Climate Refugees ‘Reverse Climate Change’ With New Zero-Waste Jackets

Climate refugees — earning four times the local hourly wage in Bangladesh — are behind this new zero-waste jacket.

Calling women the “unsung heroes” behind the global fashion industry, Shelly Xu, founder of SXD (Shelly Xu Design), a design firm recently incubated at Harvard Business School, said: “We want to bring them to the core of our design.”

In May 2020, Cyclone Amphan hit a coastal cornerstone between Bangladesh and India, causing more than 2 million people to be evacuated, destroying or damaging millions of homes in its wake.

That’s the least of it. By 2050, at least 200 million people globally will be considered climate refugees forced to migrate, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In Bangladesh alone, where the garment sector is a top economic driver, rising sea levels could displace upward of 13 million people. The higher wages serve as a buffer “so they can rebuild their lives,” the SXD website notes.

Climate change-driven hazards like extreme weather, droughts, heavy rainfall, rising sea-level and cyclones become what’s called a “threat multiplier,” exacerbating existing tensions and adding to the potential for conflicts.

“I grew up playing in a park between two buildings. That grassy field is now a textile landfill,” Xu said. “I want to change this by maximizing beauty under constraints in fashion designs. Instead of designing without limits as we do now, we need to acknowledge the limits of our planet’s resources.”

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Born in Shenzhen, China, Xu has always worked under creative confines. Her design sense was influenced by living in a 70-square-foot home as a child, having to constantly rearrange furniture to accommodate the daily needs of her family.

She has referred to zero-waste design as “the only method that can enhance affordability in price and appeal in design,” while also increasing appeal for sustainable behavior once those needs are met.

SXD aims to bridge today’s crises with smart design — modernizing the kimono, onesie jumpsuit, folding skirt, and now jacket, in the name of zero-waste fashion.

The jacket is made in a unisex style, whose straight cuts and deep blue fabric are inspired by the salwar kameez (a common style worn by women in Bangladesh). It is available in sizes S to L. Design details include a spilt collar, adjustable cuffs, deep pockets, front-button closures and an embroidered back that says “Climate Refugees Reverse Climate Change.”

Starting Monday, the jackets can be pre-ordered on for $160. The jacket uses a minimal, zero-waste method that halves the typical number of cuts needed (past designs have numbered as few as nine cuts), further aiding training opportunities, according to Xu. The style uses leftover denim factory waste — otherwise destined for landfill — untreated to negate chemical impact. Under these sustainable methods, the brand claims the jacket’s carbon footprint is reduced by more than 80 percent compared to traditional garments.

“‘Sustainable fashion’ has become such a vague term, and that’s pretty dangerous,” Xu said. “Sure, there are many isolated or incremental ways to be ‘sustainable,’ but we believe that in order to be a fundamentally sustainable brand that can make a substantial positive impact, we need fair wages and better designs that eliminate fabric waste while using less fabric.”

Although the impact of a single jacket may be countered, Xu emphasized how “every stitch on the zero-waste denim jacket tells a story,” hoping the jacket inspires a lifetime of wear.

SWD, zero waste, sustainability

Workers for SWD earn four times the local hourly wage constructing the zero-waste jacket. Courtesy

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