Cradle to Cradle

Cradle to Cradle: Fashion’s Grave Reality

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The circular economy.

Closing the loop.

Cradle to cradle.

These are all phrases you may well have heard of. If not, best to familiarise yourself with them a.s.a.p. As our increasingly consumerist lifestyles reach tipping point, organisations are desperately trying to gather and reuse our rubbish, because otherwise, we may have nothing left to make anything with.

This year’s Copenhagen Fashion Summit was kicked off by someone I had, until that moment, not heard of: Bill McDonough. If you are as clueless as I was, take the next 14 minutes and 30 seconds to get to know him and his ideas a little better. You won’t regret it.

Interesting, right?

People were still clapping by the time I’d completed my purchase of his book, Cradle to Cradle.

Fashion’s grave reality

McDonough’s work is clearly applicable to the creation of many, if not all, products. But it is particularly relevant to clothing because this industry has arguably one of the most linear and wasteful cycles in modern society. And this cycle’s impact on the environment is exacerbated by its speed and the quantities involved.

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The fashion cycle: cradle to grave

With 92 million tonnes of textile waste being produced by the global fashion industry in 2015, corresponding to more than 12 kg per person, it’s clear that we are hemorrhaging valuable resources every second of every day.

So What Exactly is Being Wasted?

I recently wrote about the differences between natural and man-made fibres, and the importance, as a consumer, of understanding where these different fibres come from.

In particular, I highlighted popular man-made fibre polyester as the most used in clothing production today.

Polyester is derived from fossil fuels, one of our planet’s none renewable resources. A resource so valuable in fact, that it should be treated as a ‘nest egg’ McDonough suggests.

And yet, not only do we buy cheap, poorly made clothing using this precious resource, but we throw it out in such a way that these valuable materials cannot be retrieved.

Perhaps excavating landfill sites will be a common activity in the future?

How insanely backward would that be?

How Can the Fashion Industry Do It Better?

How can this regressive fashion industry transform itself into a regenerative one?

When it comes to fashion, and the materials we use, we can work to achieve a circular system in two ways:

By creating a “biological” cycle, whereby an item made with 100% natural fibres (wool for example), able to be broken down by bacteria, is reclaimed by nature into its vast ecosystem when we no longer want or require it.

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The fashion cycle: cradle to cradle (biological)

Or a “technical” one, whereby the clothing we buy made of man-made fibres is designed in such a way that the fibres can be separated and reused in a never-ending production cycle, whilst not degrading in quality.

 

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The fashion cycle: cradle to cradle (technical)

Some organisations are themselves working on large-scale collection schemes in their shops. These schemes provide them with the raw materials to experiment with ways of recycling fibres.TT

Unintelligent and Inelegant Things…

My favourite phrase from ‘Cradle to Cradle’ is: ‘products that are not designed particularly for human and ecological health are unintelligent and inelegant –what we call crude products

Everything we buy, and everything we do, is part of a bigger process.

We can’t know everything. But know this: as a wearer of clothes, what you chose to buy and wear really matters. Because with every purchase, you are telling the world who and what you support.

Choose not to buy cheap clothes from people who cannot tell you how or where their products are made.

Chose not to buy clothing from companies who ignore our collective responsibility to address the issues the fashion industry and, by default, we all face.

A product without background, without craftsmanship, made without thought or purpose or regard for the future is a product without beauty, without meaning and without worth.

It’s a crude purchase. Simple.

*This story first appeared on Study 34

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Fashion for Good Brings the Good to Fashion.

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Fashion for Good is making an industry-wide call for collaboration to transform the apparel industry at a gathering of innovators, fashion and sustainability thought leaders in Amsterdam.

As a holistic and inclusive open-source initiative, Fashion for Good invites the global fashion industry to reimagine how fashion is designed, made, worn and reused.

Fashion for Good aims to promote the five “Goods” of a new, transformed fashion industry: Good Materials, Good Economy, Good Energy, Good Water, and Good Lives. In pursuit of this goal, Fashion for Good enables the fashion industry to embrace innovation, change its business models and adopt a totally new mindset.

