The environment suffers for fashion. It is time to start focusing on sustainable innovations.
By Rocel Joy Calero
The fashion industry is the second largest polluter of clean water. It continuously harms the environment by using synthetic fibers which is the leading cause of this problem therefore manufacturers and designers should switch to natural fibers as a sustainable innovation in making fabrics. Synthetic fibers are a major problem right now, this are small plastics from fabrics that attract the toxins in the water around them, accumulating harmful chemicals that are then passed into small organisms eaten by fish and the fish will be eaten by humans.
“there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050”
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is an organization that works with different industries to redesign different principles of government, economy and environment. And recently, they’ve found that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. This study was introduced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January 2016 to highlight the increasing amount of plastic in the world’s waters. It explains that synthetic fibers coming from the sewerage system of facilities and houses cannot be decompose. This small fiber continuously flows into the rivers, lakes and oceans that later destroys the food chain and imbalances the ecosystem.
Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna posted in her twitter account that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. She supported this study of Ellen MacArthur Foundation on her desire to half the amount of garbage Canadians thrown away by 2040. This means that problems related to plastics is affecting thousands of Canadians and that the government is making the people aware of the current problem.
In addition, a study published by Marine Pollution Bulletin about researchers from Ocean Wise studied the particles taken from the stomach of seven belugas in the Arctic waters of Canada. And they found out that there are about 10 microplastics or particles less than five millimeters in size in the stomach of belugas, with polyester as the most common particle. Polyester is a term for fabric made from synthetic fiber. This example shows that marine animals are affected by microplastic spread into our waters, which is significant because this study exposes how far microplastics can travel and how they’ve penetrated the remote places of environment. This reminds me of a sad reality that people don’t care and maybe not aware of this kind of pollution.
Most of the clothes made from synthetic fibers are difficult and more expensive to recycle. Reporter Charlsie Agro of CBC news made a documentary about recycling programs of different brands. Where she went to Kenya and discovered that clothes donated for recycling are sold to a middleman and ship overseas to developing countries. So, some are being sold in a cheaper price if not they are dumped in landfills and burned.
I remember when I was young, my mother would bring me in our local market to buy secondhand clothes and accessories from different countries known in our language as “ukay-ukay”, then she will alter it to make it look new. A group of people would come in our town once a week every Sunday through large trucks with bundles of clothes, bags, curtains and accessories. Locals would wait for it early in the morning just to be the first person to see and choose the nicest styles and we can still bargain it in a good and cheaper price. They will only stay in our town for about 3 to 4 hours and transfer to another town. People are so attracted to buy because its imported and cheap. I can say that this business becomes stable as it operates for several decades. But until now, I am not sure how they dispose the clothes that are not sold.
“Some would say that cotton is a problematic crop but nowadays, improvements of growing cotton has increased such as water efficiency and the used of pesticide has decrease to 90 per cent in the last 15 years.”
The best solution is that manufacturers and designers should use natural fibers rather than synthetic fibers for production of textiles. Natural fibers are fibers taken originally from plant or animal. Today, Australia’s cotton economy is increasing due to high demand locally and internationally. One of the reasons is consumers are choosing sustainable produced goods such as cotton. Cotton is known for its versatility, performance and natural comfort. Famous brands are starting to use 100 percent Australian cotton in their products as an alternative to cheaper fiber mixes. There has been a huge increase of interest from international retailers and brand owners in knowing the production cycle of cotton. Some would say that cotton is a problematic crop but nowadays, improvements of growing cotton has increased such as water efficiency and the used of pesticide has decrease to 90 per cent in the last 15 years. Last 2017, it was estimated that Australian crop produces about a million tonnes and that would put a shirt, jeans, jocks and socks on about 500 million people. This implies that cotton production is reliable to sustain the needs of manufacturers all over the world and significant to our environment by not using synthetic fibers.
“Most of the European consumers prefer to use simple, natural and ‘earthy’ materials resulting to organic sector to grow and create business opportunities.”
In addition, the Center for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries is an organization funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides sustainable and develop programs for developing countries to enter the European market. Today, Europe is the third largest market in the world. The demand for natural fibers is still high in European apparel industry and the reason is that the consumers are fully aware of environmental issues. Fibers use from plants are seeds, leaf, skin, fruit and stalk; fibers from animals are hair, fiber secreted by glands and fiber from birds(feather). According to the ministry, the natural fibers brings a positive image to the fashion brands with connotations of health. Also, most of the European consumers prefer to use simple, natural and ‘earthy’ materials resulting to organic sector to grow and create business opportunities. The evidence here illustrates that natural fibers could compete in the global market; but it needs the support of government, fashion industry and consumers to make it happen. I believe that everyone of us should take part in this pathway by choosing to buy natural made products and avoid synthetic.
Lastly, some innovators are using live organisms such as living bacteria, algae, yeast, animal cells or fungi to grow biodegradable textile and producing materials without the need of processing in the factory. For example, Theanne Schiros, an assistant professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, she and a team of students and faculty, specifically choose algae and invented a yarn like fiber that can be dyed with non-chemical materials like crushed shells of insects knitted into apparel. Algae-based textiles are strong, naturally fire resistant, flexible, and biodegrades faster than cotton. Also, a major benefit aside from being biodegradable is that a lot of organisms can fit into molds and produce actual amount of textile for a piece of clothing without excess material to discard. Some researchers are also trying to study the use of bacteria to stop the problem in using chemical dyes for fabrics in which dyes are one of the major water polluters in the world. An example of using organisms is dyes made from bacteria and mix with organic silk. In this study, it shows that there are lots of ways that researchers and innovators can explore especially in using natural and non-chemical materials such as live organisms. I believe that the fashion industry should support these studies and put a commitment to it.
In conclusion, the fashion industry continues to harm the environment by using synthetic fibers and they should start using natural fibers in their products. There are studies that show strong evidence that fabrics made from synthetic materials causes significant environmental damage and natural fibers is one solution to help solve a world pollution problem. Because of this everyone should take responsibility in stopping this major problem.