Some industry leaders have postulated a future with no need to grow raw cotton and a fashion industry that thrives on recycled and upcycled materials alone. While the point where we’ll negate the need for fresh raw materials is likely a long way off, not to mention questionable as a benchmark of sustainability, the proportion of sustainably sourced materials that go into our apparel and footwear is already growing rapidly.
A straw poll of fashion and premium apparel executives indicates we’re five or so years away from a crossover point where a majority of items are made predominantly with recycled or upcycled materials or are refurbished and resold. This outlook is optimistic, perhaps, but there seems little doubt that the ability to “do sustainability” is quickly becoming a requirement for fashion brands to be sustainable as enterprises.
Brands and consumers are becoming increasingly educated about the massive amount of clothing and textiles that is wasted each year instead of being recycled or upcycled into new goods. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 87% of material used for clothing production is landfilled or incinerated after its final use, representing a lost opportunity worth some $100 billion annually. The Global Fashion Agenda and Boston Consulting Group estimate that 92 million tons of industry textile waste is created each year and fashion resale platform ThredUp says that US consumers alone discard nearly 17 billion pounds of apparel annually.
As former CEO of H&M Karl-Johan Persson said at the 2018 Fashion Summit in Hong Kong, “Without the transformation of the fashion industry, the planet will not be able to cope. …We definitely have to speed up the shift towards waste-free models, towards a circular economy, and we also need to start to think in new ways and start to collaborate with new partners – because no one can do this on their own.”
While there is broad agreement on the need for change within the industry, charting a practical course to sustainability at scale is a major challenge for many established brands. It requires rethinking how and from what products are made, the supply chains through which materials are sourced and goods produced, and the “recovery chain” that allows goods and materials to be recaptured.
The rapidly growing recommerce market is a powerful opportunity for brands to recapture products for resale or for materials recovery. And for those recovered items, strategies to reuse or recycle components and materials have to be formulated, too. Disassembly requires the separation of materials, decolorizing and the respinning of yarns. New technologies like natural fiber welding (NFW) are easing this process. Extending product longevity is another strategy, one that might involve reselling items multiple times or reusing parts of recovered items in new or refurbished products.
The biggest brands may face challenges in sourcing completely sustainable materials in garments, but they do now have the option of choosing to build them using sustainably made inner components. Chargeurs*PCC Fashion Technologies recently launched a full collection of eco-responsible interlinings called Sustainable 360. More than 500 brands, including Adidas, Claudie Pierlot, Faherty, J.Crew, Macy’s
Interlinings include the technical fabrics that help garments retain their shape, structure and durability, such as shoulder pads and the hidden felt layers that reinforce…
Read More:Is Sustainable Fashion Really Scalable?