Are recycled materials the future of fashion?

by: Emma Wilder 02 Jan 2019

From political statements to planet-saving activism, there’s no doubt in our minds that fashion has the power to change the world. Fashion is up there as one of the world’s biggest industries and, as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. As environmental concerns become ever more important to governments, businesses and consumers alike, the mission to build sustainable supply chains across all industry sectors has started in earnest.

It goes without saying that the rise in demand for “fast” fashion has necessitated a linear supply chain in which clothes are produced, often in the least expensive way possible using unsustainable resources, and then discarded before the season’s even out, in many cases. But many are stepping up and saying there may be another way. In the spirit of this year’s Pure London theme – redefining disruption – we take a look at the ways the current fashion supply chain can be disrupted for the good of the environment.

In November 2017, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation released a report making the case for a redesign of the fashion economy as we know it today. Setting out ambitions covering everything from societal impact to the commercial case, the foundation’s “new textiles economy” offers up a solution for a circular fashion economy. The report, which is backed by the likes of H&M and Nike, discusses, among many other things, the issue of waste in every facet of the industry. From the epic amounts of water required to grow cotton in water-scarce countries, to the equally huge number of garments that end up in landfill every year, the environmental case for recycling textiles rather than using virgin materials is clear.

And, if protecting the planet wasn’t enough of an incentive for brands to get recycling, the business case should provide some sway. With social media and the internet at consumers’ fingertips, there’s no hiding the impact of fashion on the environment. Of course, as environmental concerns become front of mind in more and more customers’ consciousness, there is a rising risk of brand damage as soon as any less-than-eco-friendly practices are made public.

What’s more, fashion’s future buyers hold the protection of the environment close to their hearts, “, with 72% of Generation Z women stating that it is imperative to buy brands that are environmentally friendly”. In other words, using recycled and recyclable materials is not just future-proofing the planet; it’s future-proofing buyers too.

Activewear is one of the key fashion sectors making strides in using recycled materials. And when looking at Gen Z’s preoccupation with both the environment and with the booming wellness craze, this makes a lot of sense. Historically, the activewear industry has faced the dual stigma of being less-than-flattering and a nightmare for the environment, using manmade, chemically-treated plastics and materials to manufacture many, if not all, of their garments.

But with the “Blue Planet Effect” in full swing, the attitude to plastics in the fashion industry has undergone a paradigm shift. Companies have been set up to trawl the oceans for discarded plastics and fishing nets which can be reused to create functional textiles for sportswear, like Econyl and Repreve. Brands that are on board include Patagonia and Adidas, with many more making the effort to transform their supply chain.

When all is said and done, there is still many issues to tackle in the fashion industry for us to build a fully future-proof environmental solution, but in the meantime, adopting recycled, upcycled and recyclable materials is a good place to start.

Discover more about the sustainable materials out there at Pure London and Pure Origin 10th – 12th February 2019.

1. Source: Report “A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future” published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation 
2. Source: Article “Trawling for trash: the brands turning plastic pollution into fashion” published by The Guardian

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About the Author

Emma Wilder is the Content Editor for Pure London.

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