“The Five Goods represent an aspirational framework we can all use to work towards a world in which we do not take, make, dispose, but rather take, make, remake,” said William McDonough of McDonough Innovation. “Fashion for Good is about transforming the industry from serving one generation to serving many generations.”

Leslie Johnston of C&A Foundation said: “Open and inclusive, Fashion for Good will share all knowledge and lessons learned from its activities.  In doing so, we want to inspire all stakeholders in the fashion industry to work toward a future in which everyone – farmers, workers, customers, and communities – can flourish.”

Fashion for Good is changing the apparel industry through innovation and new business models. Its innovation platform scouts for, nurtures and funds early-stage ideas and it scales proven technologies and business models for wider adoption by the industry. Its Apparel Acceleration Fund aims to catalyse access to finance and its open-source Good Fashion Guide shares knowledge to help the apparel industry transform. As a convenor for change, Fashion for Good enables conversation and collaboration, bringing together co-locators at its first hub in Amsterdam, as well as visitors to the Fashion for Good Experience to learn more about Good Fashion.

With an initial grant from founding partner C&A Foundation, Fashion for Good inspires brands, producers, retailers, suppliers, non-profit organisations, innovators and funders all working towards a Good Fashion industry and invites industry to join and collaborate.

Fashion for Good has six complementary programmes:

  1. Early-stage Innovation Accelerator: Fashion for Good works with Plug and Play, a leading Silicon Valley accelerator, to give promising start-up innovators the funding and expertise they need to grow.
  2. Late-stage Innovation Programme: Fashion for Good finds innovations that have proof of concept and helps them scale by offering bespoke support and access to expertise, customers and capital.
  3. Apparel Acceleration Fund: IDH, The Sustainable Trade Initiative, is scoping a fund that aims to catalyse access to finance where this is required to shift at scale to more sustainable production methods.
  4. Good Fashion Guide: This open-source guide proves that Good Fashion is feasible today and shows brands how to embrace it. The online guide provides practical tips, a self-diagnostic tool and a step-by-step guide to production, based on lessons learned while creating the world’s first Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM GOLD cotton t-shirt produced in Asia, at scale, at a value retailer price point.
  5. launchpad exhibition of the Fashion for Good Experience:Fashion for Good has opened three floors to the public in its historic building in a first step to build a community around the ambition to make all fashion Good. With vibrant displays, thought-provoking messaging, and a call to action, the launchpad will inform and inspire its visitors to be part of this larger movement of Only Good Fashion. In 2018, the launchpad exhibition will evolve into a permanent Experience Centre.
  6. Circular Apparel Community: Fashion for Good has rented an historic building in the heart of Amsterdam (our first hub) in order to bring likeminded organisations and partners together, including the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) and Made-By. This community will embrace collaboration to create change and build a vibrant eco-system of entrepreneurs and innovators in the name of circular fashion.

About Fashion for Good

Fashion for Good is the global initiative that is here to make all fashion good.

Fashion for Good sparks and scales innovation by offering practical action in the form of support and funding, shares best practice and lessons learned in open-source roadmaps, and fosters sector-wide collaboration for the entire apparel industry to change.

Fashion for Good invites brands, producers, retailers, suppliers, non-profit organisations, innovators and funders to jointly transform the industry.

Guests are invited to learn more about the industry at a newly opened Launchpad exhibition in Amsterdam. Fashion for Good was created with an initial grant from founding partner C&A Foundation, and other partners have joined to help build the foundation of Fashion for Good: C&A, the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, IDH the Sustainable Trade Initiative, Impact Hub Amsterdam, Kering, McDonough Innovation, Plug and Play, and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC).

 

*For more information, visit Fashion for Good

Does Recycling Your Clothes Actually Make a Difference?

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DigitalVision | Ryan McVay

Fast fashion is now the global norm. Producers make more and cheaper clothes and people buy more clothes more often.

