Sustainable fashion – is it really possible?

sarah-dorweiler-357724Can we consume less? 

Fashion products are now cheaper and more disposable than ever before, encouraging the ‘use and dispose’ culture.

How come we still do not have the technology, innovation or policies in place that can solve this problem?

Can we expect people to consume substantially less? With a growing population and consumption this would be highly challenging, and some may think impossible. Expecting all consumers to suddenly become more environmentally and ethically conscious is very ambitious and unrealistic. Creation of a slow consumption movement could help reduce levels of consumption. However getting buy-in from the general public would be difficult, as many aspire luxury lifestyles.

Unsustainable material?

After the industrial revolution, technology and innovation in the fashion industry developed faster than ever before.  “Nylon” called the Miracle Fibre was one of the biggest innovations in fabric as it did not wrinkle or shrink.

This was a revolution in fabric production and the start of petroleum based fibres.  The innovations back then were the outcome of industrial enhancements. Such innovations did not give any thought to longer term consequences. Excessive use and irresponsible disposal of plastics resulted in this;

Nylon
https://guardian.ng/sunday-magazine/nylon-plastic-and-effects-on-environment/

There are now many successful initiatives to clean the oceans and use the waste materials.

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 15.33.05
https://nylon.com/articles/stella-mccartney-winter-2017-campaign

So what do we do with all this waste?

Having witnessed all the harmful aspects of the industrial revolution, individuals and organisations around the world are now seeking to create better and more thoughtful innovations, actively seeking to reduce and reverse all the harm that we created . A very good example of such an innovation is a new recycled fibre created by an Italian company named Econyl which recycled waste nylon from fishnets etc. to high quality materials.

Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 20.20.37
http://www.econyl.com/regeneration-system/

In recent years, there have been many new innovations in the fashion industry, with a particular new focus on creating sustainable fibres. These include the cellulose based fabrics made out of tree pulps, which are sustainably forested and bio-degradable, Pinatex (Pineapple leather) etc. However we don’t see so much of clothes made of these fabrics on the high streets.

Undoubtedly there are some barriers to sustainable fashion, including dramatic rises in pricing (due to higher production costs, including ethical considerations) as well as limitations in variety/ choice. In my experience these barriers create challenges in any attempt to develop a sustainable clothing range.

Supply chains in the fashion industry can be quite complex, as there may be a great deal of grey areas that can be left uncontrolled. This is where the governments and policy makers should be proactive, with rules and regulations that force the manufacturers to establish necessary actions in order to avoid unsustainable production processes.

A highly effective strategy could be for governments and policymakers to play a proactive role in the creation of ‘green supply chains’, including appropriate ‘certifications and labelling’. This would help establish truly sustainable production and consumption networks that will facilitate a move to a better future in the fashion industry.

 

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5 thoughts on “Sustainable fashion – is it really possible?

  1. inspiringeureka says:

    Thanks for discussing this important topic! It’s one of the areas I’m trying to learn more about for my own personal sustainability. Like many sustainability topics, it is not discussed enough. We readily demonize oil companies, but how about the fashion industry that (I have just learned!), is the second most polluting industry after oil! The question in my mind is how can we make fast fashion unappealing and sustainable clothing glamorous? Fashion is all about style and we love being proud of what we’re wearing – if people can have a cool story behind what they’re wearing like it’s made from pineapple or ocean waste, that would be a way to engage them and be willing to pay more, as I’m sure making clothes in this way only costs more… I’m glad to hear brands like Stella Maccartney are glamorising it and fast fashion brands like H&M are doing the same. We just need more!! After learning more, I will certainly help to do my bit.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. gozdetaskinsblog says:

    Yes, we really need more sustainable fashion and most importantly more on the high streets. Unfortunately all we have easy access to are fast fashion brands on the high streets and maybe a little rail in their stores that are some sort of sustainable/eco/conscious etc.. lines which I believe is not a real effort on actually trying to produce more sustainably but seems more effort on green washing people with their advertising on how sustainable they are.

