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Stella McCartney and The RealReal on How to Keep Clothes Out of the Dump

The real problem with fast fashion is not necessarily the speed at which it’s produced, but that somewhere along the way, the clothing became disposable, too.

To mark Fashion Revolution Week, Stella McCartney and The RealReal hosted an intimate discussion on sustainability at the British affordable luxury brand’s SoHo store Thursday.

Stella McCartney’s head of sustainability Claire Bergkamp said it’s “incredible” that 100 countries are now involved with Fashion Revolution Week, which was created in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster and urges the industry to “take responsibility for how things are produced, where they’re made and who the people are that are actually in the supply chains doing this work.”

The brand has long made sustainability the focus of its business and can now trace more than 90 percent of its source materials. “This is something that’s near and dear to us about wanting to ensure integrity in how our products are made,” Bergkamp said.

Because Stella McCartney pours its “blood, sweat and tears” into designing eye-catching, sustainable collections and building a responsible supply chain, the brand pursued a new partnership with The RealReal—the luxury consignment outlet—to further the lifecycle of its products.

Luxury and resale partners should be “friends not enemies,” Sasha Skoda, women’s category for The RealReal, said.

“With how quickly trends are moving and the effect of social media, Instagram and influencers, what is happening to those clothes you were wearing six months ago that you wouldn’t be caught dead in today? That’s a thing that we [as consumers] have to own up to,” Skoda said, acknowledging the stark reality that tons and tons of clothing end up in dumps and landfills annually.

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Brands must start paying attention to millennial and Gen Z consumers, whose desire for sustainable goods isn’t being satisfied, evidence indicates. Skoda cited a report stating that while 70 percent of millennials say they care about acquiring sustainable goods, just 30 percent have actually made sustainable purchases, perhaps signaling they can’t find products that meet their requirements for both aesthetics and mindfulness.

That’s where The RealReal can make a difference, promoting the “democratization of fashion,” Skoda said, “and being able to expose a younger demographic who might not be so aware of the impact of fashion on the world.”

“When you look at Gen Z and millennials, they’re growing up shopping at Zara and Forever 21. It’s just second nature to them,” Skoda continued. “If you’re able to expose them to luxury prod they can actually afford and they start to wear these clothes and realize that they feel different and last longer, they’re probably going to start thinking about where they’re spending their money.”

Enabling that wake-up call among younger consumers could go a long way toward “breaking the cycle” of buying and throwing away unwanted clothing get more people interested in luxury’s value proposition.

The art of sustainability

Stella McCartney cut virgin cashmere out of its supply chain years ago when it realized how the fiber contributes to desertification in Inner and Outer Mongolia. Instead, the brand uses recycled cashmere sourced from scrap fabrics in Prato, Italy, where roughly a dozen people in sprawling warehouses sift through “bales and bales” of textile factory waste from garments like “camel coats” and “knitwear.”

Bergkamp said they just sit on floor “touching fabrics. It’s genuinely an art,” she added. “They have an incredibly refined sense of feeling.”

Though she doesn’t usually think of “human piece” of textile recycling, Bergkamp said these workers serve a valuable purpose, helping to “sift through the waste” and turn it into a resource.

The science of tomorrow’s materials

Fashion hasn’t really gotten any new materials since World War II, Bergkamp said, which can become a “boring” rotation of cotton, wool, nylon and other familiar fabrics.

But exciting things are happening in biotech, she said, pointing to Stella McCartney’s collaboration with biomaterials innovator Bolt Threads, which perhaps is best known for producing Microsilk made without silkworms or spiders. The brand used Bolt’s newest material, Mylo, to produce a vegan-friendly bag made from mushroom roots that’s currently on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum’s “Fashioned From Nature” exhibition. “There’s a real movement happening for the creation of completely new materials—things we never thought of,” Bergkamp said.