Friday 23 January 2015

Getting Closer To Closing The Loop

As I mentioned on Wednesday, innovative new fabrics are becoming a serious factor in the way ethical fashion is produced and consumed. Recycling of waste fabrics into new materials is leading to a gold rush as manufacturers scramble to find the fibre that will change everything.

For example Econyl, a nylon replacement made primarily from waste that includes such unlikely candidates as old carpet and worn-out fishing nets, is making big waves in the swimwear market. Also suitable for outdoor clothing and lingerie (now there's a photo shoot I'd like to see), the company claims that uptake of the material and been both fast and eager. CEO of Econyl Guilio Bonazzi says:
“Brands such as Koru Swimwear and Adidas were impressed with our efforts to not only recover derelict fishing nets … but also expand our supply source for post-consumer waste.”
Other brands like Returnity, who develop materials for the workwear market, are also seeing a significant uptick in interest and orders. But there's a twist. While we're seeing growth in specialist and sportswear markets, the appearance of material for consumer fabrics is significantly slower. Why is that?

The problem, it seems is quality control. It's not that the big brands don't want to use recycled fibres in their clothes. Both M&S and H&M are looking closely at developments. But the difference in what's expected from overalls for a factory and what's expected from the clothes you'd wear for a night out are significantly different... and that's a challenge that's still causing issues. Carola Tembe, environmental sustainability controller for H&M puts her finger on the problem:
“For recycled cotton, the highest amount of mechanically recycled post-consumer fibre H&M can use at the moment is 20% without compromising the quality. In the mechanical recycling procedure, the textile fibres are being regenerated in a way that makes the textile fibres shorter and with lower quality than virgin fibre. They need to be blended with virgin fibres to reach our quality standards.”
In other words, don't hold your breath if you want to see more clothes made with recycled fibres in the stores anytime soon. But we shouldn't be too downhearted. Technology and research are moving in leaps and bounds, and the notion of the holy grail of sustainable fashion--cradle-to-cradle fabrics that can be returned without environmental impact to the soil in which they were grown, is getting closer all the time. There's even discussion on the notion of rental fabrics, which remain the property of the manufacturer and are returned to them when the material has reached the end of its useful life.

Of course, that's a story with its own set of issues and challenges...

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