Breaking the vicious cycle of clothes overflowing from US landfills to Africa with eco-conscious fashion

Sustainable Fashion Week couldn’t have come at a better time as the United States’ lack of sustainability is causing an overflow of hand-me-downs in Africa.

The US is overflowing with clothing. As a matter of fact, the US Environmental Protection Agency reports that the main source of textiles in municipal solid waste (MSW) is discarded clothing that reaches far beyond its shores.

To remedy this, large amounts of clothing from charities are shipped to Africa. The Qutar Tribune reports that East Africa, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan and Burundi have been trying to phase out imports of secondhand clothing and shoes due to the influx of old items undermining their efforts to build domestic textile industries. Socio-economic disparities and fast-fashion stand at the forefront of this problem. 

In early fall, Bridgett Artise and Rick Davy launched Sustainable Fashion Week, an eco-friendly, series of showcases of brilliant creatives who intersected green thought with style. One of the participants, Terina Nicole Hill, an author-designer of Jypsea Leathergoods, rehashed her experience starting out in the fashion industry with Ark Republic.

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Terina Nicole Hill’s work shows off a range of high-end, repurposed luxury fashion.

During the beginning stages of her career, Hill recounts purchasing high quality leather from Italian vendors in New York City. “I found that high quality skin, made my handbags inaccessible to a lot of women who were just like, look I got a mortgage, I have to put my kids through private school. I’m not spending this type of money on handbags,” says Hill who resides in south New Jersey. 

This resulted in her using leather she found in thrift stores that were once leather jackets, blazers and skirts and turning them into handbags. “I started to understand that just because you want something that’s beautiful, and well made, doesn’t mean that you’re willing to spend $800 to $900 on a handbag,” says Hill.

But there are many consumers who don’t turn to a sustainable designer. Most purchase fast-fashion, whose main goal is to make cheap clothing as quickly as possible. This ripple effect has caused Kenya, who had a million workers in the garment industry a few decades ago to drop to 20,000 and textile jobs in Ghana, to plunge by 80 percent between 1975 and 2000.

With trailblazing shows like Sustainable Fashion Week, the idea is to feature a variety of industry participants, who explore ways to create quality clothing at a less expensive rate. For Artise, the switch to eco-awareness gives consumers an alternative to fast-fashion, thus cutting back on the amount of hand-me-downs that end up in Africa.

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