Sustainability In The Fashion Industry: What Can I Do? Vol.2

What does sustainability really mean for the fashion industry?

The turning of the fashion industry towards sustainability means that today known and used textile materials such as:

  • artificial fibres sourced from oil and petrochemicals industry (e.g., polyester, polyamide),
  • artificial fibres with natural, cellulose bases (e.g., viscose, modal) and
  • fully natural vegetable fibres which call for huge amounts of pesticides and water in their production (e.g.cotton)

should be replaced by materials for whose production less resources are needed, and which will have properties enabling their multiple, circular use (e.g., which can be re-recycled).

All of this while, of course, ensuring good usability properties of textile and clothing materials as the primary goal (e.g., look, feel, use, performance, maintenance, fabric mechanical properties etc.)

At the end of the day, sustainability in the fashion business is finally not only a buzz word, used in ads only to set us apart from other players on the market:

Sustainability has imposed itself as the primary principle of doing business in the EU textile and fashion industry and it will become legally binding starting in 2025.

That leaves the fashion industry with a very short period of time to adapt and find permanent solutions.

The point is that every fashion brand, producing company, fashion designer and consumer, who are even remotely aware of their impact on the environment, must change their way of thinking about design, development, production and use of textiles and clothes first at a conceptual level, and then apply it in everyday life.

And that is exactly what’s happening right now, from every point of view.

Textile fibres in the focus of research and innovation

The fashion business, which has been functioning in the same, pretty inert way for decades, now is forced to make a total turn towards sustainability.

To take even the smallest step in that direction, we must start to think at the level of textile fibres, which are the basic building blocks of every textile material.

Therefore, virtually overnight, extensive scientific research has been given impetus, which should, within a short period of time, provide us with answers to the following questions:

how to make available textile fibres which are friendly to the environment, biodegradable and, at the same time, functional, have contemporary properties and, on top of it, are not too expensive?

Tencel organic fibres

There are many questions, but there is also no lack of suggested possible solutions, be it various chemical, biochemical or entirely organic processes of obtaining and/or producing textile fibres.

On some of these questions were tried to be answered during latest Munich Fabric Start fair, held on 30.08.-01.09.2022

How to achieve their durability, while using less resources in their production? How to limit our carbon footprint on the planet by wearing clothing items more than a few times at best and, at the end of their life cycle, make sure they get recycled?

Some very interesting possible solutions in the form of entirely new fibres based on textile waste have also been put forward. I will expand on this in a future blog post.

How can every one of us contribute to sustainability?

In the vol.1 of this thema, I have promised to provide some answers to the question what an individual can do regarding sustainability, whether as a link in the chain of textile and fashion industries or personally, as a consumer.

In the following passages, there are lists of suggestions for various groups of stakeholders.

In the 21st century, fashion designers’ most important obligation is to think about the sources of fabrics and other materials that will be used in their fashion designs.

At this moment, no one in the whole fashion industry chain has such a power to take the right steps towards implementing sustainability as the fashion designers do. Why is that so?

Simply because the fashion designers, already when thinking about their design concepts, set out certain principles and criteria on how their future clothes collections will look like and which values they want to espouse by them.

It’s you, dear designers, together with brand holders, who can change how the World will look in the future!

But only if you now, without delay, become aware how much harm the practices of the fashion business and design upheld by now have caused to our planet, its resources and its future.

NOW you have a chance to adopt innovations and solutions that will contribute to the protection of resources and to circular economy, so:

  • educate yourself and gather information on sustainability and achievements in the production of fabrics and other materials, as well as on new technologies that reduce the use of new resources
  • create and suggest design concepts that take sustainability into account, offer original solutions and communicate that message to the population at large
  • design clothes that is durable, flexible and that can be worn outside the confines of superimposed fashion trends – among other ways, you can do this by setting your own fashion trends: let it be durability, recycling, long-term use, versatility or any other concept catering to sustainability principles
  • choose fabrics which have been proven to contain at least a part of their fibres from recycled sources or which will, throughout their life cycle, emit less CO2 than up-to-now broadly used fashion materials
  • turn to technological processes which use lower amounts of natural resources – energy, dye, water, pesticides, oil etc.
  • learn about and introduce advanced technologies that, in the long term, can reduce textile waste; therefore, use 3D systems, VR, AR, avatars and similar wonders of technology in your design and creation processes, as well as in virtual presentation and sale of clothes, which will:
    1. shorten your development processes,
    2. reduce the number of physical samples,
    3. make redundant the transportation of physical samples from one corner of the world to another
  • educate brand holders, sellers and consumers on sustainability and have an impact on the change of awareness regarding each individual’s important role in solving the global problem of pollution caused by textile waste

Dear designers, you are the ones who need to innovate and push through a transition from the old principles of fashion design to developing and adopting new, better ones.

Therefore, equip yourself with knowledge, broaden your horizons and embark on a mission to save the World by sustainable fashion design solutions!

Fashion brand holders’ role in promoting global sustainability and new solutions to environmental issues is beyond measure.

  • You are the ones deciding on your brand strategy – make an effort to clearly express your brand’s orientation towards sustainable fashion business and values stressing the importance of protecting the planet for today’s and tomorrow’s buyers
  • Through brand strategy, mission and vision, set out your own sustainability goals and steps by which you will make them come true
  • Adapt all your marketing activities to your commitment to sustainability and create a genuine relationship of trust with your buyers so that, by buying your clothing products, they truly contribute to sustainability and circular management of natural resources
  • Cooperate with your designers and create an environment of trust with them too, as they are in the front line now that resources have been almost depleted and textile waste is suffocating the planet. They are the ones who need to design collections, source materials and adopt processes that will add to the truthfulness of your brand’s strategy, vision and mission in the highest possible measure!
  • Communicate with your consumers, educate them and help them understand how exactly they support the global sustainability chain by buying your products
  • Organise a recycling system – enable your buyers to return old and used clothes so that they can be reused
  • Start cooperating with companies recycling textile waste and report truthfully to your consumers how this waste is treated and turned into new products
  • Make your buyers your most faithful partners in creating sustainable fashion business
  • In the fashion business, sustainability has become the biggest fashion trend ever – be trendy!

