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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Textile dyeing accounts for one fifth of all industrial wastewater pollution generated worldwide and much of it, particularly in developing countries in Asia, goes untreated. Now, China is employing electron beams to treat effluent from textile dyeing plants, ushering in a new era for radiation technology.
“Despite advances in conventional wastewater treatment technology in recent years, radiation remains the only technology that can treat the most stubborn colorants in wastewater,” said Suni Sabharwal, Radiation Processing Specialist at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “The problem is that the technology exists in developed countries, while most of the need now is in the developing world.”
To bridge the knowledge gap, the IAEA ran a coordinated research project on the technology, including its transfer to several countries, mostly in Asia. Chinese researchers, for example, have benefited from the advice of experts from Hungary, Korea and Poland in the adoption of the technology and the construction of the plant, said Jianlong Wang, Deputy Director of the Nuclear and Energy Technology Institute at Tsinghua University in Beijing and the principal researcher behind the project.
The new plant in Jinhua city, 300 kilometers south of Shanghai, will treat 1500 cubic meters of wastewater per day, around a sixth of the plant’s output. “If everything goes smoothly, we will be able to roll out technology to the rest of the plant and eventually to other plants across the country,” Wang said.
Before opting for radiation technology using electronic beams, Chinese researchers had run an extensive set of feasibility experiments using the effluent from the plant, comparing electron beam technology with other methods. “Electron beam technology was the clear winner as both the more ecological and more effective option,” Wang added.
Other countries with large textile manufacturing industries, such as India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, are also considering introducing the technology with the assistance of the IAEA. India is already using gamma irradiation to treat municipal sewage sludge.
In standard wastewater treatment, bacteria are used to digest and breakdown pollutants. However, the molecules in textile effluent cannot be treated with bacteria. To color textiles, compounds with large, long and complex chains are used. Wastewater from the industry can contain more than 70 complex chemicals that do not easily degrade.
By irradiating the effluent using electron beams, scientists can break these complex chemicals into smaller molecules, which, in turn, can be treated and removed using normal biological processes. Irradiation is done using short-lived reactive radicals than can interact with a wide range of pollutants and break them down.
Chinese researchers are also considering the use of electron beam technology to treat residues from pharmaceutical plants that produce antibiotics. These residues are currently handled as hazardous waste because they contain antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes that cannot be destroyed using conventional technologies, such as composting or oxidation. Research has revealed that electron beam technology can effectively decompose the residual antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes, Wang explained. The establishment of a demonstration plant at an industrial scale is planned for later this year.
*This story first appeared on Sustainable Brands
Imitating Nature Offers Sustainable Choices in New Textiles
Nature provides the inspiration for many innovations, including in the field of textiles. Some efforts, however, are quite specific in imitating nature. In fact, an entire field of science has blossomed under the name “biomimetics,” a term first coined in 1969 by Dr. Otto Schmitt, who spent much of his career as a professor and researcher at the University of Minnesota. Since then, the field has grown with many commercially successful products such as the Nanotex technology. Biomimicry has enabled the development of functional finishes, soft materials, textile technologies, binders and other products.
What is Biomimetics?
As Yogi Berra is credited with saying, “You can observe a lot by just watching.” Biomimetics is all about observing and trying to mimic nature in order to develop value-added finishes and products, such as water-repellant coatings and improved adhesives, as examples. Biomimicry involves understanding how nature adapts and borrowing those underlying principles to develop value-added and functional products and processes.
Many discoveries and inventions in physical, engineering and biological sciences have stemmed from observing nature. Biologist Osamu Shimomura, who won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry discovered the green fluorescent protein (GFP) in jellyfish, Aequorea victoria, which is an important biological tool these days, supporting research in cancer and HIV, for instance.
There seems to be a symbiotic relationship between biomimetics and nanoscience. One of the early commercial successes with the application of nanoscience in textiles was based on bio-inspiration.
