A Sustainable Future for Fashion

Posted by Teghan Acres on

Written by Teghan Acres
The 80s were characterized by big hair and acid wash jeans, the 90s featured grunge band tees and doc martens, but what styles define us today? Everywhere we look, a new fashion trend is popping up. Styles gain popularity and die out faster than ever before. This is not accidental. It is a result of the fast fashion epidemic that has spread across modern clothing retailers.

Fast fashion can be defined as the business model where companies produce low quality and low-cost clothing over a very short period of time. These corporations release new collections almost weekly and rely on unethical practices for high-profit margins. In the past, traditional clothing brands released two collections each year, that number is now up to 50 with new pieces hitting storefronts constantly.

Figure 1. The cycles of fast fashion compared to traditional fashion
Credit: The Apparel Industry’s Environmental Impact in 6 Graphics 

Figure 2. The production model of a linear economy
Credit: What is the Circular Economy? | Zero Waste Yukon

We are buying more and using less than ever before. Since 2000, clothing purchases per consumer have increased by 60%, but almost 60% of all clothing produced is discarded within a year of production.

Figure 3. Comparing the average consumer’s clothing consumption from 2000 to 2014
Credit: The Apparel Industry’s Environmental Impact in 6 Graphics
Most of this disposed of clothing is not destined for reuse or repurposing. Only 13% of the total material input is recycled after use and less then 1% is recycled into new clothing.

The global clothing industry accounted for 1.2 billion tonnes of CO 2 equivalent in 2015 – this is more than the output of all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

Not only is this industry polluting our atmosphere, but more and more clothing is
produced from synthetic materials (aka oil) which shed in our washing machines and send an estimated 500,000 tonnes of plastic microfibers into our oceans each year.

Figure 4. The current textiles industry production model
Credit: A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future | Ellen MacArthur Foundation 

While this information may seem discouraging, it actually represents a multitude of opportunities. The industry does not have to work this way. Innovative ways of manufacturing, using, and recycling clothing are taking the textile economy by storm. This new system has been called a ‘circular textile industry’ by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation; which would utilize the circular economy principles of designing out waste and keeping materials in use indefinitely.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation details what a circular textile industry could look like, and the multitude of benefits this would have for not only the environment but also businesses and citizens.  A new textiles economy will:

1. Phaseout substances of concern and microfiber release
2. Increase clothing utilization
3. Radically improve recycling
4. Make effective use of resources and move to renewable inputs

Figure 5. The circular model of a new textiles economy
Credit: A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future | Ellen MacArthur Foundation
By moving towards this system, the industry can reduce GHG emissions and
consumption of non-renewable materials while creating additional profit opportunities for businesses through new services.

Figure 6. The pollution of the current textiles industry
Credit: A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future | Ellen MacArthur Foundation

An example of a new service is the baby clothing membership offered by Tradle. We incorporate these four pillars as a leader in the transition to a new textiles economy. Our partner brands use sustainable and ethical manufacturing processes that eliminate substances of concern and microfiber release. By circulating high-quality clothing between many families, the pieces are kept in use much longer. We take on the responsibility of repairing our bundles between each use to maintain quality and durability. We are supporting the industry shift to better recycling systems through responsible end-of-life management. Finally, Tradle is promoting the effective use of resources and move to renewable inputs by setting an example for others in the clothing industry as a circular business.

Clothing memberships reduce CO 2 emissions, water consumption, material waste and ocean pollution. Vote against fast fashion culture by choosing sustainable, ethical and beautiful clothing for your family. Join the Tradle community today.

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