It’s a pattern we’ve all become familiar with — department stores with endless variety, clothes that seem to wear out more quickly — but the sheer scale of the situation has reached unsustainable levels. The only way many brands are able to turn a profit is through enormous, ever-increasing volume.

To get a sense of the industry’s size, here are a few startling facts:

  • Eighty billion pieces of new clothing are consumed each year around the world, a 400% increase from two decades ago.
  • In the US, 14 million tons of textile waste, mostly clothes, are thrown out annually. That’s approximately 80 pounds per person.
  • Eighty-four percent of this clothing ends up in landfills or incinerators, where it breaks down, emits greenhouse gases, and releases chemicals into the ground and atmosphere.

Recycling has often been pitched as a solution to the industry’s problems, specifically the problem of ever-increasing demand for natural resources such as cotton, rubber, oil, and leather.

But it turns out that recycling has a long way to go before it can make a meaningful difference in retail, which has been called the second dirtiest industry in the world after big oil for its agricultural impact, the pollution it causes, and the energy it consumes.

The goal, ultimately, is for the fashion industry to become “circular” through improved recycling methods, minimizing its environmental impact in the process.

“Circular for apparel means that when clothing reaches the end of its useful life we will return it and make new clothing out of our used garments,” Jason Kibbey, CEO of Sustainable Apparel Coalition, told Global Citizen in an interview.

“Getting to circular will require many steps including technological innovation and retraining consumers to take back their clothing instead of sending it to the landfill,” he said.

True circularity is still a far ways off. As Alden Wicker of Newsweek recently wrote, “Only 0.1 percent of all clothing collected by charities and take-back programs is recycled into new textile fiber, according to H&M’s development sustainability manager.”

H&M is one of the pioneers of fast fashion and has invested heavily in a recycling program as a way to boost sustainability.

“We have set the vision of becoming 100% circular. In close dialogue with experts and stakeholders we will set time-bound milestones that take us closer to our goal,” said Anna Gedda, Head of Sustainability at H&M in a press release. “To lead the change towards fully circular and sustainable fashion.”

Kibbey thinks that, while the model is currently insufficient, the investments are paving the way toward a good model.

“H&M’s current practices around recycling are a step toward retraining the consumers which, when combined with emerging recycling technologies, could create this circular model everyone strives for,” he said.

Why Isn’t Recycling Effective?

Currently, the vast majority of recycled clothes cannot be repurposed into quality fabric; a recycled shirt is more likely to become a windshield rag or floor mat then another shirt.

This happens for a few reasons. Modern clothing generally consists of hybrid fibers — polyester and cotton blends, for example — that are hard to separate and process. Fast fashion brands, in particular, use cheaper and often synthetic blends of materials that are hard to disentangle.

#recyclingclothes #recyclingevent #recykleordie #recyklacenaplno #sustainablefashionevent

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Recycling is further complicated by the chemical processes that were used to shape clothing and the chemical dyes that remain in garments. These chemicals can be difficult to remove and can degrade the quality of materials. Then there’s the erosion that occurs when wearing a piece of clothing over time.

So most clothes that are recycled don’t exist in a “closed loop.” Instead, they follow a downward trajectory, eventually ending up in landfills.

“When it ends up in the landfill, it’s a wasted material,” said Annie Gullingsrud of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. “There’s been an expense to the planet. There’s been an expense to the company [and] sometimes to the people creating the materials. And it creates a need to use virgin materials.”

How Can This Be Changed?

As Kibbey noted, a lot of technological advances have to be made before existing clothing materials can be effectively recycled.

Machines have to be developed that can reliably sort through and separate different fabrics and then restore integrity to the fibers so that they can be reused for new clothes — something that Wicker notes is at least five to 10 years out.

There are stories of successful recycling systems being implemented and scaled by large corporations that suggest circular systems are attainable.

For example, Levi is working on jeans made from 100 percent post-consumer cotton.

And then there are big companies like Patagonia that break the pattern by controlling more aspects of production and ensuring that materials can be readily reused, while also promoting the long-term value of the products they sell.

