Conservation charity WWF and the fashion industry aim to make desirable clothes that have zero impact on the environment
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
This week, representatives from all the major brands – from fast fashion retailers like H&M, Asos and Zara, through to luxury labels like Burberry and Swarowski – are gathering in Copenhagen to discuss sustainability in the global fashion industry.
The fashion industry is one of the most lucrative and destructive industries on earth. It generates €1.5 trillion every year and produces over a billion clothes every year. With global garment production set to increase by 63% by 2030, this model is reaching its physical limit.
This year’s Copenhagen Fashion Summit is focusing on “circularity” – an industry buzzword that promises relief to the problem of limited resources within one of the world’s most resource intensive industries. In 2015, the fashion industry consumed nearly 80 billion cubic meters of fresh water, emitted over a million tonnes of CO2 and produced 92 million tonnes of waste. The Summit admits that the industry has a disastrous environmental impact and that we face “increasingly higher risk of destabilising the state of the planet, which would result in sudden and irreversible environmental changes”.
While their focus on circularity sounds promising, it’s simply not enough.
Industry leaders rarely talk about the real solution: reducing the overall volume of production. All their talk about sustainable investing and innovative new materials and technologies comes under the assumption that the industry continues to grow. But unlimited growth is impossible on a planet with finite resources.
The industry wants to place the responsibility on consumers to educate themselves and recycle their own clothes, while continuing to heavily market cheap fast fashion at us.
Real change is not going to happen without investing in designs and strategies to extend the life of clothing and reduce the environmental impact of production at the design stage. Fashion brands need to redefine their marketing strategies and start involving customers in a new narrative where people buy less and clothes are more durable and repairable. We need to slow down.
If the Fashion industry really wants to be “an engine for a global and sustainable development”, it needs to think about how to shift the business model beyond the current paradigm of continuous economic growth. We hope that the fashion industry doesn’t wait until 2030 to realise that.
*This story first appeared on Greenpeace.org
College of Human Ecology faculty and student efforts to advance sustainable approaches to textile and fashion design has led to the development of the Cornell Natural Dye Garden after a successful crowdfunding campaign that ended in fall 2016.
The project raised $10,365 for the development and cultivation of a dye garden, which will produce a variety of colors that come from the natural world and have a lower environmental impact.
“We know that synthetic dyes cause incredible environmental harm and pollute waterways. Human health is also impacted, particularly for laborers in the textile dyeing industries,” said Denise Green, assistant professor of fiber science and apparel design.
According to organizers, up to 200,000 tons of synthetic dyes are discharged into waterways around the globe every year, making textile dye plants the second-largest polluter of water after agriculture.
In many developing nations where textiles are produced, workers may not be properly protected from the toxic chemicals used to dye fibers and fabrics, making synthetic dyes hazardous to environmental and human health, Green said.
In contrast, natural dyes, some of which come from weeds, are nontoxic. Some of these dye plants have the ability to grow aggressively without herbicides or fungicides.
“We believe natural dyes are an opportunity to make a sustainable intervention in the apparel supply chain,” Green said.
In May 2015, Green, in collaboration with fellow fiber science and apparel design faculty and students, as well as Human Ecology Facilities Services and Cornell Botanic Gardens staff, planted a test garden of natural dye plants at the northeast corner of the Human Ecology Building overlooking Beebe Lake.
“That success led us to the idea to put the garden in a place that’s more accessible for students and more visible in terms of our college life,” Green said.
In spring 2016, Green and her students moved the garden to a plot located in the courtyard between Martha Van Rensselaer Hall and the Human Ecology Building. The relocation of the garden, according to Green, allows students and faculty to grow a wider array of dye plants to be used in teaching and research.
“The new location is highly visible,” Green said, adding that plans are in place to add educational signage for the 2017 growing season.
“Signage means that the garden won’t just be beautiful to look at, and valuable as a natural dye resource, but it will also be an opportunity to educate students, staff and the public about the plants we are growing and the range of colors they yield,” she said.
Beyond working on projects, Green hopes the garden will have deep and long-lasting impacts on fiber science and apparel design students who begin careers in the manufacturing and fashion industries.
