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The Future of Sustainable Streetwear

From a general perspective, streetwear is known as casual urban clothes that are fashionable and edgy. But that barely scratches the surface of a style, rooted in sub-cultures like skate, hip-hop, and sneakers, that has become a 185 billion-dollar industry. In essence, the style itself rests entirely on the spirit of these countercultures. Because when it comes to streetwear, clothing basics are the foundation—a simple t-shirt, a plain crewneck, hoodie, beanie, cap, or even socks. Yet the blank-canvas basics that give life to artist designs and brand merch often succumb to fast-fashion productions that scar the planet. All too often, bulk prices for basic clothing items and fast turnaround times trump eco-friendly materials and sustainable practices. But times are changing, and so are the consumers of this cultivated space of fashion.

At the forefront of that change is Version Tomorrow, a sustainable blanks company offering a new vision of luxury and raising the bar for environmentally friendly streetwear. What began as an internal project for New York fashion brand Public School quickly took on a life of its own when co-founders Maxwell Osborne and Alan Mak realized the landscape of sustainability in streetwear. “Awareness is pretty low and action is even lower,” Mak says. “What we are seeing for the most part is that environmental responsibility is not a priority, and the issue is exacerbated by frequent product drops of goods made from unsustainable materials.” Ahead, the pair shares more and gives their insight for true change in the future.

The Basics of Basics

Blanks, the industry term referring to prefabricated garments like t-shirts, are most frequently used in streetwear. “They allow the brands to reduce their risk and upfront costs, which in turn helps them keep next to no inventory and not have to worry about item minimums,” the pair states. “And despite beginning as startups, many of today’s most popular brands continue to use blanks for their merch for these same reasons.” But with no surprise, the increased production comes at a steep environmental cost.

By some estimates, there are over two billion t-shirts being made every year. With fewer than 1 percent of those made with organic cotton, and even less with recycled cotton, the impact is clear to see. “What this means is that over 99 percent of t-shirts are made with either GMO conventional cotton, fabrics that are plastic-based synthetics, or from blends containing plastic. These kinds of garments bring a host of environmental problems which pollute waterways and oceans, while also not being biodegradable nor easily recycled. Since there isn’t a natural path of decomposition, they more often than not end up in landfills or being incinerated, increasing the global waste and pollution problem we’re currently facing.”

sustainable streetwear

How Eco-conscious Blanks Can Help

It’s those alarming statistics that put Osborne, Mak, and Version Tomorrow in gear. While analyzing their own usage of blanks, the pair kicked off a multi-year-long research-and-development process to figure out how to build a better blank. “The key for us was our materials innovation and our lower-impact supply chain that allowed us to create our unique RECYCLED+ORGANIC cotton blend, made from
GRS-certified recycled cotton and OCS-certified organic cotton. Not only does this decrease water usage, but it produces fewer than half the greenhouse emissions as conventional cotton.

“With Version Tomorrow’s in-stock blanks program, we’ve created a turnkey way for brands and creators of all kinds to be able to make sustainable merch without having to do any of the heavy research and development. With it, they can swiftly do a one-for-one switch from using conventionally made or synthetic garments to ones that are far more environmentally responsible, made from our blend of RECYCLED+ORGANIC cotton. As blank providers
and creatives, we believe that quality needn’t be sacrificed in order for the product to be more environmentally responsible.

“We were purposeful in our fabrication being monofiber and containing only cotton. At their end of life, Version Tomorrow’s garments can be mechanically recycled using existing methods and are also biodegradable, should recycling not be an option.”

sustainable streetwear

Photos: Getty

sustainable streetwear

The Future of Sustainable Streetwear

Today, Version Tomorrow has expanded its reach and mission beyond their in-stock program to offer their production services and materials to any brand or creator. With a full custom production platform, they have partnered with a number of well-known streetwear brands, such as
Futurevvorld and Kith, to move the needle of environmental responsibility within the community.

Exclusivity and hype will always be the driving force in streetwear. But in the constant chase of highly anticipated drops, reducing consumption and waste does not have to be an afterthought. Streetwear thrives on a clan-like understanding of a brand’s creativity and cultural impact. So by partnering with streetwear pioneers, Version Tomorrow is bridging the gap in the conversation around sustainability in this subcultural style.

“Our ask is that creators consider the end of life for their garments before they produce their merch. In our view, the only way this works is starting at the raw materials phase and having a product that is designed for circularity.” With that in mind, we can create a new vision of luxury and redefine the terms of streetwear.

Top photo: Getty

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