There also seems to be a gradual awakening throughout the industry that future profits hinge on the ability to effectively recycle and for resources to remain viable.

The ideal solution would be for manufacturers to standardize materials production methods. If this happened, then recycling would become exponentially easier.

“Fashion and clothing are indeed a very high impact industry, but the industry is making considerable progress,” Kibbey said. “Nearly 40% of the industry is supporting the Higg Index to measure and improve the impacts of apparel and footwear products.

“Some companies have just released ambitious goals such as Nike’s goal to double its growth and halve its impact,” he said. In Kibbey’s view, Inditex (Zara) and H&M have made bold statements toward circularity.

“There is still a long way to go but I’m optimistic the industry that brought us into the industrial revolution will lead us into the sustainability revolution.”

What can you do in the meantime?

The best thing you can do is buy less and higher quality clothes. This approach has a few benefits. First, it allows you to hold onto clothes for longer, generating less waste and reducing your environmental impact. Second, it signals to companies that they should be developing more sustainable models. If all consumers adopted this approach, then fast fashion would rapidly change.

If you’re interested in taking a more active role, here’s some advice from Kibbey:

“Ask questions of all of the companies you buy from about their efforts to improve the social and environmental impacts of their products,” he said.

“If you aren’t satisfied with the answer you get from a sales associate or a person answering questions on their website, they probably aren’t part of the solution.

“Tell them you won’t shop with them any longer until they do better. Buy products with certifications such as Fair Trade, Blue Sign, or GOTS. They are a great start towards finding and supporting sustainable products. “

When it comes to deciding whether or not to recycle your clothing?

“At the end of the useful life of a garment people should recycle because it will mean the clothing will have the best chance of an afterlife and will likely avoid the landfill even if it doesn’t end up on another person,” Kibbey said.

“They should not recycle solely to free up their closet to buy more items–today that is totally unsustainable,” he said. “When we get to a circular future, that will be normal and sustainable.”

*This story first appeared on Global Citizen

What you Should Know about Circular Fashion

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Glossy 101: Circular fashion, explained

As fashion brands continue to identify ways to use recycled materials and curb emissions, the term “circular fashion” has been popping up more and more. So, what in the world is it?

In a nutshell, circular fashion is a product of the circular process, which involves integrating recycled resources into supply chains. It’s a nice idea, but for a lot of brands, going there is easier said than done. Levi’s has been successful at converting plastic bottles to denim, but most fashion brands have experienced great difficulty navigating the circular fashion model. Many have offered standalone recycled fashion lines—think Eileen Fisher’s Remade line, which is produced using discarded designs, and TopShop’s Reclaim effort—but very few have actually started integrating recycled materials into production.

The reason? It’s complicated. That’s why we decided to break it down: Here’s what you should know about the circular fashion movement—specifically, how brands are working to join it in order to change the system.

What is a circular material, exactly?
A circular material is a recycled material, part of the larger circular economy founded upon the traditional concept of “reduce, reuse, recycling.” These materials are designed to prevent the introduction of new resources into the supply chain by reimagining those already in the mix as new garments—high-quality garments, that is—using volume collaboration.

Volume collaboration? Give me the short version.
Volume collaboration is the result of multiple brands sharing materials—such as dyes, chemicals, trims, yarns and base fabrics—that they use to create fully designed garments. H&M, Stella McCartney and Tommy Hilfiger are among brands that are working together by sharing materials. In doing so, they are ensuring that those they use are as environmentally friendly and recyclable as possible.

Last week in a webinar hosted by Fashion Positive, H&M sustainability expert Cecilia Brannsten said that working together is vital to instigating change, since it can often be difficult for one brand to move the needle on issues like dye pollution. “The change will happen a lot quicker if there are more of us trying to do it, working on this in parallel, because we can do a lot of good together,” Brannsten said.

Who writes the rules on circular fashion?
Fashion Positive Plus—it’s an extension of an initiative led by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, which was founded in 2014 to increase the use of circular materials by identifying, certifying and scaling them for the fashion industry. It’s focused on sharing insights and best practices around circular materials as well as integrating them into supply chains.