“Our hope is they become conscientious citizens of the world who think about the impact that their design will have on the environment, on human health and on many people, which we don’t often think about when we consume fashion,” Green said.
*This story first appeared on Cornell News
Can fashion go hand-in-hand with being environmentally conscious and affordable to the masses? With heavy price tags, swiftly changing trends and lack of recycling options, the clothing industry ranks low on the eco-friendly scale. Moreover, fashion is associated with being accessible only to the elite. These are notions that budding fashion designer Devyani Kharbanda hopes to change for the better.
Raunaq by Devyani is the young designer’s brainchild—a line of ensembles made from kataran, the waste fabric left behind after making a garment.
Devyani, a final year student of fashion designing at Pearl Academy of Fashion, Delhi, began working on the initiative as part of her college curriculum. Her aim was two-fold. One was to bring down the cost of special occasion wear, and the other was to take an eco-friendly approach to design.
“Wedding dresses these days are exorbitantly priced,” she says. “Having elaborate surface work adds up to the cost of the garment along with the kind of fabrics used. Hence I chose kataran to make my garment look more interesting, unique and beautiful. My main aim was to make best use of the waste material available without spending a lot on the beautification of the garment.”
She began by sourcing the waste fabric. No place abounds in leftover fabrics more than tailoring shops and that’s where Devyani began sourcing. “I went to nearby tailors in and around my colony,” she says. “That was a task, as tailors don’t entertain students easily. Though at some places it was easy, but at times convincing the tailors to take out time and give me all the kataran they had was difficult.”
As she collected the scrap fabrics, she also simultaneously worked on the design element. Her strength as a designer lies in surface ornamentation and her designs showcase the possibilities of using waste fabrics to create eye-catching ornamentation and detailing on the garment.
Devyani conceptualised Raunaq as a collection of five brightly-hued ensembles, celebrating the union of two souls.
She started the design process with a hypothetical celebrity for whom she could make garments to wear at wedding functions. Devyani chose director Kiran Rao as a subject. “Keeping in mind what kind of garments she generally wears, the garments don’t have a lot of bling. According to me it would suit her kind of styling,” she says.
She adds, “The concept of using kataran for beautification is not very common, so a celebrity client would’ve been perfect to probably start a trend of such beautification techniques and spread amongst people as we all generally look up to celebrities and their clothing.”
The vibrant ensembles that make up the Raunak collection also showcases a variety of surface techniques. Devyani used couching, fabric flowers and yoyo flowers in the garments, and also made a lot of tassels using waste fabric.
Devyani admits that while the project seemed easy to start with, she faced many challenges during the process, which have helped her grow as a designer. “The biggest challenge was to bring my thought into reality as most of my garments were hand-done. Procuring the fabric, deciding colour combinations, doing the surface work and giving a finished designer look to the garments, while meeting timelines was another challenge. I even made matching accessories with the garments.” She credits her family and mentor Ambika Magotra for supporting her through the process.”
Devyani’s first designs were showcased, along with other student projects, at the latest edition of Amazon India Fashion Week.
The affordability of the designs made Devyani’s ensembles stand out in the crowd of designer ensembles. She says, “I made sure that I do something to beautify the surface of my garments without spending a lot. Making it eye catching but not having to spend too much on purchasing it was appreciated by everyone.”
The young designer is elated with the response the show has generated. “Post the show, reviews and media have been very encouraging which has boosted my confidence. I received a lot of positive feedback from everyone for my designs and unique idea,” she says.
Once she completes her degree, she hopes to work in an export house and learn about its operations. “I will hopefully one day build my own export house, where I plan to make garments using waste materials, inculcate eco friendly practices and explore further innovative ideas to incorporate in my design process.”
Till then, Devyani is eager to craft garments from kataran on request from interested clients. Invested in combining great design with sustainable practices, she says, “I would love to work on reusing waste fabric and offering something beautiful yet eco friendly. This way,, even though little, I am surely able to do my bit.”
To contact Devyani, click here.
*This story first appeared on The Better India