Each year, fashion designers around the world kick off September with another round of Fashion Weeks. From New York to Paris and beyond, designers stock the runway with models showcasing trends for the coming spring/summer season. Fashion conscious consumers flock to these displays to find out what’s in and what should be tossed out or to the rear of their closets…

Which is usually everything. Which makes it quite interesting that during this current season, several designers are marketing sustainability initiatives. Leaving many to wonder in an industry such as fashion, where high clothing turnover is the norm, whether such initiatives can ever be more than just a trend.

From runway, to landfill

Incorporating fabrics made from organically grown cotton, bamboo and hemp, more and more designers are creating garments that do more good than harm. They’re looking at labour practices, instituting fair trade policies and considering the environmental impact of fabrics and dyes used to produce their lines. But in an industry that exists solely by way of consumption and waste, are these measures enough?

Millions of pounds of unwanted clothing make their way into landfills around the world each year. Many of these tossed garments were worn only once before becoming rubbish. While some consumers have reported ill-fitting as a primary reason for tossing like-new clothing, many cite changes in trends. Yes. Clothing thrown out because it is “so last year.” Despite the fact that clothing and textiles are completely recyclable, the industry, as a whole, doesn’t encourage garment recycling.

This is not to say that all unwanted clothing is tossed. Organizations such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army exist because of donated used clothing. More upscale secondhand and consignment shops are thriving due to a demand for gently worn, stylish threads. Still, each year the average American tosses 70 pounds of clothes out, while purchasing only 10 pounds of sustainably sourced items. The UK collectively throw out 350,000 tonnes of used clothing annually.  A ridiculous amount of recyclable fabric making its way to landfills, instead of being used for another purpose.

What more can be done?

In addition to expanding existing sustainable initiatives, the fashion industry has the power to change the game. Designers can encourage garment recycling by offering rebates for return of last season’s fits and reusing those fabrics in upcoming lines or offer those items in their own secondhand stores. They could also incorporate prior seasons’ trends into their current lines, to maximize wear. These are just ideas to make the industry more sustainable, but it’s not just up to the designers to change.

As consumers ultimately hold the power in this trillion-dollar industry, there are several things each of us can do to ensure a more sustainable fashion industry: support only designers who truly operate sustainable lines; looking to trends, source similar pieces from secondhand shops and through community trade circles; and lastly, buy only what’s needed and locally made. The most important thing that consumers can do is recycle all fabrics, regardless of the condition, instead of tossing it. The old adage definitely applies here—one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Even a stained or torn piece can be cut and reused for other purposes. Sustainability in fashion must become more than just another trend.

What’s most important to you in your clothing choices: sustainability or style? How do you dispose of your undesired garments? In what ways do you think the fashion industry could become more sustainable? What can you do to help?

Rachel M Walls. Human. Revolutionary Love Heroine. Author of all you need are seeds… a socio-political self-help memoir about organic gardening.

image: Sustainable Sanitation