Fashion & Textiles Vies To Clean Up Its Act
April has always been an incredibly important month when it comes to textiles, fashion and environmental concerns. First up was “Earth Month” with “Earth Day” on April 22. The very first Earth Day was held in 1970 with the core mission to diversify, educate and activate an environmental movement worldwide. Now, 51 years later, the movement coordinates a wide range of international events that include 1 billion people in more than 190 countries.
Fashion Revolution, a global fashion activism movement,, then came to the fore after the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed in April 2013. The disaster killed 1,100 people and injured another 2,500. This tragic event put the spotlight on poor manufacturing practices and its negative impacts on the treatment of its workers and subsequent environmental destruction.
When it comes to the environment, the textile and fashion industry is estimated to be responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions – more than international flights and maritime shipping combined.
Number #6 from Fashion Revolution’s manifesto resonates specifically this issue, promoting change to include: ‘Fashion conserves and restores the environment. It does not deplete precious resources, degrade our soil, pollute our air and water or harm our health. Fashion protects the welfare of all living things and safeguards our diverse ecosystems.’
Of course, as with many manufactured goods, complex supply chains that use a broad range of processing, dyeing and finishing processes means that it is not enough to select natural fibers alone. Take bamboo for example, of which its pulp is sometimes used to make viscose fibers. Bamboo is a fast-growing grass that requires no fertiliser and self-regenerates from its own roots. While some people say it could be a better choice than cotton, there are still many question marks around just how ethical bamboo production can be, with stories of land clearing and the use of chemical processes coming to the fore.
The good news is that over the last decade the textile and fashion industry has been keen and able to adopt more eco-friendly practices throughout their supply chains. Some companies still opt for cheaper, less eco-friendly methods, but the industry is beginning to see that it is possible to produce quality clothing without compromising the health of the planet and its people. Behind the scenes a lot of work is being done to develop cost-effective production methods that are environmentally sustainable and now more than ever a fabric’s eco-passport is becoming more commonplace at trade shows and buyers’ fairs.
With information at our fingertips, the drive for a cleaner, environmentally aware fashion and textile industry is not just coming from global initiatives, governments and leading businesses, it’s coming from us – the consumers that want to direct their spending in the right places.
Pioneers in working with nature as opposed to against it, is Lenzing Group and their range of botanic origin, cellulose fibers. “The miracle of nature” is their inspiration and the group are continually innovating new technologies to ensure minimum environmental impact.
One of Lenzing’s developments includes Eco Clean technology where both pulp and TENCEL™ branded Modal fibres are bleached in a totally chlorine-free process. This gentle process results in fibers that tend to be softer than conventionally bleached ones and are better for the environment. TENCEL™ Modal fibers, are very suitable for undergarments, loungewear, bedding and more. The Eco Clean technology features an eco-responsible production process guided by the EU Ecolabel, a label of environmental excellence that is awarded to products and services that meet high environmental standards throughout their life-cycle. Additionally, the fibers are certified CarbonNeutral® and can be identified throughout the whole textile supply chain until the final garment.
Florian Heubrandner, Vice President Global Textiles Business at Lenzing, shared: “The ongoing innovation in cellulosic fiber technologies and eco-responsible production processes has witnessed more sustainable fiber alternatives across the textile value chain. This has provided businesses and brands with new opportunities and perspectives to enhance product quality and improve sustainable practices. The introduction of Eco Clean technology for TENCEL™ Modal fibers is providing brands and consumers with great comfort and more responsible environmental options. With sustainability in our DNA, we will continue to review customers’ feedback to develop and produce high-quality fibers that suits their needs and preferences.”
The industry is taking note of the importance of cleaning up the supply chain with a variety of brands implementing technological innovations and solutions in their manufacturing processes.
SaltCo, a wellness and lifestyle company, meanwhile, has developed natural textiles from plants that help to heal the planet. Grown in salt marshes these salt-tolerant plants can be grown freshwater-free and offer optimum sustainable accolades. SaltCo is the brainchild of RCA students who are using seawater as the basis for a next-generation textile that can be later used as an alternative to insulation, faux leather, and both woven and non-woven fabrics.
Furthermore, based on industry observations, many plant based textiles are also on the increase for brands looking for cruelty-free, leather alternatives. Leather-look materials have been developed from the likes of olives, pineapple and mushrooms. One example would be Kat Von D, the founder and designer of Von D Shoes, her vegan footwear range has been created from leather produced from compressed apples. Kat says: “We are not interested in contributing to the “fast fashion” culture that’s so destructive to the environment, and equally as destructive to the human psyche. We believe things shouldn’t be treated in such a disposable manner, and instead, strive to make shoes that will last a lifetime.”
Earlier this year, in March, Huntsman Textile Effects, a global provider for textile dyes and chemicals and Sciessent, a provider of customised antimicrobial solutions, entered into a strategic partnership to bring revolutionary antimicrobial and odour-control solutions to textile mills and brands worldwide. The Sciessent solutions are easily integrated into the finishing process and can be combined with a range of other finishes, including Huntsman Textile Effects’ durable water repellents and comfort systems to cost-effectively produce high-performance textile products that are safe and sustainable.
Across the textiles industry from big corporations to small, independent brands are tackling the issues of environmental impact at every stage of production. The industry is in strong need for more collaboration between different stakeholders to drive greater sustainability, to vigorously eliminate harmful materials used in the textile industry and innovate for more safer alternatives to provide “cleaner” products to consumers.