What does it take to get the “circular” label?
Fashion Positive has a Critical Materials list featuring the “high-priority, critical materials needed for circular fashion,” according to the site. These materials are assessed with five categories in mind: material health, material reutilization, renewable energy, water stewardship and social fairness.

“We have set a vision at H&M—a really bold vision—to be 100 percent circular”
– Cecilia Brannsten, H&M sustainability expert

Does Fashion Positive work with any big-name designers?
Stella McCartney, a designer who has been a vocal proponent of sustainable fashion, is working to create a Cradle to Cradle Certified material to use in her knitwear collections. Likewise, participating brands like H&M, are working with the group to introduce such materials into production in order to reach lofty goals, like becoming a fully sustainable company. “We have set a vision at H&M—a really bold vision—to be 100 percent circular,” Brannsten said in the webinar last week. “What that means is we want to have a circular approach to how products are produced and will only use circular or sustainably sourced materials.”

What’s next for circular fashion?
Recycled fashion can be difficult to scale, since most garments aren’t designed with circular materials in mind. In the future, organizations like Fashion Positive, in tandem with brands dedicated to the mission, may be able to help promote the use of materials that are most conducive to recycling.

*This story first appeared on Glossy

Words with (Fashion) Friends: Lewis Perkins

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Lewis Perkins, President of Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, is optimistic about the future of fashion. A leading sustainability strategist for the past decade, Perkins is committed to helping grow and scale the fashion industry’s commitment to safe materials that can be perpetually cycled — a commitment he brings as a mentor to the 10 designers in the CFDA + Lexus Fashion* Initiative.

CFDA caught up with Perkins and asked him for his thoughts, advice, and aspirations for creating a positive impact in fashion.

Is sustainability a one-size-fits-all set of strategies within fashion design and business?

There may not be a one-size-fits-all for the industry, or the various audiences from C-suite, to designer to supplier, however, there is one answer for the impact on our planet. Each of us has a stake in not simply reducing our negative impact, but creating and building solutions to increase our positive impact.

We should all look at each of our sustainability initiatives and ask ourselves, how does this create cleaner water, more renewable energy, decrease landfills and increase the use of regenerative materials — all which having positive impact on the lives of the workers who are creating our goods. Slowing down the negative is not good enough. It’s about speeding up the positive.

What challenges do you see for designers in the CFDA + Lexus Fashion* Initiative, and equally, what about areas of opportunity?

Designers are busy and we have to make this simple, but at the same time hold us all to true innovation and positive impact, not merely sticking our toe in the eco-fashion waters. It’s time for big change. While some of our designers are small in volume, we are all big in influence. This means our collective voice also moves industry suppliers into new innovations.

What is your wish for the CFDA + Lexus Fashion* Initiative journey?

I wish that each designer finds his or her purpose as a champion towards true value, impact, and measurable changes.

What words come to mind to describe the process of change?

Collaborative, perseverance, design, vision, barriers, breaking barriers, tears, laughter, wisdom, pride, intelligence, peace.

Who or what is most valuable in leading us to change?

Our hearts.

*This story first appeared on CFDA

Reinventing Fashion with Renewal Workshop

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As part of Circulate’s collaboration with the Disruptive Innovation Festival, we’re featuring insight from some of this year’s Open Mic contributors in advance of their performance at the DIF. Find out more at thinkdif.co, and don’t forget to tune into this session live at 18:00 GMT on November 11th.

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Hear Renewal Workshop’s plans to reinvent fashion at the DIF 2016, on 11th November at 18:00 GMT.

The problem in the fashion industry isn’t fashion itself: it’s the harmful impact of creating that fashion and the waste generated when that fashion is landfilled instead of circulated indefinitely.

So for those of you who love clothes there is hope. We don’t have to fear fashion as an ugly bad habit, but something that can be reinvented through innovation and dedication.

