I've cut up enough button down shirts to learn that those extra buttons that manufacturers place so thoughtfully on the inside of every shirt never get used. Out of thousands of shirts that have passed through my scissors I'd say that only a handful or two were missing those extra buttons and in some of those cases it's hard to tell whether or not the spares were actually used, fell off, or were simply never added to the design in the first place.
This little courtesy, a spare set of buttons to replace a potentially lost or broken one, seems like such a clever gesture. Your button falls off or chips in the washing machine and voilà, you craftily remove the spare and stitch it on. Unfortunately it seems like this situation hardly ever happens and what we're left with (on a global scale) is a big fat waste of plastic.
After doing a little research (because yes, I am that nerdy) I discovered that these extra buttons only started appearing on shirts when clothing production was globalized. Before the dawn of sweat shops and overseas manufacturing most dress shirts were handcrafted by a local tailor-if you lost a button for your beloved shirt you simply went back to the person who made it and they'd fix you up with a replacement.
While these little bits of plastic are almost completely unnecessary (though I must say that I am happy to use them as a creative touch to my neckties), they have become a sort of symbol to me that represents how the smallest design decisions add up on a large scale. They also represent in some weird way how we sacrifice so much for the sake of convenience, how we create more than we need and then throw so much away.
My one small sustainable business isn't going to change the face of fashion or make any considerable dent in pollution caused by the mass production of textiles (or extra buttons for that matter) — it's simply an approach to engaging with the world. It's a way for me to implement my values and encourage others to consider their impact as well.
As I said to Alex Eaves when he was interviewing me for his documentary about reuse - this stuff is common sense. We have to think about the consequences of our choices as consumers as well as our choices as designers because seemingly small decisions can really add up. What small thing can you do reduce your footprint?