Trends – we love them. But the cycli­cal na­ture of the fash­ion in­dus­try means its car­bon foot­print could do with a re­heel. A new gen­er­a­tion of de­sign­ers is wak­ing up to the al­ter­na­tives, spark­ing a style revolution


The eco-chic break­throughs set to star in your wardrobe.

BE­HIND OIL PRO­DUC­TION, THE FASH­ION IN­DUS­TRY IS THE WORLD’S SEC­OND-BIG­GEST GEN­ER­A­TOR OF POL­LU­TION. The facts are sober­ing, and af­fect al­most ev­ery facet of the clothing we wear, from sin­gle items of clothing (mak­ing one pair of jeans guz­zles, on av­er­age, 3,500 litres of wa­ter) to the ma­te­ri­als we use (reg­u­lar cot­ton pro­duc­tion ac­counts for a quar­ter of the world’s pes­ti­cide use) to the pack­ag­ing (just 15 per cent of the 8 bil­lion plas­tic coathang­ers pro­duced yearly will be re­cy­cled – the rest are sent to land­fill, where they’ll take up to 1,000 years to break down). The fash­ion in­dus­try is also the world’s sec­ond-big­gest pol­luter of wa­ter, and ac­counts for 10 per cent of the world’s car­bon emis­sions. And none of this takes into ac­count the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect of fash­ion waste, as our land­fills be­come clogged with our dis­carded clothing. That lunchtime dress pur­chase seems like a good idea at the time, but im­pulse shop­ping, say ex­perts, cre­ates a throw­away cul­ture where the av­er­age Aus­tralian tosses 27 kilo­grams of clothing ev­ery sin­gle year. Fash­ion is beau­ti­ful, but the in­dus­try can be cruel.

What’s clear is that things need to change – and thank­fully, they are. “Fash­ion, [and] in par­tic­u­lar lux­ury fash­ion, is in­no­va­tive by its very na­ture. And to­day, it’s a given that in­no­va­tion has to be re­spon­si­ble,” says Hélène Sar­fati-leduc, a con­sul­tant at Le French Bureau, a re­source cen­tre for the eco-fash­ion sec­tor. “De­sign­ers don’t feel im­paired by re­stric­tions; it stim­u­lates their cre­ativ­ity.” She points to houses like Hermès, which has a “Petit H” col­lec­tion made from dis­carded ma­te­ri­als that would oth­er­wise end up in land­fill, Parisian de­signer Sak­ina M’SA, which uses the ex­tras from top cou­ture houses, and Cana­dian la­bel Har­ri­cana By Mar­i­ouche, which re­cy­cles vin­tage furs. As sus­tain­abil­ity moves from be­ing a buzz­word to be­ing a true im­per­a­tive of our times, it’s in­cred­i­ble to see the in­no­va­tions and changes be­ing made by lead­ing la­bels across the world.


Plas­tic is an en­vi­ron­men­tal disas­ter, but de­sign­ers are fig­ur­ing out in­creas­ingly clever ways to up­cy­cle the ma­te­rial into clothing and ac­ces­sories. In 2011, Yves Saint Lau­rent re­leased the Muse Two Ar­ti­sanal bag, pro­duced by women in Burk­ina Faso from wo­ven ma­te­rial made of cot­ton and re­cy­cled plas­tic bags. To­day, de­sign­ers and in­dus­try fig­ures are tak­ing things a step fur­ther, us­ing cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy to de­sign new tex­tile fi­bres that up­cy­cle plas­tic lit­ter, of­ten taken from the ocean floor. Madrid-based Ecoalf sells jack­ets, T-shirts, bags and shoes made of Seaqual, a polyester fi­bre made en­tirely of plas­tic waste col­lected from the ocean. Non­profit Par­ley for the Oceans has teamed up with both adi­das and G-star to cre­ate items made from re­cy­cled plas­tic. And de­sign­ers from ma­jor brands like Tri­umph and Levi’s are us­ing Econyl, a fi­bre cre­ated us­ing re­gen­er­ated ny­lon waste.