In 1998, Nanotex was founded based on the inspiration from nature in repelling water from a surface. This technology copied nature’s process using nanotechnology. Nano molecules bonded to textiles provided an efficient stain-repellant mechanism that resulted in magic stain removals, which caught the attention of retail brands and consumers. Today, Nanotex is part of Crypton Inc., and the nature-inspired Nanotex technologies are used in over 100 brands around the world.
Since the late 1980s, there have been tremendous efforts globally to develop nanofibers for a variety of applications from filtration to tissue scaffolds. As nanofibers are submicron-sized fibers, they provide high surface area. Also, additional characteristics that mimic nature, such as three-dimensional (3-D) structures and self-assembly, are important for using nanofibers for growing cells.
According to biotechnologist, Dr. Uday Turaga of Texas Tech University, “Everything inside the body is three dimensional and at macromolecular level, the extra cellular matrix is 3-D and nanofibers simulate the 3-D structure, which cells face in vivo.”
Despite the established protocols associated with growing cells on petri dishes, which are two dimensional (2-D), Turaga says these 2-D structures do not mimic the condition in vivo. In these circumstances, nanofiber meshes provide practical advantages. Turaga has been working extensively in the recent past to develop environmentally friendly nanowebs using biocompatible polymers such as ploy (vinyl alcohol).
These nanowebs are functionalized with natural antimicrobial products (for example, honey!) for developing value-added products such as wound dressings. Poly (vinyl alcohol) bandages with safe antiseptics, such polyhexamethylene biguanides, showed excellent antibacterial efficacies against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, according to Turaga.
The Growth of Biotextiles
The field of using natural products to impart functionality to textiles is growing. This field can be conveniently called “biotextiles.” Coimbatore, India-based Avinashilingam Institute for Home Science and Higher Education for Women (Avinashilingam Institute) has been a pioneer in the field of biotextiles. Professor Vasugi Raaja, Dean of Home Science at the institute says that the institute is one-of-a-kind in offering a post-graduate course in biotextiles. The program began accepting students in 2005. Courses in the program focus on the theoretically practical aspects of utilizing natural products’ chemistry, such as enzymes and herbs, to impart functionalities to textiles. For more than a decade this institute has worked on interesting projects says Dr. Kalaiarasi, assistant professor of biotextiles. Amylase enzymes were isolated from bacterial and fungal species such as Bacillus cereus and Aspergillus. Papaya leaves have been used to extract protease enzymes, which can be used for degumming silk. Natural byproducts are used for effluent treatments, such as the decolorization of reactive dyes.
The textile dyeing and finishing industry would definitely benefit from such environmentally benign treatment technologies. Natural dyes are developed from natural products using ultrasonic processes, so that extraction becomes efficient. Dr. Prabha, assistant professor at Avinashilingam Institute, who has undertaken her dissertation research on using natural herbs to impart antimicrobial characteristics to textiles, says that the raw material is cost effective, so if the processes are optimized, these alternative treatments will be environmentally friendly and commercially viable.
Her project extracted flavonoids from natural products, such as Vetiveria zizanioides roots andPhyllanthus niruri leaves to impart mosquito repellency to cotton fabrics. In addition to utilizing natural products, the project utilized emerging environmentally benign processes such as plasma to improve the process efficiency and the durability of treatments.
The Watch List
A team of multidisciplinary researchers at Stanford University, Calif., has developed a skin-like fabric that cools the body more efficiently. The use of nanoporous polyethylene fabric resulted in the lowering of skin temperature by about 2.7 degrees Centigrade when compared with another commonly used next-to-skin fabric. According to Yi Cui, associate professor of materials science at Stanford, the fabric effectively cools the person, which makes cooling the building unnecessary, thereby saving energy.
Scientists at Uppsala University, Sweden, in collaboration with German virologists have developed cellulose nanofiber sheets to remove viruses from water. Nanocellulose filter paper, termed mille-feuille filter because they have a layered structure resembling the French pastry mille-feuille, will be able to remove even small-sized viruses. These new, structured nanocellulose sheets are affordable filters that not only can remove viruses but also can have long life, according to Uppsala University. Compared to tea bag kind of cellulose filter, these French pastry-like filters have pore structures that can filter viruses that are normally resistant to physical and chemical countermeasure processes.
