What sets Berlin Fashion Week apart from the rest is its commitment to sustainable clothing. So much so that there’s an entire trade fair dedicated to the cause: the newly rebranded NEONYT.
Water is the order of the day, and at the rate, it’s being consumed, polluted and wasted by the fashion industry, clean water is fast becoming the luxury commodity. However, it is possible to make clothes with minimal environmental impact and by collaborating with other industries – from agriculture to tech – not only can the textiles industry become more circular and efficient but others too.
Here we take a look at the key themes and sustainable solutions presented during Berlin Fashion Week AW19.
Take water out of fashion
From the production of raw materials to wet processing and domestic laundry, clothes can’t seem to get enough of water.otton is the thirstiest of all fibres, requiring 20 000 litres to produce 1kg and the most popular natural textile. However there are plenty of alternatives: bast fibres collected from plant stems such as hemp, nettles and flax (linen) require significantly less water. As does semi-synthetic and 100% biodegradable Tencel branded lyocell: a type of rayon (regenerated cellulose fibre) made of wood pulp – its breathable, moisture-absorbing properties make it perfect for sportswear. According to the World Bank, dyeing textiles accounts for nearly 20% of all water pollution worldwide. Through a process called dope dyeing, Swedish company We aRe SpinDye adds pigment to polyester before it is extruded into fibres. This reduces water consumption by 75% in the entire colouring process, as well as 90% fewer chemicals, a 30% decrease in CO2 emissions and significantly less energy usage compared to traditional dyeing techniques.
Popular denim finishes are also notorious for wasting vast quantities of water, however, the likes of laser technology available at Crescent Bahuman, Pakistan’s first vertically integrated denim facility, and ozone fading/bleaching at Polish laundry/dye house Knk Kanaka can achieve that distressed, worn-in look with little to no H2O.
Design with the end in mind
“It is very important to implement sustainability right from the beginning of the design process,” stressed Andreea Toca, Sustainability and Brand Manager of Swedish Stockings, who are launching the first-ever 100% recycled elastane and polyamide hosiery collection – currently the closest thing you can get to fully circular tights. Mono-materials are easier to recycle than blended fabrics, so brands and designers must choose their materials wisely in order to close the loop, or at least slow it down. Filippa K’s 100% recycled, 100% recyclable Eternal Trench Coat made from plastic bottles can be fully cycled back into the cloth from which it was cut – but before that, repair and restoration services are offered, and if the coat is returned in good condition, then it is resold or rented out. Modular design, as proposed by Circular.Fashion, which can be adjusted to the weather or occasion with detachable linings, sleeves, collars etc. is yet another way to get the most out of a piece of clothing.
As pointed out by Amanda Johnston of the Sustainable Angle: “Waste is gold. If you’re wasting materials, you’re burning money.” And the waste doesn’t have to come from the fashion industry: Circular Systems’ Agraloop transforms food crop refuse – such as pineapple leaves, banana trunks and sugar cane bark – into natural fibres for use in textiles, but also organic packaging, fertilisers and bio-energy. Meanwhile Ecoalf creates apparel from post-consumer coffee grounds, as well as discarded fishing nets and used tyres. As part of their Recycling Club, Swedish Stockings melts down any worn and torn nylon hosiery sent to their recycling centres, to be used as filler materials in fibreglass tanks for oil and grease traps in plumbing systems. Harnessing the collective mind-power of experts from a range of sectors and industries, the Sourcebook-organised Thinkathon breaks down the silo mentality to help brands, companies and organisations to find innovative solutions to industry challenges – read up on the results from this season’s Thinkathon.
Curb your Consumption… and Production
Clare Press, Australian Vogue’s Sustainability Editor-at-Large and Fashionsustain keynote speaker remarked that “It’s only in the last 15 years we consume as much as we do.” To paraphrase Vivienne Westwood, we should certainly be buying less, choosing better and making it last – but it is also up to brands and designers to stop producing more.
Following the recent “shock revelations” that the likes of H&M through to Burberry have been burning their own excess inventory for years, the industry clearly has a problem with overproduction, inefficiency and understanding the consumer. Here is where technology comes into play: ZyseMe leverages A.I. to create personalised clothing on-demand to cut down on unwanted stock through better-fitting clothes, while Genostyle’s smart algorithms learn more about what the customer really wants through analysing style preference data.
“A mosaic of solutions”
As Alexander Nolte of Stop! Micro Waste nicely summed it up: “We need a mosaic of solutions.” Some of these are short-term, like the Guppyfriend washing bag to prevent microfibres from entering our oceans, whilst long-term solutions to stop water pollution all together are figured out.
Right now, circular zero-waste models need to be adopted, and tools such as the Higg Index, Jeanologia’s EIM and Circular.Fashion’s Circular Design software can help brands measure and improve their sustainable performance. For smaller labels and emerging designers in Europe, programmes such as Fashion Council Germany’s German Sustain Concept and TCBL’s Business Pilots encourage local production and nearshoring, which can make supply chains more transparent and reduce carbon footprint.
Brands should then better communicate their social and sustainability efforts (without greenwashing) to educate and empower customers to make more informed buying decisions. This would also ideally increase brand loyalty and the success of take-back schemes so that clothes can be reused or recycled properly. Easy-to-understand universal certifications and standards should also be established so that designers, suppliers, buyers and customers all know what they are working with.
Industry reports and mass media indicate that younger generations are more mindful about the ethical and environmental impact of their purchases, so brands should do more to appeal to their future customer base and embrace the power of social media and influencers. From the energy and enthusiasm in the Prepeekblogger’s corner to Melati Wijsen “18-year-old full-time changemaker,” Bye Bye Plastic Bags NGO co-founder and star panel speaker at Fashionsustain – there is certainly hope for a greener, brighter, more loving future.
All companies, organisations, brands and individuals featured in this post took part in or were discussed at the Fashionsustain and #Fashiontech conferences, the Neonyt trade fair and/or offstage events, as well as other trade shows and seminars beyond the NEONYT hub.