‘Fast fashion’ holds a prominent position in the apparel industry despite the many problems associated with it, from labor conditions to clothing waste. In the three years since the tragic Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, the revolt against fast fashion has gathered steam. Events such as Fashion Revolution Week and the adoption of business models that promote swapping and upcycling are signs that change is in the making.
One of the latest examples is the recent work of two Dutch designers. Alexander van Slobbe and Francisco van Benthum are taking production remnants from H&M, Mango, and Zara and making them their own. The result is “Hacked,” a project on display as part of the “Temporary Fashion Museum” at the Het Nieuwe Instituut in The Netherlands through May 8, 2016.
The designers describe the project as offering a “radical alternative to the growing range of fast-fashion chains,” and is intended to spur conversation on intellectual property, consumerism, and waste. Van Slobbe and van Benthum were frustrated by overproduction and the few protections for designers in the fashion world.
“You can take any design, introduce seven changes to it, and it’s a different product, while it remains directly visually recognizable,” van Slobbe said.
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He and van Benthum decided to ‘hijack’ production surplus and modify the retailers’ designs into new pieces by making changes, adding pockets, or adding embroidered details. In effect, they are using cheap excess materials and making a statement.
“We want to have this discussion because our contemporary time is about these issues,” van Benthum added. “Does the consumer even know there is so much deadstock in the world? There is far too much production for the demand, [so] instead of starting over again, we use what is already there, what might otherwise end up in the shredder.”
Footwear and outdoor gear company L.L. Bean also took a jab at fast fashion recently, with an advertisement titled, “When.”
“When did we stop valuing things that become better over time?” a voiceover asks in the ad. “When did disposable become the default?”
L.L. Bean boasts a 104-year heritage, and the 45-second spot emphasizes that it makes products that last. According to Ecouterre, the company offshores much of its production but it is one of the few merchants to own and operate manufacturing facilities in the United States, where it continues to hand-make its signature duck boots.
Meanwhile, thrift store chain Savers staged an outdoor “clothing spill” installation on Seattle’s Alki Beach on Earth Day to remind people that “landfills shouldn’t be laundry piles.” Clothing and textiles were arranged to appear as if spilling out of oil drums, and pooling on the beach. Some drums were also positioned on the ground, with facts about fashion industry waste, such as, “North Americans send over 10.5 million tons of clothing to landfills every year, 95 percent of which could have been reused or recycled.” Others simply noted that “The clothing industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters.”
Consumers worldwide will buy around 80 billion pieces of new clothing this year alone, explained Tony Shumpert, vice president of recycling and reuse at Savers. “We think that’s a serious wardrobe malfunction.”
“We hope consumers will rethink reuse,” Shumpert added, “which includes shopping thrift, donating unwanted goods, and consuming in a more responsible way.”
H&M’s “World Recycle Week,” took place the same week; the retailer, often called a fast fashion brand itself, accepted clothing donations at its over 3,600 worldwide stores with a goal of collecting 1,000 tonnes of unwanted or worn out items.