The Uppsala team, led by professor Albert Mihranyan, collaborated with virologists from Charles River Biopharmaceutical Services, Cologne, Germany. According to Mihranyan, their goal is to develop filter paper that can remove viruses from water as easily as brewing coffee.
Another team of scientists and students at Imperial College, London, has engineered bacteria found in green tea to produce cellulose that can find applications in filtration and the textile industry. The team has developed DNA tools to engineer a specific strain of bacteria found in fermented green tea to produce modified bacterial cellulose. This technique also enables incorporating proteins and other biomolecules into the bacteria.
Among many potential applications, protein-incorporated bacterial cellulose filters can be used to target contaminants in water supplies. An interesting application is the development of sensors using cellulose material that can detect biotoxins based on color change.
Biomimetic textiles are an exciting and emerging field within the high-performance and functional textiles category, and as an interdisciplinary field, it deserves due attention from the smart fabrics sector, as well.
With the need to use environmentally friendly products and processes, drawing inspiration from nature is indeed a good idea to develop products, such as waterproof materials, nature-inspired biocidal substrates and biomimetic adhesives.
As it is clear from the commercial successes of products such as Nanotex, technology, practical applicability and cost have to work in harmony to achieve this. Dr. Prabha of Coimbatore echoes this premise; in the case of natural products, they can be cheaper if they are available adequately, such as those she had used in India.
In addition to the cost advantages of using natural products, other important aspects are product durability and applicability. The ease of adapting nature’s ways and the durability of bioinspired products pose definite challenges for the next-generation textile industry, whether the field is biomimetic textiles, wearable textiles or some other market area.
*This story first appeared on Advanced Textile Source
A synthetic spider silk parka, luxury knitwear made from deadstock yarns, and one-of-a-kind pieces from unwanted locally sourced materials are the latest sustainable clothing options.
The Moon Parka is the first product successfully made of synthetic spider silk materials – the result of over 11 years of research, 10 design iterations, and 656 gene synthesis designs. Japanese advanced biomaterials company Spiber created the prototype outerwear jacket in partnership with The North Face, and expects to deliver the final product next year.
Named for the home of the most distant and harshest polar region mankind has reached, the Moon Parka was created thanks to biomimicry. Spiber’s researchers were inspired by the extremely strong and flexible threads that spiders produce with biological proteins. Over a decade of development led to the synthetic fiber used in the Moon Parka, called Qmonos, from the Japanese word for spider web. It is produced through an industrial fermentation process that involves micro-organisms producing proteins.
With the Moon Parka as a proof of concept for the spider silk fiber, Spiber hopes to revolutionize the apparel industry. The company has also set its sights on the automotive and medical device industries for future product development. Ford Motor Company researchers are also looking to biomimicry for inspiration, focusing on geckos’ sticky toe pads to improve adhesives and recyclability.
Meanwhile, despite a growing number of recycling, upcycling and chemical-separation initiatives throughout the fashion industry, a lot of existing textiles are going to waste around the world — so much so that UK waste-reduction charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) recently announced a three-year, €3.6 million commitment to reduce clothing waste across Europe.
Designer Eleanor O’Neill is doing her part with an even smaller initiative through her studio in England. The lone producer behind her Study 34 label hand-makes clothing using leftover luxury yarn. It is not uncommon for manufacturers to dispose of high-quality yarns if there is not enough left to produce a complete line of garments. O’Neill buys the remnants in bulk and produces limited knitwear collections.
“There are a number of suppliers in the UK who buy and sell end-of-line yarns which are really high quality and, apart from anything else, you can’t usually buy these luxury yarns is such small quantities elsewhere,” O’Neill told Ecouterre. “So I thought here is an outlet and I have a skill, let’s put them together and see how it goes! I think it’s important for a brand to offer something different.”
