Fashion Forward: Driving Positive Changes in the Fashion Industry through Social Innovation and Environmental Responsibility
Best Thrifts is a social start-up based in Cebu, Philippines, that aims to address the textile waste problem in the country, promote circularity in the fashion industry, and provide job opportunities to Filipinos. The start-up is driven by the principles of social innovation and social entrepreneurship, recognizing the impact of consumerism on people and the planet, and advocating for new consumption models that prioritize sustainability and ethical practices. Best Thrifts’ ultimate goal is to become the biggest sustainable fashion hub in the Philippines through ethical and sustainable practices that make a positive impact on society and the environment.
In 2019, Best Thrifts started mainly as an online thrift store. Most of its inventory was bought wholesale, since traditional thrifting was not an option due to the pandemic. Best Thrifts grew really quickly, gaining 500-1000 new followers every month for the first 5 months since opening. The online store was selling approximately 60 garments per month, varying from jeans to slip dresses. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, Best Thrifts closed its operations in early 2021, despite its success.
II. The Problem
The fashion industry has been recognized as one of the most unsustainable industries due to its significant environmental and social impacts. The fast-paced nature of fashion, characterized by overconsumption, high production volumes, and rapid turnover of styles, has led to numerous sustainability challenges.
One major issue is the excessive use of natural resources, particularly water, in textile production. According to the Water Footprint Network, it takes an estimated 2,700 liters of water to produce a single cotton shirt, and 7,000-10,000 liters of water for a pair of jeans (Water Footprint Network, 2011; WWF, 2019). Additionally, the extensive use of chemicals in textile processing and dyeing has led to water pollution, soil degradation, and negative impacts on biodiversity (Global Fashion Agenda, 2019). Furthermore, the fashion industry is associated with unethical labor practices, including low wages, poor working conditions, and exploitation of workers in low-wage countries (Clean Clothes Campaign, 2021).
According to a study conducted by the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI) in 2019, the estimated annual textile waste generated in the Philippines was approximately 2.9 billion pounds (1.3 million metric tons) with a projected annual growth rate of 5%. The study also estimated that only 25% of the total textile waste generated is recycled, while the remaining 75% is either incinerated, disposed of in landfills, or illegally dumped. Consumerism and the fast fashion industry have led to a culture of disposable clothing, where clothes are often of poor quality, made with cheap materials, and discarded after a short period of use. A 2017 survey by YouGov shows that 1 in 8 Filipinos have thrown away clothing after using them just once.
At Best Thrifts, one of their main goals is to answer the question:
“How might we design a sustainable textile recycling and upcycling system that is accessible and affordable for residents of Cebu City, Philippines, to divert textile waste from landfills and promote circularity in the fashion industry?”
III. Solutions and Innovations
Best Thrifts will implement several innovative solutions to address these problems. The start-up plans to establish a thrift store that collects, sorts, and upcycles pre-loved clothing and other sustainably sourced materials, extending their lifespan and reducing textile waste.
Sustainable Materials and Innovation in Textile Recycling
This solution entails the use of sustainably sourced materials, including a “zero waste” approach, to create new garments that are designed for durability and longevity.
The circular economy is a regenerative system in which waste and pollution are minimized, and products and materials are kept in use for as long as possible. By sourcing second-hand clothing, upcycling, and using deadstock and zero-waste fabrics, Best Thrifts is practicing circular economy principles by reducing the demand for new resources, minimizing waste, and extending the lifespan of existing resources. These practices help to create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly fashion industry by closing the loop on textile production and consumption.
These items will be sourced either from the start-up’s donation & consignment program, or suppliers that sell wholesales of second-hand clothing. The pieces that are high quality, in great condition, and still on-trend will be resold as is.
Secondhand pieces that do not meet the standards set to be resold as they are will be upcycled into new garments or accessories. Unwanted textiles such as cotton table cloths, curtains, and the like that are of high quality can also qualify for upcycling and turned into new garments or accessories.
Deadstock fabric, also known as surplus or excess fabric, refers to unused or leftover fabric that has been produced by textile manufacturers but not used in the production of garments or other textile products. Deadstock fabric can occur for various reasons, such as overproduction, canceled orders, or changes in design or color preferences.
Zero Waste Fabric
Through fabric manipulation, Best Thrifts can recycle scraps (including the smallest pieces) to create new sheets of fabric. This ensures that every piece of fabric will be recycled and manufactured into new pieces of garments.
Circular Economy Models
Best Thrifts will adopt a “reduce, reuse, and recycle” approach in their operations to promote conscious consumerism. These circular approaches can potentially extend the lifespan of garments, reduce waste, and promote positive behavioral change in consumption patterns.
Donation and Consignment Program
Best Thrifts will accept donations for most types of textiles and all types of clothing. Consignments will be available if the garments or accessories meet certain criteria.
Loyalty and Rewards Program
This program will give customers the opportunity to create an account with the brand and earn points every time they donate their clothes, textiles, and make any purchases. Additionally, customers who are ready to let go of their Best Thrifts product will receive a discount coupon for donating it back to the company for recycling.
Alterations and Customizations
To further encourage sustainability, Best Thrifts will also offer alteration and upcycling services for customers. The value most people get from shopping secondhand is that they are able to find pieces that are one-of-a-kind; unlike shopping in traditional retail or fast fashion. However, not everything they like in the store is going to fit them. Offering alterations solves this problem by allowing customers to have items tailored to fit them for an extra fee. Additionally, they can also opt to bring in old garments or textiles to be upcycled into their desired designs. Custom orders will also be available, which will be made from our sustainably sourced selection of materials, allowing customers to have unique and personalized sustainable fashion items.
These solutions work in synergy to create sustainable livelihoods by providing employment opportunities, enhancing skills, and promoting ethical labor practices. This contributes to the start-up’s social responsibility, promotion of economic growth with social impact, and the promotion of sustainable practices in the fashion industry.
A circular economy aims to create a more equitable and just society by promoting social and economic opportunities for all individuals, including those from marginalized or disadvantaged backgrounds. By providing employment opportunities and skill development programs, Best Thrifts is contributing to local community development and promoting economic empowerment. By implementing ethical labor practices, the start-up is also promoting social justice and fairness in the fashion industry.
Best Thrifts opportunities to local artisans, craftsmen, and other community members, especially those from marginalized or disadvantaged backgrounds. These employment opportunities can help create stable income sources, promote economic empowerment, and contribute to local community development.
Best Thrifts will provide a training program for sewing lessons, allowing interns to eventually work for the start-up after completing the training. This program aims to empower individuals and promote skill development in the local community. The training program will be free for applicants who meet certain criteria. As of current, Best Thrifts has 3 seamstresses.
Ethical Labor Practices
This solution emphasizes the importance of promoting ethical labor practices, including fair wages, safe working conditions, and workers’ rights. This involves implementing fair trade practices, ensuring compliance with labor laws, promoting gender equality, and providing a safe and inclusive work environment.
IV. Impact and Sustainability
Best Thrifts aligns its business practices with at least five of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, these being:
SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
By providing job opportunities to Filipinos, especially local artisans, and promoting decent work and economic growth in the communities they operate in.
SDG 9: Industry Innovation and Infrastructure
Best Thrifts’ zero waste approach, up-cycling and recycling methods promote innovation in the fashion industry, while also reducing the need for new resources and infrastructure.
SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
Through their circular economy models that promote conscious consumerism and commitment to fair trade practices and ethical working conditions.
SDG 13: Climate Action
By creating new garments through reusing existing resources and reducing textile waste.
SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals
Through collaborations with local organizations, NGOs, and government agencies, as well as local artisans and Filipino stakeholders, to promote sustainable practices in the fashion industry, create a positive impact on society and the environment, and achieve the SDGs.
As a social enterprise, impact and success can be measured through the following key performance indicators (KPI’s) that align with the organization’s goals:
Amount of Sustainably Produced Garments
Sales and Revenue
Number of partnerships or collaborations established
Best Thrifts’ innovative and sustainable approach to addressing the textile waste problem, promoting circularity in the fashion industry, and creating job opportunities for Filipinos demonstrates the potential of social entrepreneurship to create positive impact. By adopting principles of social innovation, following fair trade practices, and measuring their impact, Best Thrifts exemplifies the role of social ventures in driving positive change for people and the planet. However, continued efforts and collaborations with stakeholders are crucial for the long-term sustainability and success of Best Thrifts’ social entrepreneurial model.
Overall, the success of this start-up hinges on several key factors, including a clear mission, strong business operations, customer loyalty, collaboration and partnerships, and effective impact measurement and communication. By strategically addressing these factors, Best Thrifts has the strong potential to create positive social and environmental change while building a sustainable and successful business in the fashion industry.
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