While the runway models strut their stuff at Paris Fashion Week today, the New York scene is decidedly more down-to-earth and eco-conscious. At the second annual ReFashion Week NYC, New Yorkers can quench their thirst for thrift with panel discussions, wardrobe styling sessions, and clothing swap workshops.
Hosted by donateNYC and the Foundation for New York’s Strongest, the goal of ReFashion Week is to celebrate sustainable fashion and raise awareness for textile waste across the city. According to the event’s website, the average NYC household throws away 120 pounds of textile a year, leading to annual waste that matches nearly 900 Statues of Liberty and the entire height of the Empire State Building.
With that in mind, ReFashion Week NYC invites talented stylists from various backgrounds to show that outfits put together using items from places like Goodwill, Big Reuse, Cauz for Paws, and Housing Works can rival the looks in Vogue. Each stylist is assigned two second-hand stores to piece together looks and compete in the final refashion show on Friday.
“For me, it’s more of taking something that’s been used and reliving the story,” said Ashley Campbell, a Brooklyn-based thrift stylist.
For Campbell, thrift shopping has always been a way of life. “I could just touch and feel a piece of fabric and feel the energy of clothing,” she said. She treasures the memory of going to yard sales and vintage shops with her grandma as a kid in South Carolina. Be it a brown-and-orange patterned crop jacket with enamel buttons they found together, or a bluish purple carpet-textured ankle-length sweater she found at the Salvation Army, she can tell the stories behind each of them.
The founder of Re Birth Style, which offers personalized styling experiences via Airbnb, Campbell loves taking women thrift shopping. She follows a simple routine: she takes her client to her favorite Salvation Army (she wouldn’t reveal the exact location), they each get a bag and go wild in the store, then reconvene and compare the pieces they each picked out for the client. According to Campbell, her clients, most of whom above 40 with established careers, view the experience as a chance to figure out what they are really passionate about in life. “It’s not just shopping,” she said. “I like creating a story with clothes and imagining the women in it.”
Sustainable fashion is far from a new phenomenon. Having started in the 1990s partially due to the increase of mass manufacturing of clothing, it originally took shape as awareness of the environmental impacts on the fashion industry increased. However, due to limited knowledge of sustainability and the high cost of production, sustainable fashion remains largely an industry buzzword.
Allison Duncil, a sustainable fashion advocate and stylist, sees refashion as a lifestyle and a creative approach to fashion. Having worked for Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, and Victoria’s Secret, she combined her passion for fashion and regard for the environment in becoming a vintage stylist and a member at the NYC Fair Trade Coalition. Duncil shatters the stereotype of sustainable fashion as unfashionable and unattractive by posting her stylish looks pulled from shops like Awoke Vintage and Beacon’s Closet and writing about sustainable brands. “I enjoy looking for stuff in a thrift store and the thrill of finding something cool,” she said.
During ReFashion Week, besides competing at the final refashion show, Duncil also attends events and helps spread the word for the Make Manhattan Fair campaign. “New York is not entirely fair trade yet. But if it’s gonna happen in a place, it’s gonna be in New York.”
With the momentum that ReFashion Week has built, participants are pumped to see the reactions from the local community and the movements it may set forth. Svitlana Hrabovsky, a Ukranian-born, New York-raised stylist, is getting ready for the ReFashion Show. She believes that New York harbors a lot of originality, but people have been hiding it by chasing after the standard style. Her words echo the phenomenon of “fast fashion,” a culprit in the fashion industry resulting from the overdemand and oversupply of clothing to drive consumers’ desire for new designs. “New York is trendy but not unique. It’s a bit frustrating.” Thrift shopping, she said, is a great way to bring out the uniqueness in New Yorkers.
Hrabovsky also had her concerns. She wondered whether people really care about the environment when it comes to fashion. “People don’t even know how to properly recycle here.” She worried that the popular response to sustainable fashion and ReFashion Week may be just a passing trend. “But any step is an important step,” she said. “The world does follow what New York does. It will get picked up elsewhere.”
The ReFashion Week goes from February 22 to 28. Event dates and locations can be found on the website.
Correction, March 9: The original version of this post was revised because it misidentified Ashley Campbell’s home state.