ECO

The fu­ture of sus­tain­able fashion is look­ing bright.

ELLE (Canada) - - Contents - By DANA THOMAS

We pre­dict the fu­ture of fashion—and it’s sus­tain­able. By Dana Thomas

FAST-FOR­WARD TO 2025. It’s a bright late­sum­mer morn­ing. Rise and shine! Make the bed, tightly tuck­ing in those bionic-yarn sheets. A spritz of a shower—no wa­ter waste, thank you very much. Then, break­fast: a slug of Soy­lent or an av­o­cado-CBD smoothie? And now, what to wear? How about Levi’s or­ganic-cot­ton jeans dyed with nat­u­ral in­digo and a black belt in bio-fab­ri­cated leather that was grown in a lab? Maybe a tai­lored men’s suit jacket in a re­cy­cled wool that looks as fine as Sav­ile Row cloth, Nike 3-D-printed train­ers, De Beers syn­thetic-di­a­mond studs, a Baume re­cy­cled-alu­minum watch, with its up­cy­cled-ma­te­rial strap, and a Stella Mc­Cart­ney hand­bag made from Econyl yarn, a re­cy­cled ny­lon. And out the door, on the bike and off we go!

This may all sound slightly sci-fi, but, in fact, most of these sus­tain­able clothes and ac­ces­sories ex­ist on a small scale to­day. And if fashion has its way, they will fill our wardrobes in less than a decade. “The way we con­sume fashion will be dif­fer­ent,” says Anna Gedda, H&M’s head of sus­tain­abil­ity. “It has to be be­cause we’re run­ning out of re­sources.”

To be more sus­tain­able, cor­po­ra­tions such as Ker­ing, the lux­ury group that owns Gucci, Yves Saint Lau­rent and Alexan­der McQueen, have set up EP&Ls (en­vi­ron­men­tal profit and loss ac­counts) to an­a­lyze where the neg­a­tive eco­log­i­cal im­pacts are and how best to cor­rect them. This has led to supply chains be­ing re­struc­tured world­wide and to dead­lines for im­prove­ments. H&M aims to use only sus­tain­able or re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als by 2030. By next year, Marks & Spencer will source all of its cot­ton from sus­tain­able sources—a big move, says Paschal Lit­tle, the Bri­tish re­tailer’s head of tech­nol­ogy, “since we use cot­ton more than any­thing else.” And by 2020, The­ory plans to use only sus­tain­able fab­rics, such as Supima cot­ton, Tas­ma­nian wool and For­est Ste­ward­ship Coun­cil-cer­ti­fied tri­ac­etate (a pop­u­lar

syn­thetic fab­ric), with as much supply-chain trace­abil­ity as pos­si­ble. “In 10 years, the fi­bres, the but­tons, the la­bels, the shoul­der pads, the in­ner com­po­nents of the gar­ment—we want all of that to be sus­tain­able,” says Wendy Waugh, the com­pany’s se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of mer­chan­dis­ing and prod­uct de­vel­op­ment.

More in­trigu­ing—and sexy—how­ever, is the tech­nol­ogy that will rein­vent what we think of as cloth­ing. Take the Levi’s project with Seat­tle-based tex­tile start-up Evrnu, for ex­am­ple. In 2016, the duo cre­ated the world’s first jeans made of a fi­bre de­rived from re­cy­cled cot­ton T-shirts. This re­new­able fi­bre not only con­verts cloth­ing waste into new cloth but also uses 98 per­cent less wa­ter than the tra­di­tional cot­ton process. Cot­ton is one of agriculture’s thirsti­est crops, re­quir­ing a stag­ger­ing 20,000 litres of wa­ter to pro­duce just one kilo—the amount needed to make one pair of jeans.

“Evrnu is an in­dus­trial mir­a­cle,” says Paul Dillinger, head of global prod­uct in­no­va­tion for Levi Strauss & Co. “Now we have vi­able gar­ments with the same strength prop­er­ties and wearer ex­pe­ri­ence as con­ven­tional cot­ton. We haven’t run it to mar­ket yet be­cause it is a re­searc­hand-de­vel­op­ment-in­ten­sive process, but we’re thrilled with the progress Evrnu has been mak­ing and are just shy of the point where we will in­tro­duce it into our broader supply chain as a ma­te­rial.”