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  3. Martyn says:

    Really interesting blog post, thanks for highlighting the interesting innovations in materials – pineapple leather sound really cool! On a similar note – my firm has invested in Nike shares, who have recently announced a partnership with British based company E-Leather (http://www.eleathergroup.com/). Their recyclable leather products claims to have an 80% smaller carbon footprint relative to traditional leather, and helps to reduce waste by recycling off-cuts in the production process. Nike state that 60% of their environmental impact comes from materials, and leather has ‘disproportionate’, so hopefully this can help to decouple their growth ambitions and their impact.
    Also at work we looked at textile impacts, focusing on the really important fibres – finding that 75% of the world’s textiles produced are cotton and polyester. When we considered all of the other textiles, including wool, nylon, acrylic, silk – there was no clear winner across the main impacts including energy consumption, water use, emissions, land-use in the production process. But the more holistic research looked at the full life-cycle and pointed out that, on average, 70% of the garments impact results from the ‘use’ phase (including washing, drying and ironing of the garment). This means that synthetic materials, which tend to have a higher impact in the production phase, have a lower overall lifecycle impact as they wash and dry much more quickly than natural fibres – obviously you can’t iron them (not so obvious to me, as I once melted a sports shirt onto an iron).
    I think your point around rising cost of garments is important, from my perspective I think that a large proportion of are garments are still unsustainability cheap. The costs of raw materials and labour have fallen so much with global trade that any marginal cost gains from here could be at the cost of environmental and/or labour rights. I think consumers in general need to be more cognisant of their responsibility to purchase more ethical clothing, buy less but higher standard clothing at a fairer price point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gozdetaskinsblog says:

      Thanks for sharing this interesting information on the Eleather. The fact that the company is diverting waste from the landfills sounds really great and I am glad that we are able to create more alternatives for leather, also the processes used are quite interesting. However, one can also argue that the use of animal leather is still required in order to make this material thus contributing to the use of animal leather even if it is waste. I have intended to once use off-cut leathers that other wise would end up in landfills for my brand Rakha and I started getting negative feedbacks from my clients even for the idea of it. At the end of the day I came to the conclusion that this was not a very good idea and decided not to use it, as most of my vegan clients were quite sensitive about the use of any kind of leather products. There are so many aspects in creating sustainable materials and I believe it is quite complex and hard to create something that ticks all the boxes in terms of sustainability. As you mentioned most of the consumption of energy water etc.. is done after purchasing the product, although there is the part when you dispose the product and in that case products made from natural materials can be compostable within months in the landfills, however that is of course not the case for polyester or any kind of petroleum based fabrics unless they are recycled.
      I agree that people could be more responsible for what they are purchasing and therefore brands should be more transparent about their supply chains.

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  4. Sandra_G_U says:

    Very interesting post! The debate on sustainability consumption is a really important one. It is about what we are buying, where it comes from, what materials are used and how long do they last. Sustainable consumption is not just consuming sustainable things but doing it in a sustainable way. As you say, it is rather difficult to change people’s minds when the whole industry is generally designed to foster mindless consumption. Even people with pro-environment attitudes may find it hard to resists the lure of the fashion industry. Also, it is not always easy to find clothes that are also nicely designed, relatively affordable and comfortable enough. In my experience, it implies an active effort on the part of the consumer and, even then, it may be difficult. In general, I try to buy from local designers but there are many times where the clothes are made with polyester or they are not suited to my style. I also find myself wanting a new piece of clothing that I really don’t need… However, I have been trying to become more aware of my purchase habits. I restyled some old clothes so that I could still wear them instead of buying new ones. And last month I bought a new backpack and I looked for one made with recycled PET bottles: https://www.lefrik.com/
    In this regard, as you point out, developing new materials and being able to reuse waste to produce new clothes or objects is one way forward. Did you attend the Patagonia presentation during the last workshop? It covered this topic as well.
    Do you think we can expect many large-scale developments in this field? Is it easy to have access to this materials from a smaller designer perspective?

    Like

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