This year pushed the fashion industry to finally get serious about sustainability. Brands, designers, and corporations are signing ambitious pledges, investing in circular solutions, and endorsing secondhand and resale in a big way. The inevitable side effect of all that interest, of course, is that words like sustainable, organic, and eco are suddenly everywhere, to the point where they’ve lost their meaning. The real damage is to the consumer: A retailer might label a 100% organic cotton sweater as “sustainable,” but one doesn’t necessarily equal the other. Organic cotton still requires massive amounts of water to grow, for starters. That retailer probably isn’t telling you how many planes that sweater traveled on, either, or how the workers were treated in the factory, or what kinds of farming practices were used on the cotton fields.
Real sustainability—the kind that will actually move the needle—is a lot more complicated. It’s a realization French designer Thomas Poli came to after a decade working for New York and Paris fashion labels, where he found most people are fairly “clueless” about their supply chains. “I was always amazed that no one cared where things were coming from,” he says. “Every year, 150 million trees are logged just to make viscose, but we think viscose is good because it’s natural. We’re still destroying the planet,” he adds. “The deforestation involved in cotton farming is insane, too—in 15 years, we will have transformed 45% more wild space into farmable space, just for cotton fields.”
Poli’s solution was to start a brand of his own with a few friends in New York, one that would take its full impact into account—starting with materials that already exist. Launching today, Paradis Perdus (French for “lost paradise”) is a knitwear label made entirely of recycled materials, namely cashmere, wool, and cotton. Poli and his team went through entire warehouses of old cashmere sweaters to find the right colors and textures, then had them taken apart and re-spun into new yarns. The results are as luxe as any brand-new knits you’d find, without the unintended question marks over their supply chain. “What’s amazing is there are already so many garments out there,” Poli points out. “We’re using what we have, we’re regenerating it, we’re transforming it… There’s more than enough to produce new garments for the next decade using just what we have today.”
More than 75% of fashion’s carbon footprint is in textile production, so by only using existing fibers, Paradis Perdus has already reduced its impact dramatically. The sweaters also come with a long list of certifications, like the Global Recycled Standard, which verifies a garment’s recycled content, and REMOkey, which calculates a brand’s savings on carbon emissions, water, and energy. Customers can access a full run-down of Paradis Perdus’s certifications via a QR code on their sweater’s garment tag. For the impacts the brand can’t avoid—i.e., spinning the cashmere into new yarns, shipping the garments to customers—they’ve partnered with 1% For the Planet and Carbonfund.org to offset those emissions, namely through reforestation efforts and replacing oil stoves with solar panels in Uganda.