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Innovations in Textiles (2020)

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

What I learned about the industry thus far... in a nutshell


The term “sustainability” has taken on increasing importance in both meaning and impact. This is no exception particularly in the textile and fashion industries, which have become known to have detrimental consequences on the environment. According to the United States (US) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at least 17 million tons of textiles was produced in 2018, with 14.7% of it being recycled, 18.8% being combusted, and 66.5% ending up in landfills [1]. In addition to these statistics are the numerous hazards created during the production and processing of these textiles such as dye and finishing toxins leaking into water streams and nearby soil, greenhouse gas emissions polluting the air and atmosphere, overwhelming occupancy of physical space in storage and on land, and disturbance to wildlife and biodiversity [2]. All of these effects are caused not just by the manufacturing process of the textiles but also by transportation, shipping, packaging and if applicable, international protocols involved. Therefore, we need to rethink and reinvent the textiles industry so that it not only leaves a smaller footprint on the environment, but is also more economically and financially affordable.


Today, the majority of the textiles industry operates along a traditional system called the “linear economy”: large amounts of non-renewable raw materials are put into manufacturing various products, most of which have a limited lifetime before being sent to a landfill or incineration [3]. This is also known as the “take, make, use and dispose” approach where materials flow in one linear direction. Any by-products made along the way are discarded as waste and can cause negative side effects. This leads to the introduction of the “circular economy”, which encompasses many important principles regarding reuse, reduce and recycle. Unlike the linear economy, the circular model focuses more on restorative and regenerative methods of production [4]. In other words, if products and materials were reused or repurposed more frequently and efficiently in a closed-loop system, less waste can be made [5].


Fortunately, society is beginning to head into this direction as an increasing number of startup businesses and corporations begin adopting various methods of sustainability. (The speed at which this direction is headed, however, is a separate discussion). For example, Patagonia® created its Common Threads Partnership Program to recycle used clothing items into polyester fibre [6]. TeeMill manufactures organic T-shirts in a closed-loop system where wastewater from the dyeing process is replenished into potable water and any clothing returned to them is remade into another clothing product to redistribute [7]. Fashion For Good provides an innovative platform that hosts at least 115 businesses working in various aspects of fashion including raw materials, technology, processing, wastewater treatment, retail, packaging, cut-make-trim, chemistry, and engineering - all from a sustainability point of view [8]. It is also important to recognize the numerous initiatives and associations that aim to legally regulate and hold businesses and corporations accountable for their production line. These include the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), the The Organic Trade Association (OTA), the Council for Textile Recycling, the Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), the Green Seal, the International Organization for Standardization, the Fur Products Labeling Act, and the Wool Products Labeling Act. While these lists are not exhaustive, it was incredibly encouraging to recognize the efforts currently put in place for the sustainable textiles movement.

It is critical to mention, however, that in an industry so well-known to follow modern trends, sustainability may not be as tough of a problem to solve as greenwashing. Despite the implementation of the triple bottom line or the usage of environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics, evaluations become more difficult for large corporations that focus largely on profit and may or may not be providing accurate data for the benefit of their image [9]. In order to ensure proper movement towards sustainability, it is important to educate effective methods of sustainability to not just employees of textile and fashion companies but to fashion students and consumers as well. In summary, it is clear that the fashion industry has recognized its detrimental effects on the planet and that sustainability is possible with effective research and technology.




Works Cited

[1] “Textiles: Material-Specific Data,” EPA, 07-Oct-2020. [Online]. Available: https:// www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/textiles-material specific-data. [Accessed: 07-Dec-2020].

[2] I. Johnson, A. K. Sarkar, A. C. Cohen, and J. J. Pizzuto, J.J. Pizzuto's Fabric Science, 11th ed. New York, NY: Fairchild Books, 2015.

[3] Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2020. A NEW TEXTILES ECONOMY: REDESIGNING FASHION’S FUTURE. [online] Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Available at: <https:// www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/A-New-Textiles-Economy.pdf> [Accessed 7 December 2020].

[4] Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2020. Fashion And The Circular Economy. [online] Available at: <https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/explore/fashion-and-the-circular economy> [Accessed 8 December 2020].

[5] Kenniskaarten - het Groene Brein. 2020. A Circular Economy Differs From A Linear Economy, But How?. [online] Available at: <https://kenniskaarten.hetgroenebrein.nl/en/ knowledge-map-circular-economy/how-is-a-circular-economy-different-from-a-linear economy/> [Accessed 8 December 2020].

[6] Patagonia.com. 2020. Closing The Loop - A Report On Patagonia's Common Threads Garment Recycling Program - Patagonia. [online] Available at: <https:// www.patagonia.com/stories/closing-the-loop-a-report-on-patagonias-common-threads garment-recycling-program/story-19961.html> [Accessed 8 December 2020].

[7] Teemill.com. 2020. The Journey. [online] Available at: <https://teemill.com/the-journey/> [Accessed 8 December 2020].

[8] Fashion For Good. 2020. Innovation Platform — Fashion For Good. [online] Available at: <https://fashionforgood.com/innovation-platform/> [Accessed 8 December 2020].

[9] Sinisalo, Camilla. “Effect of Greenwashing on Brand Image and Buying Behaviour in Fast Fashion: A Consumer Perspective.” Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, 2020.

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