Make it last: “What predictions can you make for the fashion industry in terms of sustainability in the coming years?”
Anna Brismar: Three important developments can be expected in the area of sustainability and fashion over the next couple of years:
Circular business strategies and design practices
One of the most important developments that can be expected within the fashion industry over the coming years is a growing interest in circular economy. In both Europe and the United States, more and more fashion brands are likely to open their eyes to circular business models and design practices and begin to explore how these can be used to benefit the sustainability performance and long-term success of a company. Innovation-oriented fashion companies are likely to lead the way, such as PUMA, Stella McCartney, Filippa K and H&M. Also, business-to-business collaborations and cross-sector initiatives, such as Fashion Positive by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute and Circular Textiles program by Circle Economy, both launched in 2014, will promote more rapid developments in the field.
The Circular Fashion Network in Sweden is yet another initiative, which was launched in late 2014 to encourage dialogue and collaboration between professionals in the field. The sustainable fashion event CIRCULAR FASHION – SHOW AND TALK 2014 is still another initiative, which was held in Stockholm last autumn to showcase Swedish fashion brands that embody circular and sustainable strategies within their businesses, in different ways and to varying extent.
Increased supply chain transparency and detoxification
The demand for improved control over global supply chains within the fashion industry, from fiber production to finished items, will continue to be raised by consumers and organizations in the years ahead. Today, the fashion industry suffers from a widespread lack of transparency across its supply chains. This means little possibility to evaluate and improve present production and distribution practices and processes. Of particular concern is the uncontrolled use of toxic chemicals, from pesticides applied on the fields, to coloring agents and solvents used for fabric dyeing and treatments, and to plastisols, PVC and other harmful chemicals used for printing. Since 2011, the DETOX Campaign by Greenpeace has effectively highlighted the widespread use of hazardous chemicals within the industry. In coming years, Greenpeace will continue its efforts to challenge the fashion industry by putting pressure on fashion brands to make further commitments to detoxing their supply chains.
Meanwhile, the Clothing Traceability project is helping to visualize the complex supply web of the clothing industry by means of the Sourcemap. The Sourcemap is a web-based tool that gives business owners, manufacturers, consumers, etc., radically improved insight into the supply chain of a certain product, from its raw materials’ origin to the locality of its end-consumers. By visualizing the supply chain geographically, the tool creates a much improved foundation for decision-making, as well as for risk evaluation and impact assessment (such as carbon footprint). Many improvements were made to the Sourcemap in 2014 and further developments are planned for the year 2015. Fortunately, more and fashion brands are now beginning to embrace the need for transparency and traceability in their supply chains and we are likely to see more of this in the years ahead. Transparency is no longer an “idealistic dream” but is becoming more of a necessity for gaining consumer trust and loyalty, as well as avoiding external risks and unexpected costs. For example, both Nike and Nudie Jeans have launched their own interactive web-based tools that map the origin of its products. Yet, Honest by is still viewed as the star in the transparency league.
Innovative and more sustainable fibers and textiles
Another clear trend to be seen in the years ahead is the continued exploration of innovative and more sustainable textile fibers and materials. For example, the Dutch company Dutch aWEARness has developed materials from both biological origins, such as Miscanthus grass and milk fibers, and also from synthetic fiber (the recyclable polyester called Returnity). The Dutch brand is likely to continue its research in this area. The German company Qmilch Deutschland GmbH has also developed a milk fiber, called Qmilk (in 2011). It is a soft and comfortable natural fiber with inherent anti-bacterial and skin-sensitive properties and is well suited for apparel. Yet another alternative fiber is Pinatex, which was developed and recently launched by the consultant Carmen Hijosa. It is made from pineapple leaves and can be used as a substitute to animal leather. CRAiLAR Flax is still another more sustainable fiber that has attracted attention recently. It is a flax yarn that requires minimal chemical and water use (from field to factory), is softer than cotton, and has functional properties similar to polyester.
The last example is the Japanese company Teijin, which pioneered polyester manufacturing more than 10 years ago by developing a technology and process for producing new polyester yarn from old polyester fabric, through a closed loop system called the ECO CIRCLE concept. Since 2002, Teijin has developed a range of recyclable polyester fabrics with different functional properties, and is likely to continue its research in the field, particularly as the global interest for recyclable fibers and closed loop systems continues to grow.
This article was originally written and published for Make it last on January 16 (2015). Republished here with permission.