“I thought, ‘I can’t throw this out — it’s the antithesis of my mission,’” he said. “So I took the afternoon and made myself a shirt and put it on my Instagram. I had maybe 2,000 followers, and probably the most likes I had ever gotten was 95. I posted this dumb selfie of a shirt I’d made out of my own trash because I was too poor to go shopping, and it instantly got 200 likes. It was the most popular thing I’d ever done.”
It occurred to him this may be a better way to go. He made “a bunch of scrappy shirts” and became Zero Waste Daniel, his Instagram name (which he had chosen because Daniel Silverstein was already taken).
He rented a booth at a flea market and sold them all. Johnny Wujek, Katy Perry’s stylist, bought one. Chris Anderson, a mentor who ran Dress for Success in Morris County, N.J., where Mr. Silverstein had interned during high school, said she would back him.
His father put in some money, too, as did Tuomo Tiisala, a professor at New York University who saw his work at a market. Mr. Silverstein got a small space at Manufacture New York, a group incubator in Sunset Park (it disbanded after a year), and made a deal with a factory that supplied the Marshalls chain to pick up its scraps.
Fabric dumping, though less discussed than the clothes consumers throw out, is just as much a byproduct of fashion production, and just as culpable in the landfill crisis. Reverse Resources, a group that has created an online marketplace to connect factories and designers who want to reuse their scraps, released a study in 2016 that estimated that the garment industry creates almost enough leftover textile per year to cover the entire republic of Estonia with waste.
That was a best-case scenario. Worst case would be enough to cover North Korea.
At that stage, Mr. Silverstein was mostly making sweatshirts, piecing them together by hand, but, he said, “people started making little videos about my work and putting up posts, and I started getting more orders than I could keep up with.”