by Levi Gogerla

Vintage, renewed, and recycled clothing for the cool kids – Cowabunga Clothing Feature

Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound. Greenwashing is considered an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly.

Upcycling: reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.

Due to the rise of fast fashion and poor quality garments, over 10 million tons of textiles are thrown out each year. People are constantly buying and discarding clothes, and 85 percent of clothes are thrown out. It’s Cowabunga Clothing’s mission to promote recycling in clothing through finding hidden gem vintage pieces that can be re-loved, or renewing clothes to make something new and unique.

“When I went through university it was always my plan to own a clothing store.” Julia Englert says.  “I went into business, majoring in supply chain management, and I learned a lot about how things cross from the business side of things to products in the customer’s hands and beyond. It opened my eyes to environmental effects and waste – I like funk and unique clothes; Cowabunga started as a bit of a passion project recycling clothes, making things a little unique, then I started the business. Three years ago, I launched the site.” 

On renewing clothing: If you’re looking for a way to extend your wardrobes lifestyle cropping or hemming is a great place to start the ability to create ‘raw edges for a grungier look. Cowabunga Clothing has used a lettuce hem to funk up this piece.

Embroidery: can cover stains or re-invent a piece of clothing (hand stitching) –

Patches: covers small stains or to detail  

Painting: Cowabunga emphasis on fabric paint    

The Keep Times and Cowabunga Clothing are against the fast fashion trillion dollar industry and their 500 000 tons (that’s half a million) of microplastics being dumped into the water each year. That amounts to three million barrels of oil a day.  It’s estimated the amount of new clothes bought by one family in a year gives off the same amount of emissions as driving a car for 6000 miles, not to mention the water required would fill 1000 bathtubs.

“Having a full ecosystem and circular systems in mind is important for sustainability. One thing people don’t often consider is the afterlife of a piece. If your fridge breaks, for example, there are ways to properly dispose of and recycle the product, and many people don’t have anything set in place for their fashion waste.” Englert says.

You can get more wear out of your clothes and help save the environment along the way by extending your garments’ lives by less than a year; it’s cheap and makes a big difference. All it takes is ingenuity and a little creativity to renew clothing.  Every piece Englert makes, she does something a little different. Take the ‘villa top’ (pictured above), a black short top with the lettuce hem. It had huge shoulder pads and really skinny arms, a relic of some long-distant time, fairly outdated. By removing the shoulders, cropping the bottom and cutting the sleeves into a t-shirt, Cowabunga Clothing ‘up-cycles’ it to be more appealing to the masses

Englert promotes thrift and buying renewed. Sarah Jenson, proprietor of Blenderz Garment Recyclers – an Edmonton initiative working with thrift stores to help them avoid landfill waste – has been a massive inspiration to Englert, and is a great way to find clothes sustainably. Charity shops save over 300 000 tons of old clothing from hitting landfills each year. 

“The most fashionable thing you can do is be yourself. My collection is a little wild and bright, but I like colour and things a bit wacky. If you’re wearing something that’s unique, sustainable and makes you feel good, that’s the best thing ever.” Englert says.

Generally, legacy brands produce huge amounts of clothing in a few seasonal releases, spending months designing lines, buying and treating fabrics, manufacturing in bulk, then distribution. It’s a process that takes nearly two years.

With the rise of fast fashion, these companies have begun to encourage quick response manufacturing throughout the industry. They knock off designers’ goods quicker in response to trends and popularity. Keeping low-quality raw material on hand for streamlined goods to market the dynamic assortment and emphasis selling new shit every day has created a toxic environment with more pollutant emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. 

It’s important to consider the production of the fabric and textiles themselves; synthetic fabrics amount to the equivalent to 342 million barrels of oil, fabric such as viscose (33% of which come from ancient/ threatened forested regions), are shockingly wasteful (70% is dumped or incinerated).

The average American throws away 80lbs of clothes per year. Cowabunga Clothing promotes re-loving and reusing, and it’s a cornerstone of their brand. Company’s try to Greenwash their image applying to the socially conscious as they shell out 80 billion products every year; by 2050, global clothing sales are expected to triple. Supporting local independent sustainable stores like Cowabunga Clothing is an excellent rebuff against fast fashion’s relentless consumerism.

The bottom line is that the apparel industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. They’re creating a product people don’t need by stimulating demand. It’s an unsustainable model as they race to the bottom in terms of both price and quality, as they cut corners to increase profits, constantly churning out more to consume. 

No one’s going to change the world by themselves, but if everyone adopts small changes it will have an impact on the planet. Things that have already been made can continue to be enjoyed. The carbon footprint in the textile industry is colossal, but 80 percent of it is post-purchase. Refurbishing, upcycling, and mending – giving items a new lease of life like Cowabunga Clothing is doing, and it’s a great way to push back against the corporate clothing conglomerate.

Greenwashing companies have weaponized sustainability, and it’s a marketing tool they use to push products. There are resources individuals can use to check high fashions footprint such as goodonyou” and a rise in the production of more eco-friendly materials such as recycled/organic cotton, hemp, linen, tencel, lyocell, and econyl can help eliminate waste by-product, but more steps need to be taken before things spiral closer towards extreme environmental devastation. Specific measures to back sustainable practice must be followed up the corporate fashion ladders, including diversity and inclusion.  Sustainability is intersectional, and it is often the minority groups living in poor conditions that are impacted most by pollution and terrible labour conditions manufacturing textile. 

Terms like conscious and ecologically grown are hard to fact check as well as confusing to the consumer, but according to the non-profit Textile Exchange – in 2016 H&M was the second largest user of organic cotton in the world, Zara was fourth – one can see the labels don’t always describe the whole ecologically impact of the garment, brands are happy to tout an ecologically driven and sustainable practice all the while their adherence to fast fashion principles skyrocket global greenhouse emissions. 

“They’re applying a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound; these brands are still encouraging people to buy too much clothing. It’ll end up where it shouldn’t be the garbage ultimately.  It’s trendy to like sustainable fashion, but I hope it keeps building and people get into it, I wish people would focus more on being an individual, and we could push the cool factor into these kinds of sustainable practices that aren’t Big Company publicity stunts.” Englert says.

Even for brands who know their supply chain, making eco-friendly garments can be an arduous affair. A company might say the dying, for example, in all their garments may be done in a more sustainable way, but the cotton harvesting perhaps may not be. These fashion industry elites have branded themselves eco-conscious through various degrees of greenwashing. At the end of the day, too much clothing is being produced and consumed in a rare industry where consumers can decide if they need the product in the first place. We have become programmed to attach feelings to the things we buy; people need to start enjoying what they already have. As nations adopt more green initiatives to combat the climate crisis, it’s vital not to let the fast fashion goon squad f*ck up the town – beep beep.

You can find Cowabunga Clothing – at the Old Strathcona Antique Mall, in the local artisan section.