The sweaters in her newly released Autumn/Winter 2015 line range from £185-215 (US$285-330). O’Neill says that Study 34 pieces are made to last a lifetime with proper care.
“One of the aims of Study 34 is to convey to the customer how a garment is made in the hope that once they can see the time and skill that goes into making clothing it will encourage them to value it more,” she says. “It’s a sad fact but I think getting to a stage where people treasure and look after their clothes enough not to throw them out within a few months would be classed as a revolution right now.”
Yet, in this era of fast fashion, is using leftover raw materials enough? Recycling materials seems essential in reducing the fashion industry’s negative impacts.
Enter social enterprise Space Between. An initiative of Massey University’s School of Design, Space Between is using a designer-led approach and collaborating with local partners in New Zealand to address sustainability issues. Current and past students of the school are able to develop their entrepreneurial capabilities while reducing waste and resource depletion.
The clothing pieces are known as “The Fundamentals,” and are made on-demand, year-round rather than seasonally in batches. They are produced by Earthlink Inc, a non-profit organization that provides work for people facing workplace challenges. Space Between also partnered with New Zealand Post Group and corporate uniform manufacturer Booker Spalding to identify more sustainable disposal methods for end-of-life retail and postal uniforms, such as upcycling them into The Fundamentals pieces. Get more insight into the process here.
Jennifer Whitty, Senior Lecturer of Fashion Design at Massey University and director of Space Between, said the goal of the project is to “develop alternative connections between design, manufacturing systems, and consumption habits.” She hopes the partnerships will create a mutually beneficial local industry and alter the conventional designer-manufacturer relationship.
Space Between is also affiliated with university research related to waste reduction in the industry, under the banner Fashion Lab. They consider models of making zero-waste garments and aim to challenge the norms of consumption and retail.
*This story first appeared on Sustainable Brands.
Levi Strauss & Co. was one of the first companies in the industry to establish a Restricted Substances List that identifies chemicals they will not permit in products or in the production process due to their potential impact on consumers, workers and the environment. Bart leads and manages the Company’s Eureka Lab, the regional development centers, and the Innovation Team.
Clean Production Action: What is Levi’s Eureka Innovation Lab?
Bart Sights: We like to say that our Eureka Lab works at the intersection of art and science. We research technologies and then collaborate with our design partners to decide what is right for our brands and our products — then we execute rapid prototypes. We’re a small factory setting. We have everything in this building that it takes to make all of our products. We want to touch, wear, and feel, to see what that product experience is like, and then we test it for durability and to make sure that it meets our standards. When all of that is done and it’s adopted into the line, we work with factories and vendors around the world to scale that into production.
CPA: How is chemistry incorporated into what you do?
Bart: We research at a component level fiber, fabric, fit and finish. At all of those levels — except fit — a certain amount of chemistry is involved. Chemistry is imbedded in what we do.
CPA: When did green chemistry become a priority for the company?
Bart: LS&Co. has a long record of being a pioneer in sustainable practices, but we got really serious about sustainable chemistry in 2012 around the time our new CEO, Chip Bergh, came to the company.
CPA: What’s the biggest obstacle that you face in trying to get manufacturers to give you information about what chemicals they’re using?
Bart: The biggest challenge with chemicals is to understand their raw material components in relationship to their hazard and risk profile but without compromising chemical supplier’s intellectual property (IP). In order to make better or safer chemical choices in the development process and for our supply chain, this information is critical. To solve this, we’ve developed a framework using a third party assessor that will provide the information we need to make decisions but safeguard the IP of our suppliers.
CPA: What tools do you use to identify hazardous chemicals and find safe alternatives?
Bart: We are primarily using two methodologies – GreenScreen® for Safer Chemicals and the EPA’s Safer Choice program. Both are based on chemical hazard assessment, looking at a variety of human health and environmental end points. These programs provide us visibility into the safety of the substances used to formulate the chemicals used by our vendors to create garment finish effects. It also allows us to make better choices in the chemicals we use and have a dialogue with our chemical supplier where improvements can be made.