In Aus­tralia alone, a fifth of your gro­cery shop­ping ends up in the bin – that’s about 5 mil­lion tonnes of food waste sent to land­fill ev­ery year. To re­verse this alarm­ing pat­tern, de­sign­ers are tapping into the po­ten­tial power of dis­carded food.

One pi­o­neer in the field is the Tai­wanese com­pany Sing­tex, which makes a yarn made from used cof­fee beans, without added chem­i­cals. The yarn, called S.café, has ex­cel­lent her­metic, anti-odour and anti-uv prop­er­ties, and is ul­tra-quick-dry­ing, mean­ing it’s per­fect for ath­leisure wear. The com­pany now counts Asics, Tim­ber­land and Eider among its clients.

Re­searchers have also done promis­ing work with creating ap­parel from agri­cul­tural and food in­dus­try by-prod­ucts. Two Ital­ian com­pa­nies have re­cently been suc­cess­ful with biomass re­cy­cling. Or­ange Fiber is the brain­child of Adri­ana San­tanoc­ito, who was raised in southern Italy, in a re­gion




that pro­duces thou­sands of tonnes of cit­rus fruit each year. She won­dered if the rem­nants of cit­rus pro­duc­tion – skins, piths and so on – could be used to make something else, and it turned out they could. Or­ange Fiber is a soft, durable fab­ric made of cit­rus by-prod­ucts which were pre­vi­ously des­tined for land­fill. “We're not only us­ing raw ma­te­ri­als that oth­er­wise would have been garbage, we are also mak­ing a com­mit­ment to so­cial sus­tain­abil­ity, which in­cludes en­sur­ing our sup­pli­ers prac­tice good be­hav­iour and workers re­ceive fair pay,” she ex­plains. In 2017, Or­ange Fiber be­gan work­ing with Sal­va­tore Fer­rag­amo on a cap­sule col­lec­tion. Else­where in Italy, Vegea's “wine leather” is a high-tech, sus­tain­able, plant-based fab­ric with a sim­i­lar soft­ness and con­sis­tency to leather. This ma­te­rial is made us­ing grape seeds, stems and skins, by-prod­ucts of the wine-mak­ing process. “This biomass has fab­u­lous prop­er­ties,” ex­plains Valentina Lon­go­b­ardo, Vegea's co-founder. “It is highly adapt­able, rich in oils, and, once dried, it lasts sev­eral years.” The start-up is in the thick of its growth phase and is cur­rently re­search­ing other types of biomass, in­clud­ing rice and cof­fee.


When it comes to sus­tain­able, high-tech fash­ion, 3D print­ing could be just what the sec­tor needs. Imag­ine want­ing a piece of clothing… and then simply print­ing it. That could very well be where fash­ion is head­ing, say 3D print­ing ex­perts. The ben­e­fits are bound­less: items can be pro­duced at home or in stores, elim­i­nat­ing trans­port. There's no waste and used ma­te­ri­als can be re­cy­cled. Plus, pro­duc­tion is on de­mand, so there's no need for stor­age. While the use of 3D print­ing for fash­ion is still fairly lim­ited (printed ma­te­ri­als are still too stiff to be used for any­thing other than ac­ces­sories, or­na­men­tal lace and shoes), ex­perts pre­dict that over the next 30 years, this new tech­nol­ogy promises a wave of wardrobe pos­si­bil­i­ties.


When it comes to lab­o­ra­tory in­ge­nu­ity, the best is yet to come. The surge in biotech's in­flu­ence on fash­ion means we're start­ing to see break­throughs that seem straight out of sci­ence fic­tion. One ex­am­ple is Bolt Threads' syn­thetic spider silk, a pro­tein fi­bre made by bio­chemists us­ing ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied yeast that fer­ments sug­ars. The re­sult is biodegrad­able, ve­gan, ex­tremely re­sis­tant, and, in the words of Stella Mccart­ney, “in­cred­i­bly ex­cit­ing”. She's so com­mit­ted to the silk, she re­cently an­nounced a long-term part­ner­ship with Bolt Threads.

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