While glamour and luxury underscore much of the fashion industry’s image, the means of production that fashion employs carries some negative connotations; ones that imply inequality, oppression, and wastefulness. Environmental disruption has caused a spike in cotton by more than 2,000 percent. The industry’s needs for raw materials makes it particularly vulnerable to environmental disruptions like droughts, rising sea levels, fires, and more. One of the biggest fast fashion retailers, H&M, was commended for plans that include the elimination of hazardous chemicals from their clothing by 2020, an ambitious venture considering the scale of their productions. H&M is just one of many retailers looking to shift the culture of the fashion industry and change consumers’ perspectives. Here’s how the focus of sustainability is helping to change the fashion industry for the better.
In the 1950s Americans began to discover the beauty and durability of synthetic fibers such as polyester, latex, and spandex. These fibers are often blended with natural fibers or are used alone and are nearly identical to their organic counterparts. However, designers and scientists alike are teaming up to create more sustainable fabrics for the 21st century. Biocellulose fibers are spun by bacteria and feed on a sugary liquid. They are similar in strength, look, feel, and durability of leather and parchment; meaning, these fibers are nearly identical to their bovine counterpart.
Other surprisingly sustainable fabrics have been around for quite some time. Linen, for instance, is a plant-based fabric derived from flax. Treehugger notes that linen can grow in a variety of terrains and conditions where food crops cannot grow. Also, it can be cultivated without the use of chemicals.
Eucalyptus is another source for organic, biodegradable fabric sourced from a plant grown in arid conditions. As a plant, it doesn’t require a lot of water and can be cultivated without the use of pesticides. When eucalyptus is transformed into tencel fabric, it’s known for its ability to absorb moisture and prevent bacteria from forming. It’s wrinkle free, easy to wash, and doesn’t need to be mixed with organic cotton, according to Respecterre.
Food waste, like peels and seeds, account for up to 25 million tons of waste per year. Nearly half of all textiles are made from an environmentally unsustainable source, with cotton being one of the most toxic crop of them all. So what’s the solution? Upcycling! Textile manufacturers are discovering new ways to incorporate food waste into fashion friendly and environmentally sustainable textiles. From pineapple leaves, to coconuts husks, orange peels and banana stems, the future of fashion textiles looks bright and delectable!
To see this in practice, Eileen Fisher is a mid-range contemporary basics brand that’s consistently adhered to an ethos of sustainability and ethical design throughout its history. In 2016, the brand even launched an upcycled clothing pop-up in Brooklyn. As part of the company’s Green Initiative, the pop-up showcased reinvented apparel and accessories created from discarded and donated items. An artisanal coat was crafted from two pairs of used jeans, three tops, and fourteen sweaters. Even the tags used to convey pricing and material information were recycled.
While Eileen Fisher’s Green Initiative is among the most visible efforts from a major retailer to curb textile waste, upcycling can also use other forms of waste, like plastic found in our planet’s oceans. There’s a huge build-up of plastic in oceans and waterways worldwide. Companies like Bureo recycle fishing nets and other waste from commercial fishermen and turn them into skateboards or sunglasses. Even Adidas has started to consider its impact on global textile and plastic waste. In 2017, the company partnered with a conservation group to utilize marine debris to create sneakers.
As resources like oil and water become more scarce, increasing regulation in textile manufacturing and clothing production has helped improve sustainability efforts. It takes about 1,800 gallons of water to make one pair of jeans. From the cotton plant to the pants you see in store, a whole lot of water goes into producing your favorite denim. But, thanks to increasing costs and consumer pressure, brands across all price points are making a full-fledged effort to practice better sustainability efforts from start to finish.
Along with concerted efforts from brands and designers, consumers are driving much of the pressure for the fashion industry to do better. In recent years, this shift has seen consumers everywhere considering how their day to day spending can reshape entire industries and production standards.
This encouraging trend is most prevalent among millennial shoppers, whose future-focused spending is emphasizing the importance of sustainability in global commerce. With that heightened focus on environmental impact, the fashion industry is taking note. From luxury designers such as Christophe Lemaire to mass retailers like Reformation, there are more voices within the fashion industry looking to create innovative designs without sacrificing sound ethics or sustainability. Together, the future looks bright if industry insiders and consumers reshape fashion’s environmental ethos in tandem.
Author Bio: Cassandra Cross is a freelance writer and fashion enthusiast who consults for leadings brands such as Natori, along with emerging boutiques and designers nationwide.