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Kingpins24: Fiber Innovations Can Make Fashion a Force for Good

Conversations around sustainability often center on a garment’s production stage, but experts at a Kingpins24 panel are looking to change that.

Rowan Hunt, a consultant at Denim Research, as well as representatives from fiber innovation companies Spinnova and Circular Systems discussed the importance of implementing responsible design practices earlier on in the garment-making process.

Fibers such as hemp and Tencel have been heavily considered in recent years as a more sustainable alternative to cotton, but there are a number of other contenders that could potentially make a sizable positive impact on the industry with greater adoption.

Spinnova creates a sustainable material from wood using a weaving process inspired by a spider’s web. According to Shahriare Mahmood, the company’s director of sustainability, its fiber processing lacks intensive chemicals and therefore allows it to get 60 percent yield from raw wood. “Basically, what we put into our system, we get out,” he said.

The company also recently partnered with global chemical company Kemira to develop a disruptive eco-friendly inherent fiber dyeing method for denim that avoids the excess use of water, energy, heavy metals and other harmful substances that typically go into dyeing fiber, thread and fabric as subsequent processes.

Also tackling the issue of waste is Circular Systems, a materials science company that creates yarn from textile waste and most recently agriculture waste. The company introduced Agraloop Biofiber earlier this year, a fiber made from fibrous crop residues such as banana trunks, pineapple leaves, sugarcane barks, oilseed hemp and flax.

Linus Mueller, the company’s head of intellectual property and research and development, noted that the benefits of turning agriculture waste into fiber extend beyond the environment and impacts the surrounding communities. “[This process] empowers the communities by paying them for something that they would otherwise burn, or in some cases leave to rot,” he said.

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This concept of using business for good is something Mueller hopes to see more of in the future, as he feels contemporary marketing is often too focused on supporting a brand that is considered the lesser of two evils, rather than choosing one that does good.

This shift in marketing would also require significant data, a requirement that’s becoming more prevalent as transparency and traceability take center stage. Calling on the industry to include data in their messaging, he said, promotes greater accountability and ultimately a more responsibly made product.

“Maybe in 10 years, the story changes to something like ‘by purchasing this T-shirt, you have pulled X kilos from the landfill’, or ‘you’ve supported this family,’” he said. “[I’d like to see] less guilt-tripping and more creating a positive impact with your purchase.”