans and denim scraps. She planned to overdye and felt them together to make a larger fabric.
“For people to feel inspired by something that was headed for the trash is really important for me,” Ms. Tagle said.

Since opening six months ago, the Chelsea store has served 4,800 customers. Next year, FabScrap plans to set up operations on the West Coast.
In spite of what she has built, Ms. Schreiber is measured about FabScrap’s success. “This is such a small group of self-selecting companies, and this is a very niche part of their waste stream,” she said. “That’s what’s so frustrating.”
Credit...John Taggart for The New York Times oa here

Friday, October 11, 2019

Fast fashion is out. Renting and resale will become the new normal

Around the globe people become more aware of the trade off between buying fashion items, wearing them a few times, disposing and what it does to our planet. Many new (online and physical) retail platforms have started concentrating on second hand items and renting out. Some even say that the second hand fashion market will outgrow fast fashion by 2028.
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The end of ownership.
Second to oil, the clothing and textile industry is the largest polluter in the world. The carbon footprint from textiles production in 2015 was greater than the CO2 equivalent of international flights and shipping combined. Three-quarters of our clothing will end up burned or buried in landfill. Some say that more than half of the fast fashion produced around the world is thrown away within one year. New circular techniques are being used in the production processes. But in a world where people are more conscious and aware of what and why they buy, it is normal that new retail concepts enter the market place. Enter, second hand and rental.
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Resale and rental are changing the script.
Fashion is big, really big. The world market is estimated around $1,3 trillion, bigger than Russia's GDP. The market of resale fashion is tiny, but developing quite fast. From just thrift stores and buying on platforms as e-Bay, to a vast array of new brands. Resale apparel used to be the domain of bargain hunters, some were treasure hunting. Now early adaptors are browsing the many new (online) platforms entering the market place.
Some crucial facts and data from US based Thredup:
  • the US resale market will grow from $7bn in 2019 to $23bn in 2023
  • including already existing thrift stores total market will grow to $51bn by 2023
  • resale apparel has grown 21x faster than the retail apparel market in the last 3 years
  • 2/3 of all women shoppers have bought or are willing to buy resale
  • 40% of consumers now consider the resale value of an item before buying it, a 2x increase from 5 years ago
  • Millennials and Generation Z are adapting 2.5 times faster, compared to other groups.
  • second hand, rental and subscription are projected to be the top 3 fastest growing categories in the 2019-2028 timeframe
  • in 2018 the US fast fashion market was $35bn, compared to $24bn for second hand. By 2028 the second hand market will have grown to $64bn, whereas fast fashion's growth is projected at $44bn
  • According to Mintel 44% of young women said they would like tone more eco friendly in their approach to fashion
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Why own stuff?
There are multiple drivers for this massive shift. There is the obvious penetration of social media and the importance of influencers. Female fashion buyers are increasingly savvy on updating their wardrobes to the latests crave of the catwalks. With real buying power mostly being flat, in many economies, this obviously create tension. Add the increasing consciousness on sustainability and the fact that a new perception has been growing on possession and ownership (why own stuff?, aka the sharing economy), it's easy to see why things are moving. Some also mention smaller housing as a driver for change, with the average number of items in consumers' closets declining from 164 items in 2017 to 136 in 2019.
Elizabeth Cline, author of the Conscious Closet: “Resale offers the wardrobe-rotating fun of fast fashion without the guilt or waste. By driving preferences away from disposable fashion towards higher-quality clothes, reuse is a boon for our personal style and the planet.”
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Rental is different, a closet in the cloud.
For many online fashion retailers "wardrobing" or "ASOS parties" are a huge problem. The demand for fresh looks is prompting many people to order online, wear it and return it later ("after the party"), often for free. Fashion industry returns hoover around 40-50% of items being bought online. Many new platforms persuade consumers from wardrobing into hiring. The US apparel rental market is relatively small, estimated to grow to $4,4bn by 2028, just 1% of total clothing sales. But it grew 24% in 2018 compared to 5% for the wider clothing market, GlobalData shows.
These rental platforms are buying clothing wholesale from brands, some are introducing revenue sharing models allowing brands to upload items, the platform taking care of cleaning and delivery in return for a share of revenue.
Rent the Runway redefined the fashion rental market already in 2009, starting with one offs like a dress for a gala. Many platforms have evolved now to a monthly subscription model and are positioned mostly upmarket. Some even IPO-ed recently, because investors love the recurrent revenues of the subscription business model.
