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Plastic Waste is Fashion’s New Sustainability Gimmick

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Looking for the latest in eco-friendly fashion? One word: plastics.

H&M announced on Tuesday that it will debut its second Conscious Exclusive campaign — an upscale version of its Conscious Collection program founded in 2012 — which includes formal wear for men, women and children. The line uses recycled polyester made from plastic waste, an estimated eight million tons of which litters oceans each year, and is slated to be available in 160 stores around the globe in late April. The move comes shortly after Adidas partnered with Parley for the Oceans, a nonprofit that reduces oceanic plastic waste, to make running shoes made almost entirely out of discarded plastic.

For the H&M line, the Swedish retailer teamed with Bionic Yarn, a New York-based company that turns plastic bottles into technical yarns and fabrics. The signature piece of H&M’s line is a blush pink pleated gown (which retails for $249) modeled by Natalia Vodianova, who was tapped to be the face of this year’s Conscious Exclusive campaign. Singer Pharrell Williams serves as as Bionic Yarn’s creative director, and has previously teamed up with brands like Timberland and G-Star on footwear and denim that use the bionic yarn technology.

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Pharrell Williams Bionic Yarn collection for Timberland.

“It’s an excellent PR stunt, for H&M to raise awareness about ocean pollution — along with Adidas’ partnership with Parley for the Ocean,” said Lauren Slowik, outreach coordinator and design evangelist at 3-D printing company Shapeways. “But I like to hope that ocean trash is a finite resource and not something we can build whole industries on. The only real positive I see is that it helps to bring supply chain and production of materials to the forefront on consumers’ minds.”

H&M and Adidas said their ocean plastic efforts were designed to be more than just ploys to attract eco-conscious consumers. Adidas began selling its recycled shoes for $220 in November 2016 with a commitment to making a minimum of 1 million pairs by the end of 2017. It also plans to team with Parley on communication, education and research efforts.

Meanwhile, H&M is attempting to increase its percentage of garments made from sustainable materials, which was reported at 20 percent in 2015. It also asserts to be one of the biggest users of recycled polyester and organic cotton, and has a lofty goal for all cotton to be sustainably sourced by 2020.

However, despite its commitment to sustainability, H&M has still been vague in its transparency efforts and faces ongoing criticism for being a fast fashion retailer that is still using significant resources to produce low-priced goods. Natalie Grillon, founder of Project Just, told Glossy in a previous article that despite the assertions made against the company, H&M has still made strides in efforts like employee wages.

“H&M comes under fire a lot for their initiatives because they do publicize it,” said Grillon. “When really, they’ve made a ton of effort in support of better wages. But then they talk about it a lot, and then they come under fire a lot for anything at all that goes wrong.”

*This story first appeared on Glossy

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New Research Looking to Turn Fabric into Fuel, Keep Microfibers Out of Water

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Image Credit: Japan Airlines

We’ve seen a rash of textile-recycling schemes emerge of late — in which the textiles in question may become new garments, but for the most part they remain, well, fabrics. But in what may be the first fabric-to-fuel program we’ve heard of, Japan Airlines — which is already working to roll out sustainable aviation biofuel for flights during the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo — is now working to turn used clothing into jet fuel, in partnership with Japan Environmental Planning (Jeplan) and Tokyo’s Green Earth Institute. The organizations have teamed up to create a collaborative council that could pilot the alternative energy source by as early as 2020.

In October 2015, Jeplan founder Michihiko Iwamota introduced a technology to create bioethanol from cast-off T-shirts and denim jeans, using fermentation to break down the sugars contained in cotton into alcohols. If all goes well with test flights planned to start in 2020, the company aims to establish the first commercial fuel plant by 2030.

“I totally believed that in the future, there would be a car that runs on garbage,” said Iwamoto, referring to the trash-powered time machine from Back to the Future II. “But years went by, and that didn’t happen. So I thought I’d develop it.”

Although addressing a large energy source, 100 tons of cotton yields only around 10 kiloliters of fuel, or roughly 2,641 gallons (a commercial airliner uses about 1 gallon of fuel every second). As Nikkei Asian Review points out, even if all the cotton consumed in Japan were used in fuel production, this would give only 70,000 kl or so annually — less than 1 percent of Japan’s jet fuel usage. But since the technology can also be applied to other types of waste, including paper, clothing may only be the beginning.