CPA: How difficult is it for suppliers to comply with your standards?
Bart: At first there was a great deal of reluctance by our suppliers and not only due to the sensitivity of sharing proprietary information. There was also the traditional perspective of risk management that was a barrier. The industry is use to managing risk at the end of the pipeline, through Restricted Substance Lists and compliance enforcement. This is a totally different approach that identifies and removes hazards up front in a proactive and precautionary manner. But once our suppliers went through the process with us, they recognized the benefits in the framework we created which protects their IP but allows transparency for collaboration and innovation. To date, we’ve piloted our framework with 3 garment manufacturing vendors and approximately 8 chemical suppliers. The feedback we’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive.
CPA: Are you sharing any of this information with other companies?
Bart: We did a series of peer reviews in March after we completed our first pilot and we received a lot of good, constructive feedback. Our garment manufacturer and three chemical suppliers also participated in the review process – it was a good collaboration. We have also started conversations with other brands to let them know what we’re doing. We’ve gotten some good feedback from them as well, and some questions that have lead us to make adjustments, but overall it has been very positive.
CPA: Why do you feel that it’s important to participate in the upcoming BizNGO Conference?
Bart: Levi’s is doing something that it is pioneering. We’re proud of it and want to share it. It’s hazard assessment, and so far it’s contributing to a positive list of chemistry, which really hasn’t been done before. With BizNGO it gets beyond just textiles — it’s building products, retail, electronics, consumer products, healthcare, and more. We want to share our systemic thinking, but also get feedback and learn from other industries.
CPA: Does thinking about green chemistry change the fundamental way you design products?
Bart: Absolutely. As sort of as a poster child for this initiative we decided that, even when we were in the pilot stage, that we would only develop products in Eureka with screened chemicals that have gone through the hazard assessment process, and now our lab is 100% based on screened chemistry. We have lots of tools to achieve certain looks, and that constraint drives even more innovation and creativity – we find alternatives and ways around it. So it affects our process and how we approach it, but in a positive way.
*This story first appeared on BizNGO.
By Joel Makower
Nike has just come out of the starting gate with some new initiatives aimed at taming its corporate and supply-chain footprint, and as usual it has hit the ground running.
Its latest sprint includes a collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Materials Challenge seeking “revolutionary new ideas” on innovative and low-impact fabrics and textiles, a commitment to fully power its company-owned and operated facilities with renewable energy within a decade. Oh, and an updated app so that your company can follow in Nike’s footsteps.
The MIT announcements represents the next chapter between the two organizations to study the environmental and social impacts of the key materials used to make most apparel and footwear products: cotton, polyester, leather and rubber. An MIT report, commissioned by Nike and released last week, looks at and quantifies the impacts and key hotspots where these materials have significant climate and other environmental impacts.
“There’s been a big missing part of the story around climate, which is that people have not understood the footprint of where fossil fuels show up as an imbedded part of a sector, and in particular in materials,” Hannah Jones, Nike’s chief sustainability officer and VP, innovation accelerator, told me last week. The report’s goal, she said, was “to galvanize the material industry and the chemical industry that supports them into change.”
Jones explained that despite a tremendous amount of work already being undertaken by Nike and other footwear and apparel companies, “We really need to kickstart a much bigger conversation with the industry as a whole and start to send signals to the materials vendors and the chemical companies that do the inventing behind them.”
Nike has opened a portal within MIT’s CoLab, a crowdsourcing platform “where citizens work with experts and each other to create, analyze, and select detailed proposals for what to do about climate change.” The CoLab, housed within the school’s Center for Collective Intelligence, hosts “contests,” each focusing on a Big Question related to climate change — for example, the hardware, software and business models that can increase urban energy efficiency; actions that can address energy-water nexus challenges; and how to mitigate the urban heat island effect — more than two dozen altogether, though participation in some is light.
On Friday, the CoLab began accepting proposals for “revolutionary new ideas for how to engage industries, designers and consumers in valuing, demanding and adopting low-impact fabrics and textiles.”
