British Columbia

Vancouver's Eco Fashion Week seeks ways to keep clothing from landfills

According to the founder of Vancouver's Eco Fashion Week, the fashion industry is second only to oil in terms of negative environmental impact.

On average, each North American discards 81lbs (or 37kg) of textiles every year, says Eco Fashion Week founder

This year, Vancouver's Eco Fashion Week is putting the spotlight on the amount of clothing we send to the landfill. (Eco Fashion Week/Instagram)

Vancouver's Eco Fashion Week is putting the spotlight on the amount of clothing and textiles that are filling up city landfills.

Founder Myriam Laroche says the average amount one North American sends to the landfill every year is 81 pounds (or 37 kilograms).

Part of the problem is so-called fast fashion where manufacturers sell trendy items inspired by runway collections to the mass market, usually made from cheap materials meant to be worn for only one season.

"When I started my career 20 years ago, we had four seasons — spring, summer, back to school, holiday. Now, every week you have a new collection that comes into the store. Social media has made us really greedy on having the latest trend and which celebrity is wearing what."

This Kromagnon collection — which will be featured at Eco Fashion Week — uses renewable, organic, natural and biodegradable materials. (Eco Fashion Week/Instagram)

Laroche's philosophy is to look for alternatives — either reusing or donating clothes before they go to the landfill or looking at technologies to recycle fabrics.

She describes a company in Seattle called EVRNU that can take old 100 per cent cotton T-shirts, separate the fibres and create new cotton material.

She says Jean manufacturer Levis has even expressed interest in the technology.

"We need to find a way to take what's there — the different fabrics like silk and wool and polyester — and find a way to grind it and mill it again into different thread."

Industry must work together

Vancouver's Eco Fashion Week has strived to find solutions to develop a more responsible and sustainable fashion industry. It first launched in Vancouver in 2010 and has expanded to Seattle.

"At first, [sustainable fashion] was still considered a trend. Now, I think it's inevitable. We have no choice. We cannot resist. Right now, the clothing industry is the second most damaging industry on the planet after oil," Laroche said.

She says it will take cooperation and collaboration with all fashion industry members to push the movement forward.

"It's not just the game of the small designer or the retailer who has 12 stores or the big retailer that has 4,000 stores," she said.

"We all have to work together and to jump in because we don't know the exact solution yet."     

Vancouver's Eco Fashion Week runs from March 31 to April 2. You can also see the "81 lb Challenge, presented by Value Village" — where designers create a new collection from 81 pounds of discarded clothing — at the Museum of Vancouver until April 17.

Listen to the full interview with Myriam Laroche on CBC's The Early Edition here: