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Sustainability, Upcycling, & RISA

WHAT IS SUSTAINABILITY?


Over the past few years, sustainability has become a hot topic, however, the concept is broader than expected. There are many complex issues in the fashion industry that make sustainability challenging to grapple with and implement. The UN succinctly defines sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In any business, sustainability combines the environmental, social, and economic together. For the fashion industry, this would mean taking a long-term approach within every aspect of the supply chain, from design to end-of-life, so that it creates 'good' and avoids harm to people, biodiversity, and the planet. Companies would need to look at the life cycle of a product to evaluate the impact that a garment has. The life cycle refers to the journey of a product from the extraction of raw fabric to the point of its disposal. This incorporates every aspect from preproduction and production (all impact associated with the acquisition of raw materials and the product manufacturing processes), distribution (transport and retail activities), use (consumer use like washing, drying, and ironing), to the final stage, disposal (landfill, incineration, reuse, recycling). In this way, sustainability is highly complex and difficult to adhere to. It is all about taking small steps to be better and move towards being more conscious and purposeful.

Oftentimes, sustainability is interchanged with ethical, conscious, and responsible fashion. All are meant to seemingly express a similar idea of lessening fashion's impact on people and the environment, along with slowing down consumption. This can be confusing and misleading, especially with how often this vocabulary is being used and how difficult it is to measure intentionality.


Ethical fashion is “human-centered: its critical lens assesses how every process in the supply chain impacts garment workers.” This means that ethical fashion is what’s morally right or acceptable, guided through questions like: are workers being paid a living wage? Are they of legal age? Is your business aiding or harming workers’ livelihoods? This is important to know from companies because 1 in every 6 people work in the global fashion industry, making it the most labor-dependent industry; and 97% of our clothing is outsourced to developing countries, allowing for cheaper clothing. With that said, a lot of clothing is being unethically made and disregards the human behind the work. For more information, check out Fashion Revolution’s campaign #WhoMadeMyClothes


Conscious fashion is also often used interchangeably with sustainability, ethical, or green fashion, creating an exhaustive list of words that become synonymous. This obscures the meaning and importance of the words, rendering them vague, and allowing companies to greenwash more easily. It is, therefore, important to distinguish the language that is being used and ask why the company is using it. To be conscious in the fashion industry is to educate yourself on ways to slow down your consumption habits and aim for more sustainable alternatives like second-hand, upcycling, and researching companies that are transparent about their production processes and the materials they use.

WHY IS SUSTAINABILITY IMPORTANT?


Clothing has an immense impact on our everyday life— we use it to express our personal identity and what we want to communicate about ourselves to the world, but it also has a huge negative effect. Our shopping habits have a huge impact on the world and on influencing others. The U.S. throws away up to 11.3 million tons of textile waste each year—around 2,150 pieces of clothing each second. This allows for a wasteful mindset and detrimental ways of consumption affecting our planet and reducing the importance of clothing. If we treat clothes as disposable and replaceable we will continue to buy endless amounts of clothing that pile up in our closets and eventually in landfills. Realistically, the only sustainable way of shopping is to reuse or stop buying altogether. Most people have enough clothes in their closets that they don't need to be buying more, and there are multiple alternatives to being more sustainable like doing clothing swaps with your friends, buying locally or secondhand, repairing, or buying custom-made.


Keeping this in mind, RISA is one of the closest ways to shop sustainably since it is using textiles that would normally be thrown away and upcycling them into new, high-quality garments that last.

WHAT IS UPCYCLING?


Upcycling, “also known as creative reuse, is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality and environmental value.” This is what inspired RISA’s name: RIUSA in Italian means to reuse. Oftentimes upcycling gets confused with recycling, however, upcycling is using an item that you would normally recycle and instead repurpose—for example, making a bag out of old jeans, turning a shirt into a skirt, or even making pants shorts. Recycling, instead, “is often readjusted, altered, melted, and broken down.” This is a more intensive process because you have to break down materials into their raw forms to create something completely different, which requires more energy and consideration for the environment. With upcycling, the essence and some original characteristics are still there. RISA upcycles pre-consumer waste, which means material that has never been used that would normally be thrown away—for example, virgin materials, leftover scraps, or excess fabric that never reached the consumer. Inversely, post-consumer means discarded textiles that have already been used, which can be a combination of waste that consumers throw away like vintage, worn out, or “out-of-fashion” clothes. In both these processes, waste is saved from ending up in a landfill.

RISA uses pre-consumer textiles and is also zero-waste, meaning all the fabric is made into a new garment, and no scraps are discarded. Zero-waste is “about utilizing existing materials to their full capacity and not producing textile or other material waste.” This can be achieved through design and production by using the most out of fabric when making and using a pattern, or rescuing excess fabric from other pieces for smaller accessories like bags. Since RISA is working with many different artisans, we are able to collaborate and design with them to make the garments zero-waste and as versatile as possible. Nothing at RISA is thrown away, all is carefully considered for a new garment and deliberately crafted to be waste-free, long-lasting, and circular.


WHY IS ARTISANSHIP SUSTAINABLE?


To understand the RISA community better we must understand the people behind the clothes and how artisanship is another model closer to sustainability. Clothing made by artisans moves away from mass-production methods of making clothing that promote fast fashion. Instead, artisans promote slow, seasonless, fashion. “Slow fashion is a response to fast fashion, and artisanal craft is slowing down fast fashion,” making it a vital characteristic of RISA. An artisan is a skilled laborer who works using traditional techniques, that are often passed down through generations and rooted in culture and history. These methods came before the industrial revolution when machines became the dominant method of producing clothing. RISA wants to return to the artistic techniques that make clothing more purposeful and long-lasting. When clothes are made by hand they are more personal and one-of-a-kind.

In addition, RISA wants to protect this craft and recognize the immense skill, hard work, time, and dedication that the artisan puts into it. This adds more meaning to our clothing and hopefully changes people's relationship with clothes—to own a piece made artisanally is to value craftsmanship and to learn that clothes are not mere commodities that can be easily disposed of and replaced. RISA is made with love and meant to be cared for with love. With this framework, RISA also wants the work of a designer to become more collaborative. In factories, a designer usually explains very specifically what they want. RISA, instead, works with the artisans, respects, and values their knowledge, expecting the process to become unique and a team effort.


RISA goes back to the roots and returns to a bulletproof method of clothes-making where the people making our clothes are valued, along with the clothes themselves.


To shop RISA VENEZIA is to shop with intention, to promote Italian craftsmanship, to be circular, and to care.


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