“Closed loop,” the new hot phrase in the sustainable fashion space, puts designers at the forefront. The concept speaks to the industry’s unique ability to reuse, recycle, and repair, in hopes of completely cutting out waste. Nothing new goes into the system, and nothing old comes out. The old-school model of designing a piece and then searching for the fabrics to use leads to enormous amounts of waste and reversing this model allows designers to create from what they already have access to. Katherine Jacobson, designer and founder of the sustainable womenswear line Taiyo, was quick to learn this as she began working with deadstock materials. “Most companies cut what they need and the rest is trash,” she said of the wasteful model that she’s re-engineered. “I source the fabric first, and from there I’m able to see and pattern it with little to no waste.”
Jacobson developed her passion for sustainability while studying at Pratt Institute, but it was when she took a step into the real world that she witnessed firsthand the true inefficiency of the industry. After graduating in 2018, she was sought out by a fast fashion company who was hiring for a design role. Knowing it went against many of her values, but sensing the importance of gaining access to what happens behind the scenes, she hesitantly agreed to an interview. During which, the company didn’t mention sustainability or ethical practices, making it a very easy job offer to turn down. “The whole business model didn’t make any sense. There’s no way a fast fashion brand can be sustainable at the scale and price point they’re producing at,” she quickly learned.
From there, Katherine went on to launch Taiyo, the antithesis of fast fashion. Utilizing only deadstock and recycled materials, the brand drops one look at a time and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. The exclusive nature of Taiyo’s products speaks to the brand’s focus on slow and sustainable fashion. By creating singular drops, Jacobson is “focusing more on making that piece your favorite, the one you love so much you wear over and over again.”
The world of fast fashion, by definition, doesn’t want you to wear the same thing forever. It is designed to ensure that you continuously buy more. But at what cost? Aside from the thousands of pounds wasted each fashion season, another aspect of the supply chain that’s being exploited is the labor itself. For Taiyo, the second layer of their commitment to sustainability is how they treat their employees. “We pay our workers not only fairly, but well. Someone that’s sewing your garments is just as important as someone like me who is designing it,” Katherine said of her views on “fair wages,” a living wage that compensates workers for time and energy spent.
It’s no secret that the fast fashion formula is to scale to such an extreme that retail prices are kept seductively low, keeping the consumer on such a shopping high that we remain ignorant to the fact that the people who make our clothing are not paid a living wage. This has been an area of contention for Katherine, and many other sustainable designers, who have taken it upon themselves to inform their customers about why their products cost more than what they’ll find at their nearest fast fashion store. “Sometimes customers look at the prices and ask why it’s ‘expensive’,” Jacobson explained. “There’s an educational aspect we’re trying to integrate into the brand.”
As customers start understanding why it’s crucial to support the sustainable fashion movement and the designers leading the way, they will begin to see the positive impact fashion can have if done correctly. “Ten years from now, the future of fashion will be closed loops systems and integrating materials that are climate positive,” Katherine said of the potential she sees on the horizon. “It’s not even a dream anymore. We’re already seeing people making huge strides in this space,” she added.
For Katherine, working with deadstock material is a stepping stone to integrating a closed loop system and becoming a climate positive brand. “There’s always going to be a need for utilizing what’s leftover, and I’m super happy to be sourcing that for now, but I want to go even further,” she exclaimed.