Sustainable Fashion Innovations

Sustainable Fashion: The innovations that are (or might be) closing the loop

A while ago, it was Dutch Sustainable Fashion Week and that means that there were plenty of side events to visit to hear the latest on moving towards circular fashion, waste reduction new textile innovation. I joined in the Book Launch of Dana Thomas ‘Fashionopolis” at the Fashion for Good Centre on Tuesday. As for any event on sustainability, Dana Thomas started the night by facing us with numbers, and these are extreme enough to create urgency to act:

  • 20% of our water is depleted by the fashion industry
  • 99% of our clothes are not recycled
  • 85 percent of textiles end up in landfills
  • for 1 kg of cotton 1 kg of chemicals is used
  • we throw away 2.1 billion tons of clothing a year
  • 60% of all textiles used in apparel are derived from plastic (accounting for nearly 3 trillion plastic bottles every year)
  • it is estimated that about 35 percent of the microplastics that enter the ocean are synthetic fibers from clothing

The industry, generating no waste, and all textiles would be recyclable and are put back in the loop. More than ever, the industry is embracing this change with 90 apparel brands committing to the Circular Fashion System Commitment due June 2020 and set up by the Global Fashion Agenda. And fortunately, there are also some great developments to learn from that could fix the broken system of our current ‘fast fashion’ industry. Lately, a small but growing group of innovators are attempting tackle wastefulness and pollution in the apparel right at the source and large brands are taking note and start to invest.

Herewith an overview of the innovations that are seemingly taking apparel from ‘beyond business as usual’ to circularity in the industry:

Reduce

An increasing number of brands are eliminating problematic materials and dyes from the production process. Everlane, for instance, publicly committed to eradicating all virgin plastic from the company’s supply chain, stores, and offices by 2021.

There is a natural fiber and eco-textiles ‘revolution’ approaching. Made from organic waste, living bacteria, algae, yeast, animal cells or fungi, designers are growing biodegradable textiles (Algae Life, AlgiKnit) and shoe soles (Bloom Foam) and are creating environmentally friendly materials like genetically engineered leather (Modern Meadow), leather made from pineapple leaves (Piñatex), silk made from orange peels (Orange Fiber). It is a matter of waiting for these technological advancements to reach more scale.

Then there is the waste of rest material. In in our current fashion system, the shirts, trousers and blouses are developed in large amounts of numbers where many (average of 30%) never reach the consumer. For fashion brands this is a built-in waste and for our planet, it is a complete waste of scarce resources. In comes ‘producing to order’, made possible by vastly evolving technology coined as ‘SewBots’. Programmed knitting and sewing machines can make ‘one offs’, where the product will get developed after you have ordered it and will be designed with your exact measurements, leaving little rest material behind.

Reuse

Will owning clothes become a thing of the past? We can now lease our jeans at Mud Jeans, and hopefully more clothing items will follow. I believe it will not take long before we will find more and increasingly user-centric borrowing platforms and stores like Lena Library, Tulerie, and My Wardrobe HQ in the shopping streets and, of course, online.

Brands are investing in expanding the life of clothing items, like the repair and reuse program of Patagonia and Nudie Jeans, and are investing in the afterlife clothing and take back the products after they are used. And Eileen Fisher now buys back garments from customers at $5 each and reworks the material into new merchandise. This Renew program brings in $3 million of the company’s $450 million in annual sales.

Recycle

Lastly, the fashion industry starts to ‘waste’ into value. An increasing amount of relatively new brands are building their collections on recycled materials like Ecoalf (100% recycled materials from discarded fishing nets, plastic bottles, worn-out tires, post-industrial cotton, and used coffee grinds), Veja (introduced material called B-mesh (“bottle mesh”) that is made from recycled plastic bottles) and Girlfriend Collective (sports bras and leggings made from recycled plastic).

At the moment, many textiles are cocktails of different fibre materials blended together and separating fibre materials so that they can be recycled is a major challenge. It is therefore crucial that we start designing products and textiles for disassembly, with different components made from mono materials. Filippa K is setting focus on 100% recycled and 100% recyclable collections, with their Eternal Trench Coat. Wear2 incorporates seams that by using microwave energy make the separation of tags, labels, zips and other materials easy and inexpensive.

A game changing technology that now enables us to separate cotton from polyester has also came to the rescue. The polymer recycling technology of Wornagain can separate, decontaminate and extract polyester polymers, separate cellulose from cotton and non-reusable and turn them into new textile raw material. With such advancements we are able to do this over and over again and we no longer need our planets raw and scarce materials.

Bringing it together

Of course, closing a loop can’t be done by one stakeholder alone. Given that the idea of a circular economy is to create a loop of events, everyone in the supply chain carries responsibility for the shift to take place. 2020 is approaching and we need effective alignment in the industry to turn otherwise fragmented innovations into change at scale. I am hoping to see and hear about collaborative initiatives like Easy Essentials and the Design for Longevity platform to connect the apparel industry for circularity.

