To celebrate Fashion Revolution and the progress the fashion industry has made towards becoming more sustainable, we’re asking experts in the field who we think are fashion’s revolutionaries to share some of their insight into the industry and the future of fashion.
Rachel Kibbe is the co-founder of HELPSY, a clothing recycling company that, in just over a year, has become the largest clothing collection and recycling company in the Northeast US. As a certified B Corp, HELPSY saved 25 million pounds of clothes from the landfill in 2018. Our goal is to make clothing recycling, reuse and upcycling easier than ever.
Why do you work in sustainable fashion?
I feel that I’ve actually left sustainable fashion. After working in that area for many years, I got the opportunity to concentrate on another area: how to responsibly handle the overproduction clothes. For every new item made, however sustainably, there needs to be easy and accessible solutions to keep it out of the trash. Reuse also helps keep other new items from being made. That’s where my work is these days. HELPSY collected 25 million lbs of clothes for reuse and downcycling in 2018.
Tell us about one item of clothing from your closet that embodies sustainable fashion.
Anything I buy used instead of new is the most environmentally positive way to shop! Most of my wardrobe is second hand.
What do you think is the biggest achievement of the sustainable fashion movement?
The movement is increasingly waking up to the fact that we aren’t going to create, produce or design our way out of the overproduction/overconsumption problem.
Improved platforms and paradigms for the resale of used, Overstock, and returns, are the future. Keeping items in circulation for as long as possible makes sense business-wise and environmentally. Clothes can’t make money sitting in a landfill. Brands can recoup economic value by getting their own items back for resale. These aren’t new ideas but, with the state of the environment, more sophisticated development around them has become urgent.
With regards to making progress towards building a sustainable fashion industry, who do you want to thank and why?
Dan Green, Dave Milliner and Alex Husted – my colleagues who started the clothing collection company that HELPSY has become and that I later joined. They saw an industry that needed revamping and one that has nothing but room for growth. They bet everything and have put all of their personal resources into it. We need smart people creating less widgets and instead creating environmental solutions, even if this means tremendous personal sacrifice. Dan, Dave and Alex have done that.
Tell us a story about a sustainable fashion industry in 2030 – a day in the life of a worker, a consumer, through the lens of your business, etc.
There would be legislation requiring clothing collection on the municipal level – including the requirement and support of towns, for companies like ours, to place clothing collection bins and do other clothing collection related activities. Many towns currently outlaw bins.
There would be legislation prohibiting the unnecessary overproduction of clothes, the requirement of responsible disposal of used, Overstock and returns through reuse – until a garment can’t be reworn.
Finally, when items are truly unwearable, there would be scalable down-cycling and chemical recycling solutions and nothing would be landfilled.
Retailers would all sell at least 75% used, Overstock and returns, and consumers would demand this.
There would also be a much more efficient reverse supply chain: keeping materials out of the trash and getting items to people who need them at scale. An example of this is the 44k winter jackets we bought back from our graders this winter for New York Cares annual coat drive. For every one new coat they provided in prior years, we were able to provide 10 used! Also, the used t-shirts we are selling in bulk to organizations so they stop printing swag on new t-shirts! These solutions are not impossible, they just need thought and to be at a scale that matches fashion’s destructive force on the planet.