When we think of pollution, we typically picture oil pollution and smog from factories and coal mines, but the fast fashion industry of the world is often neglected. One of the most polluting sectors in the world is the textile and apparel sector, mostly due to its enormous production volume. A mountain of clothes is thrown out every year as a result of fast fashion, which has a significant adverse impact on the environment. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, fashion contributes up to 10% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, which is more than international travel and shipping put together (Rachael Dottle and Jackie Gu, 2022). By 2030, Global Emissions from the Textile Industry are expected to rise by 50%.
Because so many garments are now made of nylon or polyester, which are both strong and affordable materials, clothing has become a major source of microplastics. Microfilaments are lost throughout each wash and dry cycle and travel via our sewage systems only to end up in our rivers. Textiles account for around 10% of the microplastics that are released into the ocean each year. An estimated 500,000 tonnes of these harmful toxins enter the ocean annually. Landfills in the US alone received 2.6 million tonnes of returned clothing in 2020. (Briffa, 2019). According to a Bloomberg article, the majority of clothing produced worldwide is comprised of polyester, a synthetic material mostly sourced from petroleum. After hundreds of years, it has replaced cotton as the primary textile fibre in the twenty-first century. From $106 billion in 2022 to $174.7 billion in 2032, the global market for polyester yarn is anticipated to increase. In 2015, 282 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide were released during the manufacture of polyester for clothes, which is three times more than cotton. (Rachael Dottle and Jackie Gu, 2022).
Many apparel companies have shifted to sustainable production means which use eco-friendly techniques. The greatest sustainable and organic clothing is produced by these manufacturers using low-impact colours, recycled natural materials, and organic cotton. In the last ten years, fashion brands have placed a lot of emphasis on sustainability.
The "Conscious Exclusive" collection from H&M has apparel manufactured from eco-friendly materials like Tencel, organic cotton, recycled polyester, silk, and wool. It includes Stella McCartney-designed items for Adidas' Primeknit line and is the first of its type since it is created entirely of 100% recyclable PET plastic bottles that were collected from beaches all around the world! (Annabel Love, 2021). According to a press release from the fashion brand mango, 79% of their product line now includes clothing with "sustainable elements." By 2022, it is intended for the share to be 100%. One of Mango's additional goals is that "by 2025, 100% of its cotton clothes will be sustainable.” (Triana Alonso, 2021)
Even though the words "recycling" and "upcycling" are sometimes used interchangeably, they are fundamentally different. While upcycling is a type of conventional recycling that allows goods to be repurposed after they have supposedly reached the end of their useful lives, while recycling entails the destruction of garbage to the level of raw material in order to generate something new. Upcycling has the advantage of having a lower environmental effect than recycling, since the process of recycling, consumes a lot of energy to turn an item into basic materials.
The concept of upcycling is not new, two German Johannes Hartkemeyer and Belgian Gunter Pauli first used the term "upcycling" in the late 1990s. For years, people have been upcycling discarded objects to make fashion accessories, home goods, household products, and even jewellery. The greatest benefit of upcycling garbage is that absolutely anything can be recycled, from the convenience of your own home.
But, there is a thin line between what is permitted to be upcycled and what can become the target of trademark or copyright infringement complaints. Whether a business is permitted to upcycle products freely depends on the original product's composition and any modifications made to it. A business that sells upcycled products might land in legal trouble if a rigorous analysis is not done owing to the fact that recycled goods frequently bear the brand name of the company.
For example, an upcycled T-shirt had the Adidas trademark or logo on it, and another business had put its own logo, text, or slogan on the shirt. Addidas may claim that the upcycled product gave the wrong appearance of affiliation, association, sponsorship, or approval or that customers would assume the upcycled version was made by Addidas. If the original brand is a popular one like Addidas, a claim asserting trademark dilution by blurring or tarnishment may also be valid.
Case law on upcycled products is fairly sparse. Chanel has filed a lawsuit against Shiver + Duke for using genuine Chanel buttons in costume jewellery. Similar to this, Rolex sued Californienne for selling customised pre-owned Rolex watches, but the matter was resolved before a ruling was made. Nike previously filed a lawsuit against MSCHF for "upcycling" Nike sneakers into "Satan shoes," but that case was resolved before a judge could rule.
According to Vogue, the biggest trend of spring/summer 2021 was upcycling, with brands like Balenciaga, Marni and Coach all exploring how they can reuse materials. In contrast, Miu Miu introduced a new Upcycled collection, an exclusive capsule of 80 one-of-a-kind dresses made from old items that had been meticulously selected from vintage shops and marketplaces throughout the world. In order to reduce their environmental impact, brands from Patagonia to brands like Stella McCartney to Louis Vuitton are upcycling their own wares and archival materials.
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2. Rachael Dottle and Jackie Gu. (2022, February 23). Bloomberg. Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2022-fashion-industry-environmental-impact/#xj4y7vzkg
3. Briffa. (2019, April 9). The good, the bad and the infringement risks associated with upcycling branded goods. Briffa Legal. https://www.briffa.com/blog/the-good-the-bad-and-the-infringement-risks-associated-with-upcycling-branded-goods/
4. Annabel Love. (2021, October 23). 26 recycled clothing brands making the world better in 2022. Nori Press. https://nori.co/a/blog/recycled-clothing-brands-making-the-world-better-in-2021
5. Triana Alonso. (2021, April 6). Garments labelled as “sustainable” account for 79% of Mango’s range. Fashion Network. https://ww.fashionnetwork.com/news/Garments-labelled-as-sustainable-account-for-79-of-mango-s-range,1292540.html
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7. Karen Kreider Gaunt. (2022, June 7). Repurposed products and copyright Infringemen. Best Lawyers® - Purely Peer Review™ | Best Lawyers. https://www.bestlawyers.com/article/repurposed-products-copyright-infringement/4546
8. Upcycled goods: How fashion and apparel brands can promote sustainability while protecting brand value. (n.d.). JD Supra. https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/upcycled-goods-how-fashion-and-apparel-3123141/
9. Nast, C. (2020, November 23). Upcycling is the biggest trend in fashion right now. British Vogue. https://www.vogue.co.uk/fashion/article/upcycling-trend-ss21
10. TFL. (2022, November 23). Louis Vuitton settles trademark suit amid rise in Upcycling cases. The Fashion Law. https://www.thefashionlaw.com/louis-vuitton-sandra-ling-settle-trademark-suit-amid-rise-in-upcycling-cases/