So, are you a stakeholder working in or with the apparel industry and do you know about collaborative initiatives for circularity? I would love to get in touch!


Circular Event Nyenrode, Interface, Government

Interface and Dutch government go circular!

Planet Earth is a beautiful circular business model. From which we can learn as people and organisations. Linear business models have dominated our global economy in the past centuries. Yet it has devastating effects such as the depletion of finite resources and the creation of waste, which either needs to be stored or ends up in the environment. In the circular economy, we reuse all primary resources and residual materials. Renewable sources provide all energy used. A growing number of companies and other organisations are starting to see the benefits of circular business models and are joining in!

On January 29, 2019, I had the opportunity to facilitate an interactive session with an audience of Nyenrode Business University alumni after listening to Geanne van Arkel, Head of Sustainable Development at Interface (and Dutch CSR Manager of the Year 2018) and Martie van Essen, Program Manager Sustainability Acceleration at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs share their stories about working more circularly.

What’s the business case for ending life on earth?

Ray Anderson, founder of carpeting company Interface would ask people this question when they asked him about the business case of working more sustainably. After reading The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken he completely changed the course of his company. He became convinced that, as humanity, we need to learn from nature and we need to stop using fossil fuels. In 1996, Interface launched Mission Zero, the ambitious plan to no longer have a negative impact on the world by 2020.

Through Mission Zero, stock-listed Interface progressed in various areas. Compared to 1996, by the year 2017, Interface reduced:

  • Its greenhouse gas emissions per unit produced by 96%;
  • The use of water per unit produced by 88%;
  • The CO2-footprint of carpet tiles by 66%;
  • The energy used per unit produced by 43%;
  • 88% of the energy used comes from renewable sources;
  • and 58% of the materials are either recycled or bio-based.

The circular approach also yielded added value in other areas: costs came down, the reputation grew, innovation rose, employee and stakeholder engagement grew and the company became more future-proof. Because 2020 is almost there, Interface launched a new mission: Climate Take Back. It’s objective is to not just eliminate the negative impact but to also contribute positively to the recovery of our planet. Interface doesn’t confine the circular economy to its raw materials; it’s all about new business models, innovation and inspiration as well. An inclusive business model supplies part of the yarns from damaged fishnets from the Philippines and other places. With a great bycatch: H&M and other carpeting companies are also sourcing circular yarns which the supplier created at the request of Interface!

Practice what you preach on circular business

Through different programs and regulation, the government stimulates Dutch companies to work in more sustainable and more circular ways. And what does the government actually do itself? With 111 thousand FTE, 10% of all Dutch offices and € 12 billion purchasing power per year, the national government has an enormous impact. And with that the opportunity to drive change. The purchasing power is actually € 72 billion is we add regional governments’ and municipal budgets.

The program Think Act Sustainable (Denk Doe Duurzaam) delivers nice results. The national government’s annual report shows that in 2017, compared to 2016:

  • Energy use per square meter of office space decreased by 12%;
  • CO2 emissions decreased by 9%;
  • And an online marketplace for used office furniture saved € 7.4 million.

As much as possible, the government buys refurbished (circular) copiers, reuses its ICT devices, and the army reuses clothing or fiberizes it to recycle it to towels. In the offices, people are encouraged to reuse their paper cups during the day. Cups collected after use are recycled into toilet paper. These measures also deliver cost savings. For example, the army saved € 500 million by reusing clothes. Yet at the same time, circular and sustainable ways of working also raise dilemma’s within the government. Sometimes the scale of what the government needs provides a barrier. For example, there isn’t one supplier which can provide enough circular copiers. And sometimes the switch to new and different business models can require an upfront investment – funded by taxpayers.

A circular dot on the horizon, yet both feet on the ground

After these stories, the audience got on its feet to engage with the speakers and each other by Marjolein Baghuis of The Terrace. On the basis of our “Take a stand icebreaker” – they literally had to take a stand in respons to various statements about the circular economy. I really enjoyed facilitating the discussions among the audience and with the speakers. Everyone was convinced about the need for more circular business models. And everyone had the ambition to work in a more circular way.

Yet there were also plenty of doubts about the willingness and abilities of their organisations to really get going. Everyone expected a large role from the government, through its own actions as well as support and regulation for companies. At the same time, there was a passionate plea from the group not to wait for the government to lead; to just get started. Everyone agreed that this transition requires visionary leaders. Over drinks, we continued to discuss what roles we’d like to take up personally in this exciting field.

Circular Event feb 2019

This event was a co-production of the Nyenrode alumni circles for Sustainability and Market & Government following up on an earlier event about the energy transition. An inspiring Mindspace location in central Amsterdam hosted the event. Marjolein Baghuis was a guest at the Circulair Event, where the Nyenrode alumni were told how Interface and the Government work more circular.