The fashion industry is a dirty business, fast fashion being the second most polluting industry in the world – an issue of global concern which has gained a lot of awareness in recent years and helped cause a shift in consumer desires with regard to sustainability. Increasing numbers of both consumers and businesses accept that dramatic changes are needed to attempt to alleviate the damage caused by conventional practices in the production and consumption of fashion. The fashion world is also one of the fastest moving in terms of detecting and embodying changing trends. Many large and small fashion brands are working in light of new scientific developments to try and right some of the wrong by adopting new and innovative sustainable textile production techniques. One important way to achieve this is by manufacturing clothing from more responsible materials.
Stella McCartney, a leader in the area of innovative and forward thinking eco-friendly fashion, has recently announced a partnership with environmental organisation Parley for the Oceans and shortly after this announced that they will be rolling out their Autumn 2017 Falabella GO handbag collection made from ECONYL yarn. Created by Italian manufacturer Aquafil, the ECONYL® Regeneration System harnesses plastic waste in landfills and oceans in the forms of abandoned fishing nets and other discarded nylon for regeneration. After processing in a plant in Ljubljana, the resulting recycled nylon fibre boasts the same quality and performance as conventional nylon. This material can also be recycled further an infinite number of times without any degradation as a result.
Plastic in the ocean is an emergency that we all urgently need to address. The oceans and their fauna are essentially drowning in plastic debris from our wasteful consumption of disposable products and packaging along with mismanaged disposal of plastic waste. Every year, an estimated 8 million tons of plastic rubbish ends up in the sea. According to Ocean Conservancy, plastics are threatening at least 600 different wildlife species. Animals such as fish, turtles, seals, dolphins and birds are consuming and being killed by plastic bags, discarded fishing nets and general plastic debris. Additionally, most of the plastic consumed by fish is made up of very small particles called microfibres, and humans who eat seafood are in turn consuming the plastic along with the harmful chemicals present. The effects of this on human health are thought to range from cancers and birth defects to immune system problems and childhood developmental issues.
Oceanplastic.net reports that over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century. Man-made fibress, or synthetics as they are commonly known (actually “synthetic” is a term that can also include natural fabrics that are produced in a chemical process) include polyester and nylon, and have been around for well over a century and have transformed the fashion industry. Advantages of MMF include their wrinkle free properties, durability and fast drying. These materials are made from petroleum, a carbon intensive finite resource, and do not decompose in the environment once discarded. The process of making man made fibres is also more energy intensive than natural materials (although, on the other hand, it requires much less water and no pesticides).
While recycling is an example of doing “less bad”, we as consumers need to be aware of the impacts of the choices we are making and try to do better than this. For example, try to use fewer plastic items in the first place, especially single use plastic. Avoid buying things that are destined to be thrown away after very little use, including fashion items. In short, buy better and buy less.
Another thing to consider is how the washing of MMF clothing contributes to the build up of plastic microfibres in the ocean. For this reason it is best to restrict man-made materials in your wardrobe to durable items that do not require much washing, such as rainwear, accessories and some sports wear and aim to buy pieces that are high quality and made to last – not to be discarded after a few wears. Instead of buying polyester made from virgin petroleum, choose recycled polyester or buy second hand. Patagonia is a great example of a brand who creates high quality performance clothing from recycled plastics, and also takes back and recycles, repairs or repurposes your old Patagonia products for you.
Meanwhile, small and large fashion brands across the board should take not from the example set by Stella McCartney and other brands taking similar steps, and recognise that if they wish to use man-made fibres, they can and should opt for recycled materials, and know that, through good design they can help to mitigate the plastic crisis we have in our hands, all without having to compromise on quality or performance.