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Sustainability in the fashion industry has been at the heart of a handful of designers such as Stella McCartney and outdoor equipment companies like Patagonia.
However, new and traditional brands trying to improve supply chains are increasingly criticized for contributing to the creation of landfills and for other forms of pollution throughout production.
From collaborating to create bio-fiber to eco-friendly tag lanyards, a number of people in the apparel sector are partnering with technology startups to clean wardrobes around the world. .
The biggest problem lies in the amount of unwanted clothing being swept up in landfills. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, working to promote sustainability, global clothing production nearly doubled between 2000 and 2015. During the same period, the number of times clothes was worn has decreased by 36%. They all said, “the equivalent of a garbage truck full of clothes being burned or dumped into the landfill every second,” their reports showed.
According to the World Economic Forum, during the same period, the amount of apparel purchased was more than 60%, but consumers only kept them for half the time.
But some companies, like H&M, are trying to increase their own sustainability while at the same time encouraging consumers to put their garments in the trash. For example, at H&M’s flagship store in Stockholm, the customer it is possible to pay a negligible amount to turn unwanted clothing into new clothes through a process of breaking down old fibers and combining them with new ones.
The eight-step process is designed to generate a point, not a profit. “We want to engage our customers and make them understand that their own garments have value,” said Pascal Brun, head of sustainability at H&M.
But more widely used traditional mechanical recycling also has its limits. “On the surface of such a shiny fashion industry, the supply chain often relies on 19th century equipment,” said Stacy Flynn, founder of Evrnu, a Seattle-based startup. Companies like Ms. Flynn’s are looking to minimize fibers into basic chemical components and build them back up with less impact.
Evrnu’s first product, which Flynn said she hopes will hit the market this year, converts cotton in her clothes into lyocell, a cellulose fiber currently only made from wood.
The process, called NuCycl, updates the original recycling step of sorting, sorting, and shredding the fabric by adding a camera that can more accurately identify the fabric’s composition. Decorative parts, label text or even just used can reduce the cotton content by up to 20 percent.
“It’s like the difference between cooking and baking – you can be more looser with ingredients when cooking, but with baking you have to be precise,” Ms. Flynn said. “It’s like recycling chemicals – if you know what you have, you can optimize the process.”
The heart of the technology lies in the next step, at the pulp mill, where the rags are dissolved and turned into pulp. That pulp becomes a thick paper, to be transported to the next part of the textile supply chain, the yarn manufacturers. There it is decomposed to form lyocell.
Evrnu has partnered with several brands, including Adidas and Ms. McCartney, to use recycled fibers in their fabrics. “When the consumer is done with it or if the brand gets stuck with a dog, those garments can go back into the system, re-resolve and turn into something,” Flynn said. something new.
Another area of interest concerns new fibers and materials based on products found in nature but not of animal origin.
For example, some companies are developing alternatives to leather, as skin is particularly problematic, from the methane-producing cows that produce it to tanning methods that often involve chemicals. as toxic as chromium. Theanne Schiros, a materials scientist and assistant professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, said vegan skin, despite its eco-friendly name, is no better because it uses plastic. .
An alternative solution is fungal skin, which relies on mycelium or mycelium, to make a non-animal substitute. Mycelium has been used for thousands of years in different ways, even to dress up wounds, says Dr. Schiros, but entrepreneurs and designers have set their sights higher.
In addition to Bolt Threads, a yarn and materials manufacturer that gained attention last fall by announcing its products and collaborating with a number of designers, other companies, such as Mycoworks, are now develops “skin” from mycelium.
Mycowork CEO, Matthew Scullin, says that while the company is exploring applications in car seat upholstery, the focus is currently on apparel and footwear.
FIT’s Dr. Schiros is a member of a research team at Columbia University working on an alternative to bio-coolers; The latest prototype, she said, is “a naturally dyed, bacteria-grown sneakers that are part of Slow Factory’s One x One initiative”, which mentions the nonprofit. activities on climate and sustainability issues.
The pandemic forced her to work from home instead of the lab, but she had found an intelligent solution.
She used her backyard to test the good levels of microbiology that had been treated with their plant-based tanning technology – in this case, decomposition is a good thing. After burying the sample, she checked the mass of the material, as well as the pH and soil nutrients, for 60 days.
Her at-home experiment, she said, found that after seven days, “the samples had deteriorated markedly, were smaller in size and lost more than 70% of their mass”.
Dr. Schiros is also a co-founder and scientific director of Werewool, which is developing an alternative to wool fibers. Founded by three of her former students at FIT, the company is looking to create biodegradable fibers based on the DNA of proteins that already exist in nature.
Dr. Schiros has also studied fibers made from algae starting at the school, at the State University of New York. The study was carried out in collaboration with Columbia, where Dr. Schiros had an appointment with the research scientist.
Companies hope to provide “cradle-to-cradle” solutions – the term used for processes intended to keep materials in a circular economy, noting the final state of the object. data at the beginning of the design process. That’s the idea behind Thousand Fell, a footwear maker that primarily uses recycled materials, said co-founder Chloe Songer.
Thousand Fell also wants to make it easier for consumers to recycle their shoes. “You can do some great design thinking and great manufacturing, but if you’re not set up to actively collect the product, then what, says Stuart Ahlum, co-founder of the company,” said Stuart Ahlum, co-founder of the company. That is a bit useless. Finally, in November, Thousand Fell partnered with UPS to provide consumers with an easier way to recycle their aging footwear.
Ultimately, these developments will transform the fashion world as long as the customer buys in. The interface – as well as the price – should be functional. “If we could make a shoe for 400 dollars and nobody bought it, it would have lost its purpose,” Mr. Ahlum said.
Also, being environmentally friendly is not enough. As Dr. Scullin of Mycoworks said: “There is a growing expectation that consumers are willing to sacrifice quality for sustainability. But not so. “