What if the clothes we wore improved the lives of the people who made them and the environment in which they were produced? What if when we were done with our clothes they continued to live long and full lives with others until one day they were turned into new resources?

Fashion is going through a transformative change right now. More than ever before, brands, customers and the media are highlighting the problems and solutions the industry is grappling with. Ever since the 1990’s the stories of human rights abuses have been brought to light, and each year apparel companies are attacked for those abuses. Now environmental and animal welfare issues are included in those stories. The more transparent the supply chain gets, the more customers are demanding to know “who made my clothes”. Campaigns like Fashion Revolution drive continued attention to the subject. This is a good thing.The more each of us learn about the issue and what we can do to update our buying behaviors to promote better supply chain practices, the more the industry will shift.

As the options for buying more ethical clothing increases, the attention is also moving towards the amount of clothing we buy and what do we do with our clothes when we are done with them. Currently Americans now buy five times as much clothing as they did in 1980. That’s a lot of clothes.

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Trying to fix the apparel industry is more than a daunting task. It is a systemic change that needs to happen. But it isn’t quite as scary when you look at it through a circular economy lens. In fact, looking at it through this lens creates a beautiful, simplistic path for design, production and use of a product. Now we have to integrate that beautiful simplicity into an archaic industry. Luckily there are many working on this, slowly creating solutions that patched together will produce an incredible web of change. Designing differently is already happening as companies start to create products that can actually get recycled. The Cradle to Cradle’s Fashion Positive program is creating a library of Cradle to Cradle materials. Apparel brands are creating systems for collection and processing, and recycling technologies are evolving from ideas to implementable solutions.

The Renewal Workshop fits into this new model well, providing brands and retailers the infrastructure and manufacturing ability to create a new model of business. One where clothing is assessed at its highest utility and kept there. All the resources that went into making a dress in the first place should be conserved and maintained. The renewal process does this assessment and identifies clothing that through cleaning and repair are resold again to a certified standard. While higher priced items like cars and electronics have a history of strong used sales channels, we are now in a time where other products can begin exploring this.

Fashion is a statement of who we are. We make conscious choices every day about what to wear. Some of that based on function, and some of it is a statement of our personalities. The need and interest to wear clothing is not going away,  so new innovations need to happen to ensure that there is an industry to provide us these clothes.

The way we make clothes is one part, the next part is the care and thought about how we use the clothes made, then we must innovate what we do with those clothes when we are done.  While we might get bored of a piece of clothing, the clothing itself might not be done and so with an investment in circular systems we will ensure the value of those products are able to live on.

*This story first appeared on Circulate News

Fast Fashion Attempts an Environmental Makeover

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Retailers tackle the eco footprint of fashion, from the source of the fabric to the day you throw it away

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Spanish retailer Zara has launched a line of eco-friendly clothing called Join Life made of recycled and organic fabrics. (Zara)

At H&M’s flagship Canadian store in Toronto’s Eaton Centre, a rack of spiffy navy-blue jackets is rolled from the back room to the display floor.

“This one is made of wool with recycled fibres, and this one has recycled cotton,” H&M spokesperson Emily Scarlett says with a smile, showing off items from the chain’s eco-friendly line, dubbed the Conscious collection.

Scarlett points out proudly that H&M is also the world’s second-largest user of organic cotton.

The Swedish chain is eager to spruce up its environmental image. So is Zara, the massive fast fashion retailer from Spain, which just launched its first sustainable fashion line called Join Life, which uses organic and recycled materials.

Both retailers, which have dozens of locations in Canada, have come under attack in recent years — along with other fast fashion chains such as Forever 21, Joe Fresh and Topshop — for encouraging consumers to buy more clothing than ever, creating waste that eventually goes to landfill.

Fast fashion gets its name from its ability to take the latest style trends from the runway to the store floor in record time. But the industry can’t move fast enough when it comes to its impact on the environment.

Critics aren’t buying the stylish environmentalism.