Some examples. Both second hand and rental. Physical and online.
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The diversity of brands and formats serving second hand and rental customers is immense. Round Two in the US is a resale outlet, with only two stores. A tactile experience with overflowing racks, but not as in the old thrift stores, where you would occasionally meet a bargain hunter. Round Two is different, young people and kids are roaming the racks, with brand new items and slightly worn ones. A brand new $300 T-shirt by Supreme, next to a vintage bootleg Janet Jackson T-shirt ($250) . It's a place where you can buy and sell. Nothing is on consignment (in that case the seller retains ownership).
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Vintage Brands store in Monnickendam (Netherlands) is doing the same as Round Two, though aimed at a different customer. Yearly over 700 women offer their personal fashion and accessory items, from Zara to Gucci, in consignment in this cosy store. Loyal customer find an extra reason for visiting the store: the social aspect is important, talking with the owner and other customers, on what's "new" and hot. You can sit down and read a magazine, drinking coffee. Sellers are often buyers. Vintage Brands' main marketing channel is word-of-mouth and social with a look book on Facebook and Instagram. The annual catwalks are famous and people drive over 100 miles to see models showing off.
Hirestreet is the UK first high street rental service and aims at budget conscious students. Hirestreet offers 10 day rentals for prices as low as £7. Most stock refreshes every week. Users will enter event date and choose outfit filters (with the "occasions" filter ranging from date night to maternity...) and Hirestreet will generate available rentals. Isabella West from Hirestreet found out that young women were spending over £500 a year on fast or disposable fashion and if they hired rather than bought they could save £400: "I found this amazing. £400 is the price of a holiday."
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In the US the two dominant platforms are Rent the Runway and the RealReal, both very successful and growing fast. Rent the Runway (valued at $1bn) is a fashion subscription platform offering premium and exclusive fashion and accessories brands. It claims 10 million members. Its "unlimited plan" at $159 per month will offer unlimited access to as many items as a customer wants. If you love the idea of wearing premium brands like Gucci, Kates Spade and Diane Von Furstenberg RtR is a great option. RtR merchandise arrives in a garment bag with a prepaid UPS label for returns. Next to its platform they operate 5 stores and multiple drop off locations, but it is essentially a technology (and logistics) company. With the data being used both on the returns and via its "virtual closet" RtR is perfectly positioned to personalise its offering.
The RealReal is a premium luxury resale platform, with a Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) of $710mm in 2018, processing 1,6 Million orders from 400,000 different buyers. Items are authenticated and researched before being offered on its online platform or physical stores. In many cases professionals (authenticators) are visiting the seller, and discuss which items could be sold on the RealReal's platform, they are also advising on price. The merchandise is held in consignment for sellers. The company takes a 40 per cent cut of each sale, which is reduced for high-value items or for consignors who sell more than $10,000 per year. 56% of the RR's consignors count environmental impact as a key reason to sell on the platform. Buying a second hand Fendi bag for the price of the new Michael Kors bag ($300) is probably equally important.
In a complete reversal of things 7 years old Le Tote, a US based rental fashion platform, bought 190 years old Lord & Taylor department stores, some 35 locations located in the Midwest of the US. An old legacy company absorbed by a new one. Le Tote's proposition is different from RtR's. Most of its customers spend just $69 per month for mid-market brands like J Crew and Zara.
Meanwhile high street brands as Scotch & Soda, Rebecca Taylor and Urban Outfitters (with Nuuly) have started renting out items in a comparable scheme as RtR.
H&M could rethink it's $4bn unsold stock and put in on a rental platform. They just announced a limited rental service for its new premium collection from recycled fibers in a Stockholm store. Express, a fashion mall brand with 600 stores in the US, started a rental service with a $70 monthly subscription. Ikea even launched a furniture rental service earlier this year.
Rental and buying secondhand fashion is beyond icky.
So things are definitely moving. This business is beyond the icky feeling people used to have with wearing items somebody else had worn before. It's still early and it is probably harder to persuade consumers to hire affordable apparel than catwalk creations, just because there are just too many cheap alternatives available. Some platforms are growing too fast, causing some hiccups. With young and conscious consumers growing up and becoming more influential this will change. The sharing economy is here to stay. oa here
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