For the first time, talk of circular economy seems to be superseding conversations about color, style, textiles and trends.
Whether at the Dornbirn Man-Made Fibers Congress in Austria, Premiere Vision in Paris or Texworld Paris, all eyes in the industry are on trying to save the world from the wear and tear apparel production has caused.
“In the past 15 years, clothing production has doubled,” said Maite Ardevol of Accio, a trade promotion agency for Spain’s Catalonia region, speaking at a Texworld Paris conference on circular economy Wednesday.
That rapid acceleration of apparel manufacturing has had a lot to do with fast fashion’s quick and constant turns, and the cheap and often disposable nature of the clothing these of-the-moment retailers produce, Ardevol said.
The problem with over-production is that it leads to over-pollution, with garments ending up in landfills or incinerators within a handful of years from purchase. From there, Ardevol said, only 40 percent of the material inputs that go into these apparel products get recycled.
Chiming in with a jarring statistic of her own, the European Commission’s Kristine Dorosko, who works on the Commission’s Ecolabel efforts, said the world is using substantially more resources than it should be.
“We are currently living on 1.6 planets,” Dorosko said, meaning the products we’re producing, the waste they’re yielding and all of the other resources being used and discarded globally all amount to using more than half a planet more than the one we currently have. “We are using 10 times more natural resources than 100 years ago.”
In essence, the world is moving at high speed in a sports car driving straight at a wall, she said.
To do its part to skirt that scenario, the Commission put its Ecolabel scheme in place 25 years ago to provide sustainability guidelines for companies and to help conscious consumers know what to buy.
[Learn more about efforts to get consumers on board with sustainability: Recycled Review: What’s Happening with Post-Consumer Recycled Fibers, Traceability and Consumer Contribution]
Leading denim textile manufacturer ISKO is so far the only denim mill in the world that has received the EU Ecolabel, and Dorosko pointed to the Turkish company’s efforts as a best practice case. ISKO has created fabric that better retains its shape, ultimately calling for fewer washes. And with 23 percent of the water consumption in the lifecycle of a jean coming from consumer washing, the savings over time becomes substantial. The company also has filtration plants in its facilities to treat the water and use it for other sources, closing the loop there too.
“By being sustainable, we can also be successful and trendy and we can make fashion after all these improvements,” Dorosko said.
That’s something Enrica Arena also knows to be true.
The young winner of an H&M Foundation Global Change Award has introduced Orange Fiber to the market.
Growing up in Sicily where fresh fruit is abundant and so is the byproduct that comes with it, Arena and co-founder Andriana Santanocito, came up with the idea to make fiber out of orange peels and save Sicily from the 700,000 tons of orange peel byproduct it has to dispose of each year.
After two years of testing, the pair presented the first prototypes of their sustainable, biodegradable fiber, and it garnered quick interest.
Orange Fiber’s first customer? Salvatore Ferragamo.
Ferragamo dedicated a capsule collection to the product, setting it center stage as a new alternative for fashion.
“We’re trying to change the perspective of people and brands and consumers as they decide what to wear, and when they go shopping,” Arena said.
The company is now at work on a new round of funding and trying to do a second campaign with a new client. It’s still early days for Orange Fiber, but the sustainable raw material appears to be a promising option.
“We want to do something that’s alternative or complementary to cellulose from wood,” Arena said. “There’s just not enough cellulose out there to satisfy that demand.”