Innovation in sustainable fashion

  • Written by Bethany Stevenson
  • Published on 29 May 2018
  • Our Voice

The concept of sustainable fashion has been around since the 1980s. It is ‘fashion’ that is produced from ethically sourced materials and it is a trend that is increasingly growing, but how has it evolved?

The Fashion Industry as a Whole

According to the book “Slave to Fashion” published in 2017 by Safia Minney, the fashion industry is the world’s third-largest industry after cars and electronics, and the second most-polluting industry in the world after oil. A year ago, the fashion industry only had the fourth largest environmental impact, so I asked myself, what is the industry really doing to help protect our environment?

Linear and Circular Model

Within the fashion industry, the traditional way of working is the linear model - where garments are used by consumers and then often end up in landfill. Today, many businesses are aiming to create a circular model in which garments can be reused, recycled or composted; to extend a product’s life-cycle and reduce overall waste.

With the world’s population rising each day, so does the demand for raw materials, thus putting even more pressure on the planet’s limited resources, and further damaging the environment. However, following the circular model can significantly lower the damage by reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

Innovation in Raw Materials

Innovations surrounding the use and re-use of raw materials are rapidly changing the way that the fashion industry thinks about sustainable materials.

Fashion United looked into six natural resources that can be turned into fibres; bananas, coffee, pineapple, lotus, stinging nettles and hemp. The advantages to using natural resources such as these is that;

  • They are all incredibly versatile
  • They require very little water as opposed to cotton
  • They are made from the components that would otherwise be thrown away e.g. pineapple leaves, coffee and banana stems
  • Widens the supply of raw materials

In our previous blog, we talk about how it isn’t necessarily about recycling clothes anymore, it is about making something new from something old. 

Scientific advances

An article about the development of artificial fibres, outlined the benefits that these will have on the world around us - I find it absolutely fascinating what scientists have been able to discover and develop as technology advances.

Bio-designer Chieza is currently working on developing a bacteria-produced dye in a petri-dish, with the aim of being able to produce it on a larger scale. Dyeing fabrics can have a huge impact on the environment. The harmful chemicals used and the improper disposal of them results in 10-15% of the dye being released into the environment and lost in the wastewater stream. By artificially producing dyes it dramatically reduces the use of chemicals, the pollution of water together with a reduction in the overall amount of water used during the dyeing process.

Modern meadow is a company that works on lab grown leather using yeast fermentation to produce collagen. They believe that by doing this it eliminates the need for killing animals, cuts down the large emission footprint and cuts the use of toxic chemicals in the tanning process.

Food Waste and Sustainable Fashion

Wouldn’t it be great if you could fix two major problems in the world at the same time?

That is exactly what last year’s Global Change Award winners are trying to do. In the industrial process of using oranges, remnants are usually thrown away but from this waste you can extract cellulose fibres from the orange to produce a textile. The textile produced also nourishes the skin, so it has plenty of benefits. 

Bio-bean are also doing great work, they collect waste coffee grounds at every scale, from independent cafés to major coffee chains and from universities to property groups and instant coffee factories. 

A typical cafe trading six days a week uses 5.1kg of coffee beans in a day and pays approximately $900 a year in waste collection costs to send their spent coffee grounds to landfill.

Being able to recycle these coffee grounds into fibres and use them to make garments is a massive breakthrough - it saves so much money, so much waste, prevents landfill and avoids all of the disadvantages of the linear model.

But, are we there yet?

Even though there have been many sustainable alternatives discovered and developed, many of these discoveries have yet to be implemented, meaning there is still a long way to go. 

The Fashion Industry has become more aware of the impacts that ‘fast-fashion’ has on the environment and companies are slowly changing the way they work, but they cannot save the environment alone; everyone needs to get on board.

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