Our panel of experts took questions on tackling waste in the fashion industry. From revamped supply chains to recycling jeans and rethinking dyes, here’s what we discovered.
1. A globalised fashion industry helps collect unwanted clothing
Unwanted garments tossed into clothing bins have traditionally faced an ignominious future as filler material for insulation or stuffing for toys. But the globalisation of the fashion industry is giving our old clothes a second chance.
Lewis Perkins from the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute says that a wide international network of facilities and mills producing clothing for global consumption also means the fashion industry has greater ability to move reclaimed textiles to partners who are able to turn those fibers, yarns and fabrics back into new material. Perkins predicts the growth of schemes such as I:CO(I:Collect), a global Swiss-based firm that collects, sorts and recycles garments. But, he adds, more investment is needed.
2. Designers play an important role in creating a ‘closed loop’ system of production
According to Leigh Mapledoram, programme area manager for textiles and public sector at Wrap: “Design plays a critical role as it has an effect on all process steps, from raw materials to end of life. Designers themselves work in conjunction with other functions from technologists, suppliers and buyers to create the finished garment. It is really about education of all parts of the chain and Wrap research shows that to reduce the impact of clothing, focus should be on extending the active life of clothing.”
3. Will recycling fabrics change the production chain?
Rien Otto, founder and creative director of Dutch aWEARness, believes recycling fabrics will disrupt the current production chain. Instead of working only with a production company, the retailer and the customer, Otto says his company now works with many other players – the yarn maker, the cut, make and trim factory, and the dyeing house. Otto says that, because they all need guidance to recycle fabrics and work in a circular economy, this changes the role of outsourced factories. They have to be transparent about their production processes.
4. We can’t rely on major brands to drive change by themselves
Perkins says the industry needs more collaborations and industry partnerships to create the better materials needed and to recruit the facilities, mills and other producers in the supply chain to innovate. “Of course consumer demand and legislation helps push change, but we need to get the systems in place. Let’s prove the model can work,” he says.
5. Technical elements of fashion recycling remain a challenge
Current mechanical methods can’t deal with blended fibre garments, points out reader CircularC. But as Phil Townsend, sustainable raw materials specialist from M&S, explains, an important part of the innovation process is to work with suppliers to find new ways round some of the technical restrictions. Brands have a major role to play in changing the negative connotations that still exist around recycled materials, he says. It’s time to look at them in a very different way, as desirable and premium instead of tired and unwanted.
6. There will always be textile waste
A zero-waste fashion industry seems unlikely. But Anna Crawley, creative director of the Fara Workshop – a social enterprise designing one-off fashion pieces made from donations – hopes with big companies such as H&M getting involved it will encourage more people to donate their clothing back rather than throwing it in the bin.
Mapledoram believes the answer is to invest in fashion that is timeless and can be adapted and updated to change with the times. He says it offers the biggest opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of clothing. “If the average life of clothes could be extended by just nine months it could reduce carbon, water and waste footprints by 20-30%.”
7. Fast fashion is making it hard to find the best materials
Crawley says we over dye fabrics and clothing, but the quality of recycled garments depends on the kinds of materials you use. Otto describes how many years ago Dutch aWEARness tried to recycle a pair of cotton jeans to a new pair of jeans. The result was a pair of jeans, he says, but it had a very low quality.
He explains how together with its partner in Austria, they developed a special kind of polyester that is fully recyclable. They are conducting research and development on making clothing from miscanthus grass and bacteria as well, as these can be fully recyclable.
8. Developed nations need to lead the way in ethical fashion
“One of the major issues many emerging nations have with our developed world ‘noblesse oblige’ attitude and mandates on environmentalism, renewable energy, and social practices, is that have had the last several 100 years to get it right while we prospered under older and less clean and positive models,” Otto says.
“It’s important we become the model and help the emerging systems by-step less ‘clean’ practices. Some emerging countries are advocating for the right way to produce products and yet resources are limited and the demand for better practices is not always there. It’s a journey for sure.”
9. There will be a time when ‘bring back bins’ are fashionable
Perkins predicts there will be a new generation of consumers who think about where their stuff goes next and that will spark a revolution among retailers. He doesn’t expect to see M&S or H&M providing collection bins in every store; rather, consumer will be given easy access to a location for everyone to send used materials for upcycling. Retailers will still have to compete with online competitors and Perkins believes it could be a win-win scenario – education for consumers and economic drivers for the retailer.
10. We need to change the image of ethical fashion
In order to achieve a circular economy in the textile industry, we need to change the role of the designer and the consumer, says Otto. “Ethical fashion still somehow suffers from a green, dull image, whereas it needs to move to long lasting, highly fashionable [image] that is still quite affordable.” Crawley adds: “Exciting, innovative and fashionable is how I see sustainable fashion.”
11. In the future, sustainable fashion will be the norm
The design of clothing is as important as the ethos behind it. The more desirable the piece of clothing the better, says Crawley, who believes that in the future, ethical and sustainable fashion will be the norm in the fashion world.