Many of these ini­tia­tives are cooked up at in-house lab­o­ra­to­ries. Ker­ing opened its Ma­te­ri­als In­no­va­tion Lab in 2013 out­side Mi­lan. “We al­ready have 250 swatches of new fab­rics that meet our cri­te­ria and can be used by our brands,” says Marie-Claire Daveu, the group’s chief sus­tain­able of­fi­cer. Richemont, the lux­ury group that owns Cartier and Chloé, has Mi­croc­ity, an in­no­va­tion cen­tre in Switzer­land where a team of 50 re­searchers and tech­ni­cians ex­plore ev­ery­thing from new me­tals to dig­i­tal pro­cesses like 3-D print­ing. “They have quite a wide scope,” says Matthew Kil­gar­riff, Richemont’s di­rec­tor of cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity. In April, Gucci opened Art­lab, a 37,000-square-me­tre hub out­side Florence. Its 800 staff will pro­to­type and sam­ple prod­ucts in new ma­te­ri­als. And near the San Fran­cisco head­quar­ters of Levi’s is its Eu­reka In­no­va­tion Lab, where the brand finds cleaner, smarter ways to make jeans, such as fad­ing cloth us­ing ox­i­da­tion rather than chem­i­cals and dis­tress­ing with lasers in­stead of hand-sand­ing.

Per­haps the great­est change in pro­duc­tion is com­ing from sail­ing leg­end Ellen MacArthur as she her­alds the shift from a lin­ear to a cir­cu­lar ap­parel econ­omy. She launched the Cir­cu­lar Fi­bres Ini­tia­tive at the Copen­hagen Fashion Sum­mit in 2017, en­cour­ag­ing the col­lab­o­ra­tion needed from in­dus­try heavy­weights, such as Ker­ing and In­di­tex (which owns brands in­clud­ing Zara and Mas­simo Dutti), to re­form the tex­tile supply chain so ev­ery­thing is reused in a con­tin­u­ous cy­cle. Han­nah Jones, Nike’s chief sus­tain­abil­ity of­fi­cer, ex­plains that in a cir­cu­lar econ­omy, “ev­ery­thing you make can be re­born and reused.”

How will this trans­late in our wardrobes? “What you wear will be made of a by-prod­uct, such as ve­gan leather made from left­over wine prod­ucts or fab­rics made from bio-waste, like pineap­ple peel,” says Gedda. Or even 100-per­cent re­cy­cled ma­te­rial: Ker­ing and H&M have both in­vested in Worn Again, a Lon­don-based firm de­vel­op­ing a way to sep­a­rate cot­ton-polyester blends, re­pro­cess­ing them to a vir­gin-like state.

“As sci­ence-fic­tion writer Wil­liam Gib­son said, ‘The fu­ture is al­ready here—it’s just not very evenly dis­trib­uted,’ and that’s what we are see­ing,” says Jones. “We are putting the fu­ture on peo­ple. The ques­tion is: How do you scale it and change the en­tire in­dus­try? How do you make these the main­stream prod­ucts of the fu­ture?” That, she says, is what brands are work­ing on. Nike has man­aged it with its Flyprint run­ning shoe, which has a 3-D-printed up­per, and Kenya’s Eliud Kip­choge ran in a pair of Nike’s Zoom Va­por­fly Elite Flyprints when he won the Lon­don Marathon in April. As for the idea that proen­vi­ron­ment busi­ness prac­tices are loss lead­ers, Jones says: “We dis­carded that myth long ago. We are in­vest­ing in growth and in the fu­ture.”

There are plenty of other in­no­va­tions on the hori­zon, like sewing ro­bots (or “sew­bots”), which Gedda says will rev­o­lu­tion­ize man­u­fac­tur­ing. Gar­ment work­ers will be trained to run the ma­chines rather than sew them­selves so they will be work­ing in cleaner, safer en­vi­ron­ments. There will be more cus­tomiza­tion via soft­ware, such as what Lon­don’s Un­made has de­vel­oped for fac­tory knit­ting ma­chines, mak­ing each gar­ment pro­duced dif­fer­ent from the pre­vi­ous one. “We will move from supply-driven to demand-driven,” says Gedda. “You won’t have left­over clothes be­cause you won’t pro­duce any­thing that won’t be sold. Economies of scale will dis­ap­pear.”

Will ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence even­tu­ally tell us what to put on in the morn­ing? Maybe. What is cer­tain is that while much of this seems ex­otic now, “given how quickly ev­ery­thing is evolv­ing, in 10 years this will all seem nor­mal,” says Daveu. With a cir­cu­lar econ­omy and lab-gen­er­ated ma­te­ri­als, the idea of more plan­et­friendly at­tire is not only pleas­ing and up­lift­ing but also en­nobling. Coco Chanel fa­mously said, “Fashion comes and goes.” But in our fu­ture, fashion will come around again and again and again. ®

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