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Up-Cycling Needs to be the Future for the Fashion Industry

13-08-2016   


The clothing industry is one of the largest polluters in the world, with large amounts of water, energy and chemicals required to manufacture clothes. According to findings by the Natural Resources Defence Council, 200 tons of water makes a ton of fabric. China in particular is one of the biggest polluters, especially from their textile industry, with discharge in rivers, along with acres of farmland being destroyed in Bangladesh, Cambodia and India.

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One of the most popular fabrics – cotton is constantly used and demanded in the world of fashion. This fabric requires a large amount of water and agricultural chemicals to be produced. The World Wildlife Fund has discovered that although cotton is only grown in 2.4% of the world’s cropland, it results in 24% and 11% of global sales of insecticides and pesticides. If fast fashion continues the way it does, the industry is required to take fundamental action, to create sustainability in growth rates and production. This is already happening with projects and campaigns run by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Greenpeace and Fashion Revolution working with retailers to reduce the industry’s environmental footprint, such as toxic pollution.

Yale Environment 360, believes that there needs to be a change to disposed waste – with Americans producing 12.8 tons of annual disposed goods. Now more and more environmental organisations are persuading retailers to re-use/up-cycle on a large scale.

Some retailers have already begun working towards a more sustainable way of producing clothing. One in particular that is on the right track is the fast growing Swedish retailer H&M – whose motto is: “There are no rules in fashion but one: Recycle your clothes.” They are in the centre of fast-fashion, selling $24.5bn worth of garments such as t-shirts and dresses last year. However, H&M have recognised that in the fashion world the demand continues to grow, therefore taking over 12,000 tons of recyclable clothes back.  The firm even launched a €1m contest to search for ideas in transforming old clothes into new, this was invested in Worn Again – developer of textile recycling technology. In addition, their campaign included music star MIA, who produced a music video names ‘Rewear It’  expecting people to recognise “the importance of garment collecting and recycling”. Even the CEO of H&M Karl-Johan Persson has stated that:“We have to change how fashion is made… We have to go from a linear model to a circular model, and we have to do it at scale.”

Nike and H&M are global partners with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation – their aim is to secure a transition to a circular economy – where everything at the end of its life is made into something new. Some retailers such as Zara, Nike, Levi-Strauss & Co have already begun this mission by collecting old garments and shoes in store by customers, some giving a reward in return. Michael Kobori, the vice president of sustainability at Levi Strauss has said, “Our ultimate goal is to harvest our raw materials from our consumers’ closets.” However current consumer behaviour demonstrates that most people are either unaware or do not cooperate with this mission, with stores collecting much fewer clothes than selling.  

Recycling vs Closing the Loop

Recycling sees garments being worn again, for example recycled clothes found in charity or thrift stores, where sales are often cheap. Also, clothes that cannot be worn again are downcycled for product use such as insulation. In contrast, a closed loop/circular economy is a system whereby textile resources are continued to be in use for as long as possible, and recovered materials are used for newer high valued products, which have been upcycled. Currently, there is no commercial scale of this happening. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation says that closing the loop is “restorative and regenerative by design.”

London based Worn Again and Everything in Colour are companies that have started upcycling garments into wearable styles. Worn Again have even been in partnership with H&M and Puma division of Kering to develop a chemical process which captures polyester and cotton from old textiles that have been reduced to a molecular level. Also, a partnership of Levi Strauss and Evrnu saw the world’s first pair of jeans made from post-consumer waste. Stacy Flynn, the co-founder of Evrnu says “Our goal – and we’re not there yet – is to use no virgin product in the creation of our fiber, and create no waste.”

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By Shivanee Tailor




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