Cradle to Cradle’s Fashion Positive is developing a new priority materials list as part of its efforts toward creating a more sustainable fashion industry.
Following last month’s launch of Fashion Positive Plus, Cradle to Cradle’s membership collaborative, the priority materials list will require a similar volume collaboration approach to compliance. Industry members will identify pre-competitive, commonly shared materials and determine if these materials can contribute to a more circular economy. The priority materials list is expected to launch at the end of the year.
“We really don’t discriminate on materials,” said Annie Gullingsrud, textiles and apparel sector director at Cradle to Cradle. “These materials have an infinite amount of potential and there is work to do.”
Priority materials on the list will include recycled polyester, dyes and elastane. All three materials are verified through the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard, in order to ensure that they are recyclable and not harmful to workers and the environment. Assessment requirements include material health and reutilization, renewable energy, water stewardship and social fairness.
Recycled polyester is typically derived from the melt process of recycled bottles. According to Gullingsrud, the fashion industry is currently working on more innovative ways to take post-consumer industrial waste and turn it into fiber for clothing. The challenge with this, however, is that it may be contaminated, meaning it could negatively impact the environment after reuse.
Cleaning up the recycled polyester circulation process is part of the reason why Cradle to Cradle is developing the priority materials list. Additionally, fashion community affiliates may want to incentivize suppliers to develop and increase access to circular rPET.
Dyes also play a key part in the production of apparel. According to DyStar’s brand and retail sustainability officer, John Easton, synthetic dyes have been around since 1856, but were not evaluated much for sustainability.
“Historically, dyes have been designed to be color safe, not socially or environmentally safe, and certainly not designed to be recycled,” Easton said. “The stricter criteria in molecules and chemicals means less choice of dyes until innovation of regenerative design comes online.”
Currently, DyStar offers brands 30 dyes that meet a majority of the C2C certified material criteria and select DyStar dyes recently received a material health certificate at the Gold level of the C2C certification process. With the priority materials list, Cradle to Cradle hopes to prepare these dyes for suitable metabolism and a circular economy. Fashion industry members also can improve dyes by initiating supply chain collaboration, fund new approaches to research and development and create a demand for C2C dyes.
Elastane is also on the priority materials list. Although spandex is the so-called magic material of apparel, it’s also challenging to recycle, due to the fact that it is blended with other materials, including cotton.
“Due to its amazing elasticity, when it goes into mechanical recycling, it is very difficult to cut,” said Jennifer Gilbert, chief marketing officer of I:CO. “The future of spandex is chemical recycling; a lot more collaboration and innovation are necessary.”
At the moment, chemical recycling technologies are being developed to create a more seamless elastane recycling process. The priority materials list will not only foster material use collaboration among industry members, but also advance the circular potential for items such as elastane that aren’t quite reusable yet.
As the fashion industry expresses a greater need for greener products, the Fashion Positive priority materials list will serve as a starting point for designers, manufacturers and retailers alike to work together to ensure a more environmentally-friendly production process.