When we think about the fashion industry, our thoughts might fill with images of beautiful models, posing in unique, perfectly pressed, and stunning outfits. Or, we might think of our everyday wear, and spending hours browsing racks in the mall or shopping online. Fashion is a significant part of our lives, and while we may see it as just an industry that inspires us to express our personal style, there is a darker side to it. In fact, the fashion industry is the second “dirtiest” industry on Earth. Other than oil, it creates more pollution than any other industry.
This serious and somewhat secretive truth is a disturbing reality that raises many questions. How can simply buying a new shirt destroy our beautiful planet? What can we do to help change the fashion industry for the better? But most importantly, what are we going to wear??
Luckily, the answers to these questions are not as complex as we may think. The root to all of the answers is the fabric. Despite what we may have heard, not all fabrics are created equal. As with any industry, there are negative environmental impacts that arise during the manufacturing process. When it comes to fashion, depending on the level of resources used throughout, the negative effects can significantly vary from fabric to fabric.
Making eco-conscious purchases can significantly decrease the harmful impacts of manufacturing fabric.To make positive changes in our wardrobe, and reduce the damages inflicted on the Earth, here are a few sustainable fabric options to look for when we’re shopping:
Cotton is one of the most water-intensive plants to grow. Conventional farming methods require high amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to ensure that the plants flourish. Instead of buying cotton, a better alternative is organic cotton. Organic cotton farming helps to maintain soil fertility by eliminating the use of chemical fertilizers and uses natural fertilizers like compost or manure. Along with biological pest control (the introduction of natural predators to control pest populations), the use of chemical pesticides can also be drastically decreased. This prevents these harmful chemicals from leaching into our water sources and affecting the environments surrounding the cotton farm.
Also, as an alternative to traditional cotton seeds, research is being done to alter the DNA in cotton plants and make them more drought-resistant, which could dramatically cut down on the amount of water used to cultivate the plants. On a bright note, the organic cotton industry is continually growing, and in 2016 over 20,000 acres of organic cotton was farmed in the United States – a 15% increase.
"...plastic bottles are now being recycled into new fabrics, fit for resale."
In the United States alone, the EPA estimates that the textile recycling industry receives nearly 3.8 billion pounds of textile waste each year. It sounds like a lot, but that number makes up only about 15% of all textile waste produced in the country. The rest ends up in landfills, adding greenhouse gases to our atmosphere as they decompose. To combat this issue, manufacturers have begun getting creative with their raw materials. Rather than spinning fabric from freshly picked cotton or creating new manmade fibers, old clothing, textiles, and even plastic bottles are now being recycled into new fabrics, fit for resale. Major retailers like H&M and Adidas have caught on to this new method of production and have started creating capsule collections made from recycled and sustainable textiles.
"An experimental production company in London uses pineapple leaf fibers to create a nonwoven fiber called Pinatex."
There are certain materials that you may never have considered as a possible fabric, but with technological advances and some creativity, there are more available than you think. Take for example fruit fibers. Discarded waste from the food industry can now be turned into fabric for the fashion industry. Ananas Anam, an experimental production company based out of the Royal College of Art in London, uses pineapple leaf fibers to create a nonwoven fiber called Piñatex. The resulting fabric is a cruelty-free alternative to leather, made without any of the chemicals used to fabricate PVC. Mother Erth handbags also fall into this category, as they are all handmade by artisan weavers using manufacturer reject plastic-aluminum materials headed for landfills.
"It's a small start..."
Innovative companies and products are the newest wave of the fashion industry and will help to propel us into a more sustainable future. As long as we, the consumers, demand recycled and repurposed fabric, we can lower the harmful effects of fabric and clothing manufacturing. While it may seem like a small start, this is a significant step toward other viable solutions and a more eco-friendly society!