Fashion, Rinse, Repeat

Fashion, Rinse, Repeat
In February, we had Fashion Week. Then we had ReFashion Week, an event created and managed by … wait for it … New York City’s Department of Sanitation. 

NYC sends 200,000 tons of discarded clothing to landfills every year – a significant portion of that ‘trash’ is usable as is or easily repaired. The challenge for a Sanitation Department that has set itself the goal of sending zero waste to landfills by 2030? How to divert usable clothing from the trash stream, and then create a market for it. 

Addressing the first part of that challenge, refashionNYC, a project managed by NYC’s Sanitation Department, sets up donation boxes all over the city, including major retail outlets, where consumers can deposit usable clothing before it gets into the waste stream. The unique twist, and the second part of that challenge, is to gather all that clothing together and turn it into a fashion event! 

In addition, donateNYC, another program from the NYC Sanitation Department, operates a web platform and app that connects New Yorkers to hundreds of thrift stores, vintage boutiques and other places where they can donate used clothes and purchase secondhand treasures. In February 2019, the donateNYC program launched a program called “ReFashion Week” – a series of events celebrating and promoting the thrift and reuse sector. 

In February 2020, donateNYC teamed up with the Foundation for New York’s Strongest, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization affiliated with the Sanitation Department, to organize the even larger second annual ReFashion Week. The Foundation, a relatively new organization, helps the Sanitation Department partner with businesses and New Yorkers to work together toward the city’s shared zero-waste goals. By teaming up, the two programs were able to create a more holistic, cross-sector display and celebration of solutions to reducing textile waste.  The week included a whole menu of events, from clothing resales and swaps for consumers, to fashion industry workshops on technology solutions, creative ways to reduce textile waste, and design for circularity.

“Fashion and self-expression are being rethought. For example, five or ten years ago, renting a dress was something you didn’t talk about.  Rent the Runway changed how everyone thinks about it,” says Rebecca Goldberg, Director of Client Success at INTURN, a ReFashion Week panelist. “Now it’s seen as stylish and smart.” The same is true of reusing clothing. As ThredUp, The RealReal, and a bunch of imitators have succeeded in selling used clothing online, there is a parallel opportunity to create in-person shopping events and venues for reused clothes. “Clothing swaps are becoming the next cool social event,” says Goldberg.

With ReFashion Week behind us, check the Foundation’s website (when we can get together safely again) for a full calendar of zero-waste events, both useful and unexpected, “designed to provide real-world, practical advice and tactics for everyone who wants to reduce their impact on our city and on our planet,” according to Julie Raskin, Executive Director of the Foundation (and a Stern alum!).

To find places to donate or purchase used clothes, check out the donateNYC platform. And if you live in a large apartment building or work in a commercial high-rise, consider asking your building manager to request a free refashionNYC bin here.

On the road to a zero-waste world, NYC’s Sanitation Department is making the idea of ‘Reuse, Repair, Repurpose, and Recycle’ interesting and unexpectedly fun. And reducing that 200,000-ton mountain of clothing formerly known as “trash,” one sweater at a time.