On average, Americans throw away 81 pounds of clothing each year. That’s according to SMART or the Society for Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles. They also say that 95 percent of the textiles we wear can be recycled, but only 15 percent are now donated or recycled, with the rest going to landfills.
If you’re on TikTok or Instagram, you’ve probably heard some of the content creators’ warnings about “fast fashion. Back then, fashionable but often poorly made clothing was quickly mass-produced. It was brought to retailers, and the demand for the trend was highest, and it was very cheap. Because of the rapid development of trends, fast fashion was a major cause of clothing waste, among many other problems.
New York-based clothing designer Kathleen Tesnakis has made it her mission to change the world with sustainable fashion.
“It’s buying old clothes, it’s learning how to fix your clothes. It’s also investing in quality products. It’s investing in products that are made locally. When you can support people who are doing things for the planet in a positive way,” Tesnakis said.
In 1996, as a textile designer, Kathleen found her passion in a pile of old wool sweaters. Her clothing brand and design studio, Ekologic, was born out of a desire to prove that recycled clothing can be more beautiful in Second Life and to spur change.
Ekologic uses recycled cashmere sweaters, sourced from New York State. Catherine says her business has almost zero waste, using almost every inch of the secondhand items.
Ekologic’s process also does not use any dyes or chemicals – a no-brainer for the entire textile industry.
According to CDP.net – a non-profit that provides a platform for companies to disclose and manage their environmental impact – the apparel and textile sector greatly contributes to excessive consumption and pollution of water across the globe. That’s particularly an issue in third world countries.
According to Good Clothes, Fair Pay, the fast fashion industry exploits workers by paying them low wages. Information from FashionRevolution.org shows that in places like India – where most fast fashion is produced and garment workers are mainly women – their working conditions are also poor.
“Slow fashion is transparent fashion, which means you can know who makes it, know how it’s made, what the materials are …… These garments mean they can last longer,” Tesnakis says.
Tesnakis knows it can be difficult to move to a reuse/recycle mindset when it comes to clothing, but taking small actions can really pay off.
“A lot of it is re-learning behavior. It doesn’t have to be full of anxiety. It can be fun and empowering,” Tesnakis said.
Tesnakis will be the first to tell you – Ekologic’s clothes aren’t cheap – but she says it will last 10 to 20 years, which is unique, and support the local economy. She adds that there are layers to sustainable fashion. You can still go to TJ Maxx, Target or Walmart – but you should look at the clothing label to see if it’s “Better Cotton” or “Oeko Tex,” which certifies that the product is free of harmful chemicals.