The climate and other environmental impacts of clothing and footwear don’t usually rank up there with coal-fired power plants, cement manufacturing and — well, smog-spewing Volkswagens — as major contributors to climate change. But as the new MIT report points out, the impacts aren’t trivial. Example: The emissions associated with a single T-shirt is roughly equal to the carbon footprint of driving a passenger car for 10 miles.
That puts the materials community — the companies, industries and individuals who work with or make decisions around materials — “in a unique position to enable sustainable patterns of consumption,” says the report.
The industry’s clout is driven by its size. The global apparel industry produces more than 150 billion garments in a typical year — equivalent to more than 20 new articles of clothing for every person on the planet — and is a $1.8 trillion market. In 2015, the industry is projected to use nearly 100 million tons of fiber and filament yarns, about 40 percent agriculturally derived (cotton, wool, etc.) and 60 percent petroleum-based synthetics (polyester, nylon and various blends). Both have climate impacts.
And then there’s water. It takes several dozen gallons — more than 400 pounds — to process just one pound of textiles, according to a 2009 study. Given that footwear and apparel manufacturing is concentrated in a handful of regions, that can lead to significant water stresses. For example, in 2009, textile production ranked third among major industries in China in terms of total wastewater discharge, primarily from the dyeing and finishing steps of manufacturing.
All of which, says Jones, “is a major concern, and it’s also a major business opportunity.”
Jones views the MIT challenge as a means of unearthing innovative solutions — new technologies, novel materials and the like — but beyond that, she says, “We’re really looking at it from a system-change perspective and at how we can kickstart this revolution in the materials industry.”
This is hardly the first initiative by Nike to transform its industry and supply chain. Indeed, the company’s materials and manufacturing innovation initiatives and achievements, led by Jones, has a long history, as we’ve reported for years. The company is one of the top buyers of organic cotton. Its factories have moved to water- and chemical-free dyeing. It has stopped sourcing leather from the Amazon rainforest. It has recycled countless millions of plastic bottles into garments. It has been on a journey to achieve zero discharge of hazardous chemicals throughout its supply chain.
And the company has shared its innovations, from scoring the environmental attributes of materials to sharing patents. A few years ago, Nike partnered with NASA and two other U.S. federal agencies to identify game-changing innovations, such as sustainable fabrics, or how to transform waste systems in both developed and developing countries.
Walking a fine line
Two years ago, the company publically released an app, called Making, to allow designers to research fabrics or materials on such things as water consumption, chemistry, energy and waste. Last week, Nike released an updated 3.0 version of the app, which includes comparisons of the energy used and greenhouse gases created during the production of each material.
I asked Jones how the company walks a fine line between sharing such information and staying a step ahead in a fiercely competitive sector.
“It’s definitely a delicate balance,” she said. “And we’re constantly walking along that line of where is this competitive and where is this pre-competitive? As a sustainability practitioner, I actually love it when things become competitive because that means it’s going mainstream. It means that it’s a pull from the market versus us pushing.”
But much of this transcends competition, she says. “We do the industry a whole lot of good by actually helping create clarity and standards and transparency around the footprints. We build industry coalitions. Oh, and by the way, we’re absolutely going to compete on some of the other things.”
Nike is far from alone in seeking materials innovations. Patagonia, for one, has been continually pushing the limits of innovation — everything from “ethical goose down” to Yulex, a substitute to petroleum-based neoprene for wetsuits, derived from guayule plants indigenous to the southwestern United States. Kering, which owns brands like Gucci, Saint Laurent and Puma, last year opened a Materials Innovation Lab in Northern Italy, dedicated to helping making more sustainable choices in their supply chains and products. Adidas announced last week that it will use worn-out cleats and combine them with scrap materials from other industries to make new cleats.
Increasingly, such innovations are coming from sources outside the company walls. “Somebody once said to me, ‘There are a lot of really smart people out there. And most of them don’t work for you,’” says Jones. And, she adds, some innovations even come from outside the sector, requiring Nike to tap nontraditional sources for innovation. The CoLab challenge is part of that effort.
