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Sustainable companies combat the carbon footprint of fast fashion

(NEW YORK) — The global fashion industry is fueled by the latest styles, and fast production has helped the industry contribute up to 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“I don’t think it’s a secret that the fashion industry is one of the largest polluters on the planet and not just in terms of the material use or material waste, but also in the way that it uses labor and uses human power,” said Jessica Schreiber, founder and CEO of Fabscrap, a Brooklyn-based fabric recycling company.

Much of the carbon footprint of the industry is generated by the production of clothing, which is often made in developing countries and then shipped abroad. Then, once material is thrown out, 85% of those textiles in the United States end up in landfills or are incinerated, according to the EPA.

As climate change becomes a more pressing issue, some companies have recognized that their business model needs to change and that they need to embrace sustainability. Now a few have put it at the core of their brand.

Schreiber has partnered with some big name fashion brands like J Crew, Macy’s, Marc Jacobs to collect, sort and recycle what they can from excess material generated from the design process.

“We’re doing what we can where we’re at with what we have. So globally, though, I think that’s a drop in the bucket and there’s a lot of work to be done,” said Schreiber.

At Fabscrap, the mission is to cut down clothing waste and keep fabric from ending up in landfills. Materials like cotton, wool, and polyester are shredded and turned into a product called “shoddy.”

“Every bag is pretty much a surprise. You never know what types of fabrics will be in it,” said Camille Tagle, the co-founder and creative director at Fabscrap.

Shoddy and other materials are put up for resale at the Fabscrap store or online.

In the past two decades, the fashion industry has exponentially grown into a $2.5 trillion industry that employs 75 million people worldwide, according to the United Nations.

The growth is fueled in part by inexpensive, trendy clothing known as “fast fashion.”

“We’re making too much stuff,” said Kathleen Talbot. “[Fast fashion brands] mass produce disposable clothing that really is just chasing the trend.”

Talbot is the chief sustainability officer at Reformation, a clothing brand dedicated to sustainability.

“We’re focused on making limited collections. If you can make smaller, smaller collections and only make more based on the consumer demand, you don’t have that end of season waste,” said Talbot.

According to the United Nations, 60% of all new clothing is made with synthetic fibers — derived from fossil fuels.

“For synthetics, it will take over 200 years for it to biodegrade. So just like throwing plastics away, it’s the same thing,” said Talbot.

All materials used at Reformation are traceable and the company says it has been 100% carbon-neutral since 2015.

Reformation CEO Hali Bornstein said the company is focused on making the LA-based brand both sustainable and profitable.

“We set out early on to prove out that you can both be a profitable business and be sustainable because, by definition, it’s not sustainable to lose money, right?” said Bornstein.

Bornstein hopes that Reformation can be a model for other brands and push the entire industry toward a more sustainable future.

“I don’t think there’s a choice anymore,” she said. “I think brands that are going to survive are going to do the right thing and put the investment in.”

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