In our fashion world, a brand stands for a value behind itself more than ever before. Just let one of your values be sustainability.

As a clothing producer, you are directly involved in the process of its creation, which enables you to witness first-hand how many different materials are used in the clothes you produce, how much energy is utilised and how much textile waste is churned out as early as while cutting garments.

Being a witness to these processes makes you also responsible for the management of waste stemming there from, not least by legislation. You wonder – what else can you, as a producer, do for the textile and clothing industries, in which you are a crucial stakeholder, to make them more sustainable?

Well, several things come to mind:

  • Make sure that your production premises are well-equipped, especially with heating and cooling technologies based on renewable energy sources (e.g., solar panels that can be co-financed by EU funds come to mind)
  • Introduce CAD systems (programmes for fitting and drawing of cutting images, maximising fabric use and optimising the cutting process) into your company
  • Invest into CAM equipment, i.e., peripheral devices that can do a lot of work previously done by humans, which saves time and energy (e.g., cutters for digitally managed cutting)
  • Invest into highly educated engineer staff who will be able to manage technological processes
  • Make sure to optimise the flow of your technological processes, ensuring that they go one way and can be controlled by all parameters
  • Determine at which points in your technological process of garment production you use (and lose) most energy and try to find solutions for optimisation (of e.g., fixing interlinings, interphase and/or final ironing etc.)

There is also a number of other possibilities for you, as garment producers, to act responsibly in matter of sustainability. Just find your own way and go for it!

And now, when everything has been said, where does that leave me, the consumer from the beginning of this story? What can I, a small-scale buyer in this crazy consumerist world even do in regard to I have just heard and seen?

How to navigate that? I mean, I also want to contribute to the survival of this Planet and to the sustainability of the life it supports.

Actually, it’s us – consumers, who have the decisive role in setting up sustainability processes within the fashion business!

The reason for that is very simple as me, you, and all the aforementioned stakeholders, are also consumers in the highest possible measure.

So here are several ideas how we can all contribute to sustainability:

  • Plan your shopping and be consistent. Of course, we in the fashion business want to sell as many garments as possible, as often as possible and at the highest possible price. However, it’s you who decides whether you really need a new piece of clothing or if it is just a whim.
  • Buy more of things that reflect your personal style, and less of things that are only a fad, a fleeting fashion trend. Studies show that as much as 60% of clothes that we buy we don’t wear and just throw away eventually. It all ends up on landfill as textile waste, contributing to enormous CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.
  • Learn more about the sustainability policy of fashion brands whose concept and design you like. See what kind of fabrics they use, how they manage waste, whether they encourage consumers to return old clothes or in any other way urge you to protect the Earth’s resources.
  • Find out and try to understand how many new resources (water, energy, raw material etc.) are needed for the production of only one T-shirt or one pair of jeans. Let this guide you when deciding whether to buy something.
  • Try to avoid purchases of cheap fashion products as much as you can. In relation to sustainability, the last 20 years of the so-called fast fashion (buy cheap, wear once and throw away) has done more damage to the planet Earth than centuries of textile production before that.
  • Buy less, pay more, but only for true quality. Learn what garment quality really is and pay attention to elements which will make sure that by appropriate care and maintenance, you can wear your fashion product over several seasons with it still looking brand new.
  • All of this is possible and can be done – believe us, who lived and dressed ourselves before the fast fashion madness took over… We generally appreciated clothes more, as well as the resources our garments were made of and especially we appreciated the labour included into the garment production.
  • You probably know someone, it might be your mom, grandma or aunt who works in the textile industry. And you will have heard about the minimal pay for their hard work. Think about how you would like these people to be paid and whether, by buying cheap clothes from third countries, you contribute to that goal.
  • Finally, care for your clothes simply by using your brain. Do not fall for trends and ads for expensive detergents. You have worn a T-shirt once? No, in most cases, you do not have to immediately wash it! Put it on a hanger and let the air work its magic. When washing your clothes, use short cycles, opt for 30-40 °C and be sparing with the detergent. At the end of the day, how many of us get our clothes so dirty that they would need to be washed for hours?!

Now we have covered everyone’s role in the chain of the global fashion business and become more aware of how we play our part in the destruction of resources and, therefore, in climate change.

While learning how we can reduce our harmful impact, it’s also time to act!

Let me hear how you are going to reduce your fashion carbon footprint. Shoot a comment!

Hey there!

Hello to all creative people out there! My name is Mirjana. With more than 25 years in the fashion world, and a number of ups and downs in my own fashion business, I’m keen on sharing all these knowledge and experiences with you now. The main intention is to inform you about the fashion industry as a whole and to help you through the challenges when setting up your own fashion business. Stay tuned!

Learn more…

Hey there!

Hello to all creative people out there! My name is Mirjana. With more than 25 years in the fashion world, and a number of ups and downs in my own fashion business, I’m keen on sharing all these knowledge and experiences with you now. The main intention is to inform you about the fashion industry as a whole and to help you through the challenges when setting up your own fashion business. Stay tuned!

Learn more...