While some of the gaze has left New York City for Milan shows, the textile waste conversation presses on.
Every year, New Yorkers send approximately 200,000 tons of clothing, shoes and accessories to landfill — or the equivalent of the entire height of the Empire State Building, according to the Sanitation Foundation.
“Last year was such a success and we had so much momentum coming out of [ReFashion Week 2020],” said Julie Raskin, executive director of the Sanitation Foundation, the nonprofit putting on the third-annual ReFashion Week alongside DonateNYC, a program by New York City Department of Sanitation.
In June, the DSNY experienced a $106 million slash to its operating budget. Later, the resignation of then commissioner Kathryn Garcia would follow, as she pursues a mayoral run. Raskin underlined that “the issue of textile waste has not gone away, and yet the awareness has picked up,” meaning the moment is right to act.
While metal, glass and paper recycling have been mandatory in New York City since 1989, the question remains: will textiles have their turn?
If cross-sector support is the reality — then Raskin thinks “yes.”
“The first ReFashion week three years ago was just highlighting the thrift and reuse sector and produced exclusively by DonateNYC,” she said. “Last year, my organization got involved to really make it a cross-sector experience because we realized this isn’t a problem the government or private sector alone can solve.”
An awareness play for New York City’s waste network, the event began last Friday and runs through the end of this week with a full calendar of events. As in years past, designers Heron Preston and Eileen Fisher, as well as Fashion Revolution are taking part.
Across the event, solutions for better inventory management and 3-D printing were spotlighted among conversations on fair wages. “Every brand that was involved is really hitting on a slightly different aspect of it. I like how it grounds it in practical things New York City residents can do,” she said.
One conversation, which hosted experts from textile producer Lenzing, open-source essentials platform Version Tomorrow and circular economy stalwart Global Fashion Exchange, addressed the hindrances to the zero-waste movement while offering visions of hope for a “fashion utopia” of tomorrow. More broadly, companies are increasingly considered things from furniture to food and fashion with nontoxic fibers, the intersectionality of fashion and thrift styling taking center stage.
“Practical things” or takeaways for citizens include utilizing the 1,462 RefashionNYC bins (a slight increase from the previous year) available throughout the city. Although the sites experienced a brief pause amid COVID-19-related lockdowns, Raskin is hopeful for continued uptick in use and installation.
This year, ReFashion Week also saw the addition of virtual marketplaces to buffer the physical retail losses for independent brands especially, while combatting Zoom fatigue. “I really enjoyed seeing the marketplace come to life. That was really my labor of love,” Raskin said. “Getting to bump into people that I knew and meet new people. What I heard from vendors themselves is that it was so helpful with retail stores being closed.”
There was a spotlight on woman-owned businesses, too, such as sustainable furniture company Sabai, size-inclusive intimates brand Smart Glamour, organic underwear brand Knickey and essentials brand For Days, founded by Kristy Caylor.
Although much is slated throughout the week including a Clubhouse talk featuring nonprofit Remake and a “True Cost” documentary screening, Raskin eagerly awaits the thrift runway show Friday. Filmed in advance in the sanitation garages — one of many repair points for the fleet of more than 2,000 rear-loading collection trucks — Raskin said the backdrop gives a special nod to the sanitation workers. Designer Heron Preston, who is a board member for the foundation, will be DJ’ing the finale show.
Culminating in looks styled by New York-based stylists such as Gabriel Garmon, the show is an example of new modes of consumption.
“As one of the sustainability stylists I can assure you’re in for a treat,” said Garmon. “We worked so hard to showcase how rewarding thrifting truly is and emphasized the importance of zero-to-little waste. The production of this year’s show is also amazing. I love the concept.”
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