The fashion industry has been considered the second most polluting industry in the world by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).  Some 93 billion cubic metres of water, enough to meet the needs of five million people, is used by the industry annually, and the amount of microfibre equivalent of 3 million barrels of oil is being dumped into the ocean every year. The fashion industry is also responsible for emitting more carbon than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

ReFashion Week NYC 2020 is an initiative aimed at creating awareness of the environmental impact of the fashion industry and encouraging people to be more conscious consumers.  For the second year in a row, the organizers and their collaborators worked through a series of events to engage and educate the local community about responsible ways to update their wardrobes and creating unique timeless style with secondhand and sustainable fashion. ReFashion Week events take place in parallel to New York Fashion Week in February, a time when fashion designers showcase their new collections for buyers, the press and the public. 

“Sustainable fashion is of utmost importance,” said Daniel Rodriguez, Director of Processing, Moving and Salvage at Housing Works, a non-profit organization that runs a chain of thrift shops in support of efforts to end AIDS and homelessness. “While so much is going into landfill and being wasted, ‘other men’s trash’ can be turned into something beautiful.”

Many of the events of ReFashion Week were dedicated to teaching the attendees how to mend, repair and redesign existing clothing, and provided venues for them to swap reusable clothes, shoes and accessories. The practices strongly resonated with the local communities, who have been looking for ways to be sustainable in their fashion choices. 

Elissa Stein, a graphic designer and attendee at one of the thrift shop events said, “It’s wonderful to see a piece of clothing that someone may no longer want gain a second, third, fourth or tenth life and make someone else happy!”

For many creative artists in sustainable fashion, the journey began with watching family members shopping for vintage clothes and styling themselves with the unique pieces. As they grew up, they became aware of the environmental cost of staying fashionable. What unites these sustainable fashion experts, designers and stylists is the goal to fight for sustainability through fashion, and to combat myths about sustainable fashion, including the perception that it is expensive and lacking in choice and aesthetics.

“It’s pretty simple - don’t throw your old clothes away. Donate it, swap it, repair it. You can make them beautiful and interesting again by adding your own style and design. They may become desirable again not only to you, but also to someone else,” said Kate Walz, Creative Director of The Canvas by Querencia, a multifaceted fashion organization dedicated to addressing the social and environmental issues facing the fashion industry.

Through panel discussions, workshops, styling and swapping events, ReFashion Week brings sustainable fashion closer to those who want to know more about responsible consumption, in the hope that the participants will further spread the message and best practices to their communities and beyond. 

Outside the ReFashion Week, 32 companies representing 150 brands joined the Fashion Pact in 2019, all committed to a common core of key environmental goals in three areas: stopping global warming, restoring biodiversity and protecting the oceans. The Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc. (CFDA) provides guidelines and resources that take the complex idea of sustainability and simplifies it into clear, digestible resources and actions, available to all.

These visions are directly related to the United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, an initiative designed of United Nations agencies and allied organizations to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals through coordinated action in the fashion sector. These initiatives are both the cause and the result of the increased public awareness about the social and environmental impact of fashion on the world. Actions that tackle climate change and create a better world for all can start with one’s choice of what to wear every day.

Additional Resources

ReFashion Week NYC 2020: Fashion and the Sustainable Development Goals

United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) talked to Kate Walz, Creative Director at Querencia Studio about sustainable fashion during the ReFashion Week NYC 2020.