Fast fashion where designs move swiftly from the sketch table to the consumer is a major contributor to environmental pollution. Due to consumer awareness and changing trends, fashion brands are working to create more circular manufacturing and improve their eco-credentials.
The textile industry uses nearly 26.4 trillion gallons of water and 98 million tonnes of oil per year according to a 2017 report titled, “A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future.” The environmental impact of the industry ranges from an overproduction that ends up in landfills or as air pollution when incinerated, to microfibers leaking into our oceans.
A more sustainable eco-friendly textiles economy is needed to overhaul and reimagine the industry’s operating model.
“Today’s textile industry is built on an outdated linear, take-make-dispose model and is hugely wasteful and polluting. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s report… presents an ambitious vision of a new system, based on circular economy principles, that offers benefits to the economy, society, and the environment. We need the whole industry to rally behind it,” Ellen MacArthur, co-owner of the report said on her foundation’s website.
With the rise in consumer awareness of the necessity for sustainable fashion, brands have the perfect opening to go green. Considerations towards going green include using the least damaging materials, ensuring safe and ethical work conditions in factories, better eco-credentials, and fair pay wages.
Some fashion brands are already being proactive about seeking out solutions towards environmentally safe, durable and recyclable clothes. Here is a look at some of these brands.
HECHA/做 which is Spanish and Mandarin for ‘turned into’ or ‘to make’ is a sustainable gender-flexible fashion brand that creates hand-painted garments using zero waste designs and unbleached greige hemp fabric.
Their pattern pieces are cut to fit together without regard for the print or fabric design to decrease waste. They also use their fabric scraps for smaller pieces or recycle them into accessories. On the other hand, by using hemp in its unprocessed greige state they reduce the chemical impact it has on the environment. The ink that’s used to paint and screen-print the fabric is a water-based, non-toxic formula and the fabric does not need to be dry cleaned.
According to a comparative study, “It is estimated that over 10,000 different dyes and pigments are used industrially, and tons of synthetic dyes are annually produced worldwide.”
This fashion brand believes that social and environmental issues go hand in hand and that only by linking the two can true sustainability be achieved. Their garments are 100% sustainable and always have a cause attached.
Their collection ‘Breadline’ for example is aimed at drawing focus and finding solutions for the hidden hunger in the UK.
“We have developed a collection using these waste materials, plus recycled cardboard and ‘Tesco everyday value’ branded organic prints, all donated by Tesco.” The organizations website explains,
“Through traditional hand-crafted techniques and working with local craftsmen/ women, we have developed the surface of these waste materials to create handcrafted woven, printed, knitted and embroidered materials.”
Their other collection ‘Roofless’ comes with a short story from the previous owner thereby creating a connection between each wearer and reminding them of people in need.
MATT & NAT
MAT(T)ERIAL and NATURE is one of the pioneer sustainability brands. As a vegan brand it has decommitted from using leather or any other animal-based materials in their designs and since 2007 it has been committed to only using linings made out of 100% recycled plastic bottles.
“Various vegan leathers are used in production; the scientific terms are PU (polyurethane) and PVC (polyvinylchloride). PU is less harmful to the environment than PVC and we make it a point to use it whenever possible.”
In addition to being vegan, they constantly source sustainable materials for their designs including recycled nylons, cork and rubber. Check out their Instagram page to see their work.
Not many fashion brands approach the issue of eco-friendly wetsuits, in fact, it seems to be a heavily ignored area. Wetsuits are traditionally made of some of the least biodegradable materials in existence; their core ingredient, neoprene foam, is a particularly unpleasant synthetic rubber made from petroleum.
There is also the issue of what to do with them once they are no longer functional or fashionable, they thus lay dormant, unused or in landfills by the tonne.
Fashion brand Finisterre is aiming to build the world’s first recyclable wetsuit. The idea is to create wetsuits from wetsuits thus creating circular manufacturing in what they are calling the wetsuits from wetsuits programme.
“There have been great advances in eco wetsuits and the search for alternatives to petroleum-based neoprene, but the real elephant in the room for the water-sports industry is what to do with a wetsuit at the end of its functional life.” Tom Kay, Finisterre Founder.
They currently work with Econyl® who convert discarded fishing nets and other waste material into high-performance fabric.
This Kenyan brand’s ethos is sustainable fashion through revitalization and repurposing. Suave sources off-cut fabrics, second-hand clothes and unwanted leather from second-hand traders, factories and tanneries to create unique bags and backpacks.
Founder Mohammed Awale told CGTN Africa, “The basis of our brand is have unique products, that is because of our upcycled fabrics. So, we upcycle clothes…then turn them into bags. That guarantees that all the bags that we make are different and unique in their own way.” Check them out on Instagram.
Ultimately all these brands are leveraging technology to change an estimated trajectory that by 2050 the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget if nothing changes. This coupled with the vast amount of microfibres released into the ocean every year makes a pressing case for sustainable fashion.