Meanwhile, Mistra Future Fashion, a Swedish research program for sustainable fashion, has launched an investigation into the relationship between fabric properties and the shedding of microplastics from polyester fabrics. The company aims to deliver a framework for the construction and care of polyester fabrics in order to minimize microplastic shedding to improve environmental performance and strengthen global competitiveness.

Eunomia Research & Consulting has estimated that 190 thousand tons of microplastics from textiles enter the world’s marine ecosystem each year. According to the Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF) – which earlier this year teamed up with G-Star to call on the textile and washing machine industries to design solutions to eliminate ocean microfiber pollution – the machine-washing of clothes is a big source of plastic pollution in oceans, with small plastic fibers shed by synthetic garments being washed through water treatment plants into waterways, which can also enter the food chain, as fish and other marine organisms can mistake these fibers for food.

Research carried out by the campaign ‘Mermaids Ocean Clean Wash’ for G-Star suggests that polyester, acrylic and nylon items are the biggest culprits, with an acrylic scarf shedding 300,000 fibers per wash and a polyester fleece jacket losing almost a million fibers every time it is washed.

The investigation will be conducted in spring 2017 in partnership with Boob Design,Filippa K and H&M, and the findings could be used for designing a subsequent, larger research project surrounding the microplastics problem.

“Only a strong alliance of dedicated stakeholders around the world can turn the tide,” said Frouke Bruinsma, Corporate Responsibility Director at G-Star. “Everyone is welcome to join us.”

*This story first appeared on Sustainable Brands

Shaping Convergence in Social and Labor Assessments

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Progress in developing an industry-wide tool, website launched

It has been one year since the launch of the Social & Labor Convergence Project, an initiative led by the world’s leading manufacturers, brands, retailers, industry groups and civil society organizations. The mission of the Project is to develop a common assessment framework. The number of signatories has tripled since the launch. This means today already over 95 signatories support the mission and invite any interested party to join. With all signatories participating in the work, the project has stayed on course with an ambitious two-year timeline. To continue growing this momentum and support, a project website has been released, providing more information on how to engage with the project.

The Social & Labor Convergence Project seeks to develop a simple, unified and effective industry-wide assessment framework. This framework includes a standard-agnostic tool and verification methodology to collect relevant and essential data, with the ultimate intent to replace current proprietary tools. A common framework for data collection will reduce duplicated efforts, creating opportunities to invest resources previously designated for compliance audits into the improvement of social and labor conditions.  Collecting common data allows business partners to measure continuous improvement, and increase the opportunity for transparency. In this way, the social impacts and sustained improvements to working conditions in the apparel and footwear sector is accelerated.

The number of signatories has tripled since the launch of this project in October 2015, with over 95 stakeholders supporting the mission and a standing invitation for new signatories to join. Organizations like Arvind Mills, G-Star, GAP Inc., H&M, Hirdaramani, Intertek, OECD, Solidaridad, VF Corp.-Timberland, WRAP are partners from the start. The most recent members include: lululemon, The Netherlands Government and the Sri Lanka manufacturers’ association JAAF.

Janet Mensink, SAC director Social and Labor Convergence Project: “We have maintained on track with our aggressive two-year timeline for the project, to which our achievements could not have been met to date without the multi-stakeholder efforts from all of our signatories. The first version of the tool has been created and is currently reviewed by all signatories’.  This first prototype will be pilot tested in the next month.”

After multiple consultations with signatories and external stakeholders and pilot tests, the converged tool and verification methodology will be finalized and ready for use by Q1 2018.

Colleen Vien, VF Corp.-Timberland and Steering Committee member of the Social & Labor Convergence Project: I’ve seen efforts like this fail previously, but I do believe we are at a time now when it can and will be successful – for several reasons:  egos are being checked at the door , other industries have proven its possible, external auditing firms and social/labor standard holders are not threatened by the idea of convergence, there’s a genuine interest by all to see all of our efforts be more efficient and (more importantly) more effective.  There’s much work to be done to ensure the outcome delivers something that meets all stakeholders’ needs, something that can be depended upon. Together, with all the stakeholders involved, I’m optimistic this time.

The project’s significant progress to develop an industry-wide tool which accelerates social progress is noteworthy. This will be an initiative to watch over the next year.

The Social & Labor Convergence project is facilitated by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and is additionally supported with external funding. The SAC is the apparel, footwear and home textile industry’s foremost alliance for sustainable production. Interested parties can contact SAC: janet@apparelcoalition.org

*This story first appeared on Social &Labor Convergence