When you buy a new sweater, do you try to get rid of something old in your closet to make room for it? What if you got a little cash reward each time you did this? That’s the idea behind clothing startup Aeon Row.
Launched in July, the company offers a line of no-nonsense women’s clothes ― and for every item purchased, it encourages customers to send back an old piece (no matter where it came from) to be recycled and turned into something new. There is no charge for donating an old garment and, in exchange, the customer gets a 15 percent discount on their next purchase.
Aeon Row makes all its products out of 95 to 100 percent recycled material.
Its goal is to get people involved in the process of recycling, founder Griffin Vanze told The Huffington Post ― both to raise awareness about the environmental cost of clothing waste, and to help people keep their closets from overflowing.
“We want to encourage customers to buy clothing when their old clothing runs out, rather than continuing to consume clothing based on urges,” Vanze said. “Waste is a huge problem. And a big part of that comes from fast-fashion companies pushing more products on us.”
The average American throws out 70 pounds of clothing a year. Only 15 percent of that waste is recycled; the rest ends up in landfills, where it decomposes, releasing greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
“Customers see the problems we have with the environment,” Vanze said. “They want solutions they can use to make a difference. We want to reward them for doing the right thing.”
The company buys its recycled yarn from textile recycling company Recovertex, and then knits the yarn into new fabric to make its clothing.
So far, around 40 percent of Aeon Row’s customers have sent back old clothes in exchange for the 15 percent discount. If the item sent in is made from an easy-to-recycle- fabric, like a cotton T-shirt, Aeon Row sends it to Recovertex to turn it into new fabric. Clothing that can’t be easily recycled, such as denim, is sent to other recycling partners to be converted into insulation or car seat cushioning.
But what if people send in old clothes that are still in pristine, wearable condition? Aeon Row doesn’t recycle that but hands it over to Donii, a Boston-based group that distributes donated items to local charities serving people in need.
Aeon Row sells only a handful of items on its website: one T-shirt, one dress and one camisole ― each in two colors ― as well as a black skirt. The selection is limited partly because the company is so young and is trying out new designs. But mostly it’s because Aeon Row wants to encourage people to buy fewer things and, instead, repurpose a handful of basic items.
“There’s an emotional and financial waste happening that’s just as harmful [as the environmental waste],” Vanze said. “We want people to break free from that vampiric cycle. Style should be about expressing yourself, not the latest look.”
Aeon Row joins other companies that are trying to “close the loop.” These organizations try to make new clothes out of existing, recycled or used materials. For instance, retail behemoth H&M has an in-store collection program that lets customers bring in clothes to be recycled, and sportswear giant Nike says 71 percent of its footwear contains materials made from waste from its manufacturing process.
But Aeon Row may be facing an uphill battle against the massive clothing companies that constantly churn out cheaply made items in hip styles at low prices. Can it actually make a dent in the environmental impact of our shopping habits?
At the very least, Aeon Row is helping raise awareness of these issues, according to Lynda Grose, associate professor at the California College of the Arts.
“The more companies like Aeon Row take up these initiatives,” Grose told HuffPost, “the more the conversation is brought into mainstream consciousness and starts to shift our values.”