Misinformation in the marketing

“I am very skeptical of both the Conscious Collection and the new initiative that Zara is launching,” said Nikolay Anguelov, author of The Dirty Side of the Garment Industry, a book about fast fashion’s negative impact on the environment.

“There’s misinformation in the marketing message. The eco label is not deserved. The eco is a minor improvement, but unfortunately, it’s communicated to the consumer as if it’s problem solved.”

A professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Anguelov says his research shows that fabric accounts for only about 13 per cent of the cost of any piece of clothing, so a switch to natural textiles doesn’t make much of a difference. The fashion industry’s carbon footprint is huge, including energy used for transportation and toxic chemicals, such as bleach and dyes, used in manufacturing.

Then there’s the problem of massive waste. Anguelov says Millennials are consuming five times the number of apparel products as the generation before them and then discarding much of it.

That trend is driven by low prices, he says.

Mountains of textiles tossed in the trash

“We sometimes buy things we don’t need at places like Zara and H&M,” shopper Rafaella Silva admitted to CBC News, showing off the three sweaters she had just purchased at Zara for a total of $70.

“It’s mainly because of the price. If I had a choice to go somewhere that I could purchase something that would last longer and the price wasn’t that much, of course I would, for sure.”

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Shopper Rafaella Silva spent $70 for two sweaters and a top. The low prices make fast fashion seductive, she said. (CBC)

Municipalities in Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia are looking at ways to limit the amount of textiles being dumped in local landfills. A study done by the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART) showed that North Americans throw away almost 37 kilograms of textiles every year.

“You want a jacket, you want a sweater, you want a hoodie,” says Colin White, a student at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax who had just bought a winter coat at Zara. “It’s just cheaper here.”

The fashion industry has responded, forming its own group to address the waste problem. Based in San Francisco, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition is a collaboration between two very odd bedfellows: super-retailer Walmart and Patagonia, the high-end maker of outdoor clothing that describes itself as an “activist company” when it comes to the environment.

It’s an industry-wide problem

Coalition CEO Jason Kibbey says the group’s 185 members include most fast fashion retailers, including H&M and Inditex, Zara’s parent company.

“This is not just a fast fashion problem,” he points out. “This is a problem across all segments. It’s a systemic challenge across all supply chains.”

 

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Pieces of clothing are seen in trash at a City of Toronto waste transfer station. (CBC)

Kibbey says a huge amount of industry investment is going into new, “closed loop” technology, where items of clothing can be broken down and recycled to make new items. It’s also known as a circular system, or a “cradle to cradle” approach.

“There’s a lot of investment and activity in that area right now,” he said. “It doesn’t mean there isn’t a long way to go. But given the amount of activity I see, this will be our future. It’s just a question of how long will it take us to get there.”

Trying to spur recycling innovation

H&M is in its second year of a “Global Change” innovation challenge in which five winners split a grant worth €1 million ($1.5 million Cdn). The award is meant to be a catalyst to accelerate the shift from “a linear to a circular fashion industry,” says the company. “The aim is to protect the planet and our living conditions.”

Even some anti-consumer advocates praise the chains that are taking action.

‘They are never going to advocate for the one solution that is going to have the biggest environmental impact, which is to simply reduce the amount we consume altogether.– Madeleine Somerville, author of All You Need Is Less

“I’m impressed,” said Madeleine Somerville, the Calgary-based author of All You Need Is Less, a book about how to adopt a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

“I think any time a retailer takes steps to develop manufacturing processes to actually address the waste and the pollution that comes from creating these clothes, that needs to be recognized and celebrated.”

But she notes that for all retailers, the overarching goal is to sell more clothing.

“They are never going to advocate for the one solution that is going to have the biggest environmental impact, which is to simply reduce the amount we consume altogether.”

Consumers are challenged to make a choice between the health of the planet and their desire to wear the very latest, most inexpensive, fashion trends.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said fabric accounts for six per cent of the cost of a piece of clothing. In fact, it accounts for about 13 per cent.
    Oct 04, 2016 1:21 PM ET

*This story first appeared on CBC