Virgin materials will likely always be required for some textiles, particularly when no recycled materials are available. Textile production can become more renewable and regenerative by transitioning to more effective and efficient production processes that generate less waste, need fewer resources, reduce water use in water-scarce regions, are energy efficient, and run on renewable energy.
Renewable solutions can also be cost effective by reducing exposure to cost volatility of some resources. The price of oil, for example, has been historically volatile, exposing businesses to unexpected input cost spikes for polyester and other plastic-based fibers. Additionally, many of the key cotton-producing countries are under high water stress, including China, India, the U.S., Pakistan, Turkey, and Brazil. Water management and other environmental conditions have significant impacts on the availability of cotton, and therefore lead to price fluctuations.
Instead of cotton, the clothing industry make clothes from recycled plastics, or plastics made from biomass sources including crops, algae, or waste materials such as old vegetable oil. Other natural resources could include fast-growing plants that need low amounts of treatment and water, combined with processes that need fewer resources.
While there are ongoing efforts to minimize the negative impacts of clothing production, creating a wholesale circular economy in clothing requires system-level change. Stakeholders need to rally behind the objectives of a new textile economy, setting ambitious joint commitments, reinforcing voluntary initiatives and jump-starting innovation in all stages of clothing production. The drawbacks in the way we design, produce, and use clothes are clear. With circular design, fashion doesn’t have to cost the earth.
Photo by Marianne Krohn on Unsplash