Textiles are the core of the fashion industry, so when (re)thinking and restructuring the industry, we need to rethink textiles.
Fibre production for textiles is where the fashion industry has the most impact, according to the Science Based Targets and the World Resource Institute and the United Nations Environment Programme. To address this, the textile industry is exploring and innovating alternatives with less impact: ones that will take us into a sustainable fashion future.
The Phygital Sustainability Expo showcased some of the most inspiring textile innovations in Italy earlier this year. The fourth edition of the expo took place in the historic Museum of Imperial Forum – Trajan’s Market in Rome. Hosted by the Sustainable Fashion Innovation Society, the two-day fair explored the issues currently facing the fashion industry, from the importance of representation and inclusivity to microplastic pollution that threatens our oceans, as well as an exhibition of innovative textiles revolutionising the fashion industry. The talks featured Mmathari Mashao, South African Ambassador in Italy and CEO of Vivienne Westwood, Carlo D’Amario.
This year’s theme for the expo “where technology meets fashion” explored the power of modern technology to innovate new textiles that are kinder to the environment.
What’s the challenge? Polyester is now the most widely used fibre in the industry, accounting for more than 60% of all clothing produced, while cotton accounts for 23,7% of total fibre (the rest is other less commonly used fibres). With the introduction of low cost polyester, the volume of fashion produced has increased. Polyester is a fossil-fuel based fibre and it causes microfibre pollution that threatens aquatic life and enters our bloodstream, causing harm to human and animal health.
Polyester is not the only contributor to fashion’s impact on the planet. Water usage, toxic chemicals, pollution and wasteful consumption occur during the production of all fibres and at all points in the fashion supply chain. “Unfortunately, products are still designed for short seasons and made to fall apart, and that whole supply chain and business model is creating products that are destined for landfill,” Saskia van Gendt, Rothy’s head of sustainability, said to Fashionista.
“The best part about the Phygital Sustainability Expo this year was bringing together the institutional world with the fashion industry,” says Ildebrando Panfili, head of marketing of the Sustainable Fashion Innovation Society. With Italian Ministers, European Parliamentarians, CEOs and President of global fashion and design brands in attendance, “These two worlds had the chance to debate constructively with each other aiming to find short term and long term, feasible solutions for the future of the sustainable fashion industry.”
The expo concluded with a fashion showcase amidst the ruins of Trajan Market as the sun set. The winding pathways made the perfect runway for the models, wearing garments made from the fabrics on display, to walk through. The clothing was accompanied by a narration detailing the innovation and carbon footprint of the clothing.
“Knowing what impact different textile fibres have on the environment is key to driving change on customers’ end. Sustainable Fashion Innovation Society does its best to educate and hope that customers learn to buy less and buy better,” Ildebrando says.
These are four of the textile innovations that were on show:
Bio-based material made from beans
Radici Group is an international organisation specialising in textile solution innovations. Their product, BioFeel was presented during the Narrated Catwalk section of the Expo. The bio-based polymer is made from beans sourced from a small cultivation in India, grown on semi-arid land so as to not compete with human food production. The oil from the bean is used to make bio-polymers that create a beautiful textile. The garment was also knitted directly from the yarn, creating no waste from offcuts. Being a mono-material polymer, the textile is 100% recyclable, facilitating a responsibly end-of-life solution to these garments.
The company behind this innovative material is Lebiu Design Ecoolska. Using cork waste, Lebiu creates a bio-based material that is light-weight and durable, akin to animal hide. But the material can be processed into a range of different textiles.
The cork leather is made by processing cork waste by boiling and flattening the cork into sheets. This can be used to make an array of products, from bags to clothing.
While the company creates its material from cork waste, Cork oak has incredible environmental benefits. Cork oak sequesters carbon, absorbing CO2 and removing carbon from the atmosphere. Cork is harvested by removing the layer of thick bark on the tree, without needing to cut it down, so the tree continues to sequester carbon, even after harvest. The harvested cork oak grows back the thick outer layer, and can be harvested again.
Natural dyeing technology
While colourful fashion is fun and exciting, the process of dyeing our clothes is far from pretty. Textile dyeing consumes large quantities of water and has a negative impact on our environment.
The wastewater that comes from dyeing and processing textiles that contain carcinogenic chemicals, salt, metals and dyes are often dumped into waterways, harming the environment and polluting drinking water for surrounding communities. The lack of regulations around dumping wastewater has exacerbated the, with rivers turning into a black sludge, the CNN reports.
Albini Next is an Italian think tank set on finding the fabrics of the future, and their latest venture is discovering cost-effective dyeing techniques that are not harmful to the planet or people.
Three projects were showcased as alternative dyes using microbiomes and microorganisms.
One of these dyes was created from naturally producing colourants from organisms. By identifying the genes that produce these pigments, Albini Next worked with Colorfix to synthesise these genes and insert them into a microorganism to produce the pigment naturally.
This innovative process has lower water consumption compared to traditional dyeing techniques and naturally binds to the yarn without the use of chemicals.
Tencel is one of the largest producers of Lyocell and viscose, made from wood pulp sourced from sustainably managed forests. At the Phygital Sustainability Expo, they showcased their modal fabric range.
Modal is a semi-synthetic cellulosic fibre that is a lower-impact alternative to lyocell and rayon. Its stretch, comfort and durability makes it an ideal textile for activewear, bedsheets, underwear and more. While modal generally produces fewer GHGs and is a stronger, more durable textile, not all modal fabrics are made equally. As modal is made from beech trees, producing this textile, and other cellulosic fibres, can lead to deforestation if not sourced sustainably.
But what makes Tencel’s modal far more attractive, in our eyes, is their sustainable and transparent supply chain. Tencel is USDA BioPreferred, EU Ecolabel, and TÜV Austria Belgium NV certified for having a sustainable wood pulp sourcing, lower environmental impact, and being biodegradable and compostable.
These are a just few examples of textile innovations. Many more organisations around the world continue to explore new alternatives to current harmful practices. The Phygital Sustainability Expo is driving the change to create a fashion industry that is kind, circular, and environmentally and socially responsible.
- This is not a sponsored post. The Italian Trade Agency in South Africa invited Twyg to the Expo
- Images supplied by Sustainable Fashion Innovation Society
- Main photo of the fashion showcase amidst the ruins of Trajan Market