If there is one rule in fashion, it’s recycle. Verde Permuta, a Mexico City-based clothing exchange company, takes this rule to heart.
The founders, Melissa Veytia and Jennifer Emmons, formed the company as an alternative to fast fashion, which has come to dominate the global fashion industry over the last 20 years. One only has to search YouTube for haul videos to understand the meaning of fast fashion: fashionable clothing sold on the cheap. The pricing allows us to update our wardrobes for every season, buying designs fresh off the catwalk from accessible fashion retailers world-wide and discarding last season’s styles guilt-free.
Unfortunately, trendiness comes at a cost: low-paying sweatshops with horrible safety records are the reason you can buy those tie-front blouses for $9.99. Accidents like the collapse of Rana Plaza and the fire at Tazreen Fashions Limited demonstrate the negligence that many employers in the industry have for the safety of their workers.
There is also an environmental cost: the fashion industry is widely quoted as the second-most polluting industry in the world behind oil. I was unable to find a reliable source for that claim, but it would not be particularly shocking given the huge amount of water, energy, and chemicals that goes into textile production. Every step of the production process has negative impacts, from the production of raw materials like cotton and synthetics, the chemical processing involved in dying, printing, and bleaching, the transportation emissions – and that’s all before the product hits the shelves.
Then there is the clothing itself, all of which eventually becomes trash. Approximately 85 percent of clothing bought in the U.S. becomes trash in the U.S after its first iteration, making up 9 percent of total non-recyclable trash. Synthetic fabrics, especially polyester, can take thousands of years to biodegrade, and even then you have to deal with the environmental implications of plastic degradation. When you consider that we are buying new clothes at an ever increasing rate, and the environmental impact is huge.
I was struck by Verde Permuta because it offers a local alternative for the fashion and environmentally conscious. “In my journey to live a zero-waste lifestyle I started questioning myself about clothes,” Veytia said when asked what prompted her to start the company. “I had a wardrobe of +400 pieces of clothes that were in perfect condition, and still, every morning, I couldn’t find anything to wear. I started researching about the fashion industry and was surprised by its environmental impact on our planet, so shopping was not an option for me. Second hand clothing was the obvious answer, but I could not find a store where I could exchange the clothes that I had for ones that were new to me.”
To date, Verde Permuta has completed 9 events with between 80 and 120 people participating in each. “With the help of our community of 650 people, we’ve reactivated more than 6,500 pieces of clothing, resulting in a savings of 6.5 metric tons of CO2e and 16 million liters of water.” Veytia told me. To put those numbers in context, a vegan diet saves approximately 1.5 metric tons of CO2e per year, while 16 million liters is the equivalent of over 6 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
The process to participate is simple: you pay a participation fee, $300 to $600 MXN (~$15 - $30 USD), and submit clothing and accessories you no longer use. You’re given points for each article, 1-10 depending on the quality, to spend on the day of the exchange event.
In December 2017 I gave it a go. I handed over 15 articles of clothing and accessories I never wore and received a whopping 31 points to spend on weekend of the event. I was able to ‘buy’ a number of awesome articles for less than $20 (below), and on top of that, I became part of a fantastic community of environmentally-conscious people.
Disclaimer: This post is a little different from my regular post material -- it doesn’t touch on public policy, but instead looks at the issue of fast fashion and an innovative solution started by a friend, Melissa Veytia, to make her community more sustainable. This is not a paid ad for Verde Permuta.