How can we extend the life of clothes and prevent clothing waste?

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The rise of fast fashion has allowed more people to be able to afford to buy clothing. On the surface, this seems like a good thing: it is easier for people of all incomes to clothe themselves. The reality? Cheaper clothing means cheaper materials, which are less biodegradable, and ultimately more clothing waste.

According to the New York Times, more than 60% of fabrics are synthetic, which means they take an extremely long time to decay. 85% of clothing ends up in landfills after use, meaning tons of non-degradable clothing is being dumped into landfills every day. In 2018, the amount of clothing reached 11.8 million tons. The largest animal on earth, the blue whale, only weighs around 200 tons. This means that the amount of clothing discarded in 2018 weighed as much as 60,000 blue whales. This is absolutely unacceptable. Is there a way to prevent this damage?

Thrift stores are a great resource that many people turn to for affordable clothing, and also a prominent alternative to simply throwing your clothing out. I, like so many others, thought that donating to thrift stores was a surefire way to prevent waste: after all, it’s going to someone else who needs it right? However, thrift stores receive tons upon tons of donations annually, and only 20% ends up being sold in-store. 25% of donations given to the Salvation Army eventually end up in a landfill, and this is after an extensive process that includes cutting prices, trying to sell clothing at outlets, and attempting to sell it at auction. For small local thrift stores that don’t have the same resources to try and get their merchandise sold, this problem is much worse.

I visit my local thrift store quite often, so it saddened me to find out that many of the unsold clothes there end up being sent to landfills. Then I started to wonder, if it’s being thrown out anyway, why not take that leftover clothing off of their hands and use it to create something else? When I’m thrifting, I usually keep my eye out for pieces of clothing I can alter with my sewing machine to make into a new design. After researching my Beautiful question, this got me thinking: the materials from most of these discarded items of clothing are actually still usable, and can be upcycled or recycled to create new products. A lot of the time, thrift stores are forced to throw away fabric that is ripped or broken in any way, because they cannot sell it. But the actual fabric can be used: it just needs to be used in a different way.

 

Leftover clothing inside Goodwill facility.

My business idea is to take leftover clothing from donation centers and thrift stores and use the fabric to create bags, which could be resold and re-loved. This combines my research topic with something I really enjoy: sewing and designing. I chose to focus on creating bags because their patterns are relatively easy to sew compared to different items of clothing and because they can be made out of a variety of different fabrics. They also are usually used for a long time: people throw out clothing more often than bags or purses.

Here is the business model for my startup idea, so you can get a better idea of how things would be run:

I asked students at my school for their anonymous opinions on the idea:

“I’ve definitely seen a lot like this in recent fashion, so I feel like people would buy it. Also, there has been a move toward sustainability [in fashion], so I think this idea could become very popular.”

“Fast Fashion is a really scary industry. I think it’s really cool you want to combat that! I would totally buy!”

“I shop at thrift stores, and I didn’t know they had to throw so much clothing away. That’s crazy. I agree with you that we should reuse the leftovers, and I think you have a creative idea.”

Sample ideas for patchwork bag design from Free People and DollsKill

By buying this product, you would actively be preventing clothing waste, and possibly saving our landfills from an extra blue whale’s worth of non-biodegradable textiles. Our merchandise, when the customer is planning on throwing it away, would be encouraged to be brought back to our facility, where we would use the materials to create new products, or, if the fabric was rendered un-usable somehow, send it to a fabric recycling facility. 

Here is some additional data from my customer research journey:

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my project! Please leave a comment to share what you think about my idea. Also, thank you to Lena Ramfelt, everyone I interviewed or asked about my project, and everyone who has given me feedback on my idea.

Read my Works Cited here.

6 Comments

6 comments

  1. Zoe_357

    Wow Peri, this is such a cool idea! I would totally buy one of these bags! My project also talked about waste in the fashion industry, and I think that this is a great idea for up cycling old clothes and I also like how you created a product that can be used for a long time.

    1. Peri_374

      Thank you so much! 🙂

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    Please, please continue working on this idea! We need so many of them! /Lena

  3. Mia Chung

    Hi Peri! This is such an amazing idea, and I like how you are using your creative talent to make an impact! I’ve noticed that more people are starting to search for ethical and sustainable small businesses to buy their clothes and accessories from, so this is the perfect time to launch your business! I also think that people might enjoy walking around with the bag and sharing more about it, which would educate more people on the fashion industry’s negative environmental impact. I was also shocked that thrift stores have to get rid of so much clothing. Great job on your project!

  4. Vladimir_533

    Hello Peri, This is an amazing idea. I was wondering if someone brought in some old clothes or bags to be reused could they get a credit towards a new handbag. I think that would motivate people to bring in clothes.

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    Hey Peri, this is a great way to reuse all the wasted clothing. I never really thought about the amount of clothes that end up in a landfill and I had no idea it was as much as you mentioned. It’s cool because the wide range of recycled clothes the bags use means there are almost endless designs and since it is a recycled and useful tool it would make a huge impact if these bags gain traction! Good job!

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