Christina Dean was standing on top of a pile of garbage at a Hong Kong landfill when the idea came to her: Wear only recycled clothes for a year.
Despite fashion industry efforts to make clothing production more sustainable, a lot of clothes still end up at the dump. It’s an “urgent problem to encourage consumers to decrease clothing wastage entering landfill,” she wrote to Yahoo News in an email.
Dean, who is the founder of the environmentally focused fashion organization Redress, and who was at the dump for another project, took a vow to wear only “100% dumped, discarded or donated secondhand clothes” everyday of 2013, except for shoes and underthings, which were her own.
And we’re not talking about coming up with ten outfits and then rotating. No, no. Dean wanted 365 different looks, a new one each and every day.
So far, so good. Dean sorts through castaway clothing each month, looking for 30 outfits, which are then photographed at GetRedressed on Instagram. At the end of the year, the outfits will be auctioned to benefit Redress and Friends of the Earth.
Each month has a theme, such as “DIY,” “on trend,” or “little black dress.” If these sound challenging, Dean has a stylist on hand to help choose the outfits, which are not always to her taste.
There were the “loud and obnoxious” neon leggings. And one mustn’t forget the thick, green, polyester school-uniform tracksuit bottoms that came with an ‘80s jacket. Dean described the clothes as a “toe-curling” example of wearing something that was the opposite of her style.
But there are plenty of victories, too. A glam green silk dress that blended in at a “real fashion VIP event” was a real winner. And a sunny yellow top brightened a rainy day in London.
Because Dean sees the potential in discarded clothes, her trash fashion finds often turn out to be treasures: From boyfriend jeans to silk shirts and slip dresses, the clothes actually look on trend.
The Redress website notes that she has learned this from her 365-day challenge: Most clothes can be reused, but it takes some work and some imagination. “They can be restyled, reconstructed and repaired in a multitude of creative and cost-saving ways,” giving clothing a new life and keeping the garments out of the landfill.
Lest you think this is solution in search of a problem, it’s worth noting that landfills are filling up with more fashion rejects than ever. According to a study by Cambridge University, in 2006, people were buying “a third more clothes than they were in 2002, and women have four times as many clothes in their wardrobe than they did in 1980. Women are also getting rid of similar amounts each year.”
Some of those discarded looks ended up in Dean’s hands. Clothes that seemed to have been thrown away due to an easily fixed stain or repair were rescued for the year-long effort.
The 35-year-old admitted to being “baffled” by the quality — not just the quantity — of the items that had been condemned to the landfill. “I’m shocked at the quality,” she said, “The clothes from the (trash) bin are often better than my own (now packed away) wardrobe.”
According to Redress, in Hong Kong in 2011, 217 tons of textiles were dumped into three landfills every day. In the U.K., “Almost 10,000 garments were dumped into landfill — every five minutes.”
Dean hopes that with her year-long campaign, consumers will be inspired to think about that giant landfill before buying something new.
“What we’ve seen over recent years is that designers, manufacturers and retailers have gone into overdrive to satisfy this increased consumer appetite for low cost fashion, so much so that people buy a dress as if it’s a Big Mac,” Dean said.