“You need to fail early and fail fast many, many times to get to the one thing that you can change and disrupt an entire market,” says Jones. For example, she says, Nike approached a number of companies asking, “Can we knit an upper using 3D geometry and complex algorithms that will help the athlete and support the foot?” It took many iterations until they succeeded.
Says Jones: “We fell forward all the time on that one. It’s now a major platform for the whole company. And it’s having a massive impact on waste reduction.”
Clearly, Jones is thinking big. “My end goal is ultimately creating an entirely closed-loop business model,” she told me, adding that the making of materials will be key to reaching the goal of “renewable, reusable materials that have an infinite life and that can be re-launched and rebuilt. And do that at scale.”
Another goal, she might have added, is to make sure that mindset becomes mainstream, the way the race is run.
*This story first appeared on GreenBiz.
The retail giant’s foundation is calling for innovative solutions to waste and pollution but critics say it’s just a way to keep the wheels of fast fashion spinning
H&M, one of the world’s largest fast fashion brands, has launched a €1m ($1.16m) recycling prize in an effort to engage innovators, technologists, scientists and entrepreneurs to find a solution to a growing problem in the clothing industry: waste and pollution.
The Swedish brand’s foundation, the H&M Conscious Foundation, announced the Global Challenge Award to “catalyse green, truly groundbreaking ideas” that will “protect the earth’s natural resources by closing the loop for fashion”.
It’s a clever move from the fashion giant. The challenge has public appeal (it’s open to anyone with an early stage idea) and it will bring attention to an important issue for the fashion industry. But critics question whether the company is side stepping the knottier issues of overproduction and worker rights by emphasising materials innovation and technology – especially when recycling the mixed fibres so common in fast fashion is proving tricky.
The €1m prize money will be dispersed among five winners chosen by a judging panel – including academics such as Johan Rockström, Vogue Italia’s editor and a fashion model – each of whom will receive €100,000. The other €500,000 will be shared between winners after a public vote. Winners will also take part in a one year innovation bootcamp in Stockholm, organised jointly by Accenture and KTH Royal Institute of Technology, where the winners can test out early-stage ideas and see if they have the power to scale.
According to Erik Bang, project manager for the Global Change Award, the impetus behind the competition is that “change is not happening fast enough”. A prize of this size and nature is a first in the fashion industry, he says. People are not going to stop buying clothes, he says, “however, the fashion industry requires large amounts of natural resources, lots of which can be reduced, recycled, substituted or eliminated”.
Rebecca Earley, professor in sustainable textiles at the University of Arts London, is one of the judges. She agrees that the fashion industry needs change and quickly. “The industry is under pressure to adhere to unrealistic margins and speeds; and customers have grown accustomed to low prices and masses of choice,” she said before the launch, taking place today in Stockholm. “We need radical new ideas now to be able to face the next ten years without the prospect of the waste, pollution, resource use and working conditions continuing.”
However, Lucy Siegle, journalist and author of To Die for: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?, is less convinced. She calls the H&M challenge a “clever award that people are understandably going to get very excited by, given that it has a €1m prize fund, a glossy name – Global Change – and a great panel.”
But, she explains, the reality is that it does little for those who are concerned about inequality and labour rights in the supply chain. “Over consumption of natural resources is a root problem, but not the only one.”
Rather, Siegle says, it’s H&M’s way of saying that “we can have as much fashion as we want without any talk of scaling back or slowing store expansion or the drive to gain market share”.
Maxine Bedat, co-founder and CEO of Zady, a New York-based online company that sells “slow fashion”, agrees: “Closing the loop is important, but it doesn’t tackle the elephant in the room, which is overproduction of clothing”. If 150bn pieces of clothing are made every year and that piece is worn just seven times, she argues, then “each turn of fashion creates a massive carbon footprint, even if it’s in the loop, and doesn’t change the impact.”
The solution, she says, lies in an age-old idea: buy high-quality pieces and less frequently.
**This story first appeared on The Guardian here.