Listen to the generations before us, and our elders will tell us how instead of a walk-in closet full of clothes, they had a tiny crevice in their room, or a wardrobe, where they stored a few garments: One nice coat, maybe a handful of shirts, and a couple of pairs of trousers were the norm for men, for example. Clothes were not always washed, but often brushed to keep clean, and shoes were polished daily. Fast forward to today, and fast fashion is all the rage. It is common to have several colors of the same shirt or pants, and many consumers do not think twice about discarding a garment — not to Goodwill or charity, but literally into the trash can — after a few wears.
Finally, the fashion industry realizes we cannot continue this trend in a world where the rising population will have to devote more land to food — or even energy. We cannot continue to grow cotton like mad, nor can we endlessly spin fossil fuels into polyester or other synthetic fabrics. The road toward more sustainable fibers will be a long one with plenty of failures and misses, but it is one we need to take. That is, at least, absent a total rethink of how many clothes we really need in our closets -- a discussion the large global clothing chains want to avoid.
To skirt that problem, more clothing companies are focusing on sustainable fiber. Levi Strauss, for example, has modernized and transformed its brand in part by emphasizing sustainability in everything from its garments’ origins to long after the sale. The company has spun recycled plastic bottles into its iconic denim jeans and has worked with other countries to launch the Better Cotton Initiative.
While there's still plenty to be done, the use of sustainable fibers is on the rise. Read on to learn more about how five textiles are shaping sustainability in the fashion industry.
When it comes to scale, synthetic fabrics are showing more promise. The era of more collaboration and less patent litigation, at least when it comes to developing more ecologically friendly textiles, offers hope. Some of this change is due to companies like Nike with its sustainability index, which boosts the sharing of ideas and innovation.
But with the size of the global textile industry, and increased awareness about its massive and oft-destructive impact, an emphasis on improved textile recycling technology will be crucial if the garment industry will truly become more sustainable. More closed-loop systems will be needed — as of now what few exist are in their infancy.
Camira is another company churning waste textile fibers into fabric — though it insists its final product, X2, is preferable for upholstery. The challenge these and other companies face, however, will be acceptance from designers, who want fabric with which they can seamlessly work, and consumers, who overall still show bias against “green” or recycled fabrics over concern of their quality and durability.
Companies such as Aquafil are the foundation of a complete re-thinking of how the textile and garment industries will operate in the future. Manufacturers and retailers, however, will have to be part of the solution, as well. One company taking a step is The North Face — an easy step considering its customer base is one who loves to be in the outdoors. The company recently modified a popular line of its jackets using recycled yarns, including one made from both fabric scraps and recycled bottles. It is hardly a closed-loop system, but it is getting there: The North Face says for every 10 jackets produced, four more jackets can be produced out of those scraps. Other global chains, including Marks & Spencer and H&M, say they are collecting textiles for reuse, recycling and repurposing. But so far the progress on sustainable textiles, while growing impressive, is still a drop in the bucket in the sea of waste and over-consumption that is a massive blot the global fashion industry.
Image credits: Leon Kaye, The North Face
Based in California, Leon Kaye has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. He shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.