Our August Happy Hour explored sustainability in the fashion industry. We were pleased to have Gary Barker, Eszter Csicsai, and Emily Schneider speak at the Happy Hour and share the ways they are working toward a more sustainable fashion industry – from sustainable hangers to metrics that compare products’ sustainability to resale opportunities.

Gary Barker is the Director of Sustainability at Nexgen Packaging and founder of Ditto Sustainable Brand Solutions, a B-corporation recently acquired by Nexgen Packaging. Ditto has developed sustainable ways to improve hangers’ impact on the environment – which is surprisingly large. He said 100 percent of wooden hangers end up in landfills at the end of their lives because the way the wood is treated (e.g., stains and sealers) means that it can no longer be recycled. Plastic hangers have limited recyclability. They last about a thousand years in the landfill and wood hangers last about 150 years.

The Ditto hanger is made from recycled paper, is completely recyclable at the store level, and is thin, so more clothes can fit in shipping containers and stores can fit up to 50 percent more clothes on their display rods. The hangers decompose in only seven weeks in the landfill and have a significantly smaller carbon footprint than plastic or wood hangers. Ditto hangers’ raw materials are FSC[1] paper, plant-based links and adhesives, and non-toxic materials. Gary even told us that “you can eat our hangers if you need a little fiber!”

Eszter Csicsai is the Manager of Member Engagement for the Americas region at the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), which seeks to help the apparel industry become more sustainable by “measuring, evaluating, and improving performance.” SAC has over 260 members worldwide, representing 36 countries. The SAC and its members have developed the Higg Index, a sustainability measurement index that creates standardized measurement of product, facility, brand and retail sustainability.

The Higg Brand and Retail Module asks brands to conduct a social and environmental risk assessment and provides ways they can continually improve the riskiest areas. The Higg Materials Sustainability Index targets products and evaluates them with a Life Cycle Assessment approach. This index gives helpful information to identify the areas of the manufacturing process that need improvements. Ultimately, the Higg Product Module, which uses the Materials Sustainability Index as a base, allows finished products to be compared over their whole life. SAC’s end goal is to give consumers the right tools to accurately compare products and make informed decisions.

Emily Schneider is the Sustainability Program Manager at Trove Recommerce, a Bay Area resale business that helps premium brands (including Patagonia, REI, Nordstrom and others) collect and resell its used items. Emily explained how the utilization of clothing has been decreasing over time. In addition, about 73 percent of clothes end up in the landfill or being incinerated. Resale can have significant benefits for the environment, especially when it replaces part of normal sales.

Emily told us, “The thing I love to scream from the rooftops is: buy new, buy used, it does not matter. What does matter is that you take care of the garments and then make sure that you pass them along.” Garments’ life should not end with the first owner. Durable items, especially, often take more resources to make but can last longer and withstand multiple owners over time. Trove is trying to standardize how to define the level of wear of a garment and how to determine a garment’s life expectancy. The company also focuses on the relationship between resales and displacement. According to Trove’s research, purchases of used clothing replace purchases of a new item 60 percent of the time.

Our three guest speakers all gave a unique perspective on three different areas of the fashion industry and opened our eyes to the need for sustainable improvement in the industry and introduced us to amazing solutions currently in place or being developed.

[1] FSC stands for “Forest Stewardship Council” and is an important certification to earn. Getting the right to display the FSC label certifies that a paper is made of responsibly sourced wood fiber.

Author: Megan King