Fashion Takes Action
Last spring, students at Swansea Public School in Toronto organized a clothing swap—a popular event that helped raise awareness of the world’s textile waste crisis. Students, teachers, and parent volunteers collected and sorted through mounds of unwanted textiles, tagging over 2000 gently worn items as “swappable” as the community came together to browse for “new-to-me” garments. Swansea PS was one of many schools participating in the Fashion Impacts Challenge, an initiative of Fashion Takes Action (FTA), a non-profit organization that promotes sustainability in the fashion industry through education, awareness, and collaboration.
In 2017, people from across the fashion world gathered at the first World Ethical Apparel Roundtable (WEAR) in Toronto. WEAR, an initiative of Fashion Takes Action, promotes responsible textile production and consumption, and explores innovative technologies that help transform fashion into a circular economy. FTA also convenes the Ontario Textile Diversion Collaborative (OTDC), a stakeholder group that includes over 40 charities, textile collectors, retailers, brands, academics, municipalities, and non-governmental organizations. It is committed to minimizing the number of textiles going into landfills by increasing the rate of textile diversion and encouraging reliable recycling.
Sustainability has become more than a trend in the fashion world. Environmentally responsible citizens are embracing movements like Slow Fashion to help reduce textile waste. They are purchasing fewer and better-quality garments that have been ethically produced, and they are recycling the rest. Yet even with clothing donations and retail take-back programs, a staggering 85% of unwanted textiles end up in landfills. In Ontario, postsecondary institutions like Ryerson University and Seneca, Sheridan, and George Brown Colleges have introduced programs to promote sustainable fashion education and research. In 2019, Seneca’s School of Fashion joined the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and hosted a symposium and exhibition dedicated to sustainable fashion.
Alongside The Salvation Army, Diabetes Canada, and other participating charities, municipalities in Ontario have begun to take an active role in textile diversion. The City of Markham launched a successful textiles recycling program and is the first city in Canada to ban residents from leaving textiles at the curb. Organizations like FTA are helping to transform the way people think. They have launched a new ad campaign with the catchy tagline: “Throwing away clothes is never in style.” They know that making a difference goes beyond sweeping changes in the fashion industry, and it will require the efforts of millions of caring citizens to make a world of difference.
As I engage with Ontarians from all walks of life, I have come to understand that while some may not actually use the word sustainability, there is still a widespread sense that people desire to live in a society in which prosperity is shared, where no one is left behind, and where the environment flourishes under our mutual care.
So, what is the connection to fashion?
Even though the word “fashion” has long been understood by many to be synonymous with things ephemeral and with disposable luxury, growing challenges are causing attitudes to change.
In the fall of 2018, I had the privilege of hosting the launch of Fashion magazine’s sustainability issue. Guest editor Sarah Jay gave a powerful speech, noting how she could no longer ignore the growing costs of fashion affecting just about every aspect of life on Earth and, crucially, humanity. For Sarah, sustainability “signifies a return to quality and thoughtful design, to treating our clothes like the good friends they are, and to luxuries that feed the soul as opposed to the fast-fashion machine.”
Happily, Sarah’s cause is picking up traction. In that same year, at Buckingham Palace, with the support of Her Majesty The Queen and members of the Royal Family, the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange showcased the wealth of design and artisan fashion talent across 53 countries while also promoting new networks, trade links, and lasting sustainable supply chains.
I have seen many incredible examples of growing awareness in Ontario, including the Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, the MaRS Catalyst fund competition, the George Brown Fashion Exchange, and the Seneca College Fashion Symposium. It gives me hope to see individuals and industries across sectors helping to determine how textile resuse and recycling can contribute to a vision of the future that has inclusive economic, environmental, and social goals.Sustainability