The green catwalk: a leap in fashion sustainability
We went down the rabbit hole, looking for people reinventing what we wear and at what cost for the planet. Here is what we've found. And you are invited to meet them!
As the market cap for fashion is growing (expected to reach $ 1 trillion in 2025), it is also one of the largest contributors to global GHG emissions. According to the UNEP, it is responsible for 8% of global emissions, slightly less than agriculture (10%). While other industries have made noticeable progress in sustainable practices, sustainability in the fashion industry is seen as only limited to a number of big brands… or used for greenwashing in marketing campaigns… rather than embracing sustainable changes. However, 35% of the younger generation is willing to pay extra for “environmental-friendly” clothing. But how much extra, really?
There are people who figured this out, and we connected with them to join our tsunami, and it seems that the fashion industry is the next in line.
The long Pollution Trail fashion created
To understand the environmental impacts a piece of clothing has, we have to go back to its origin.
Two of the most common materials in clothing production are polyester, a synthetic textile, which accounts for 51% of textiles produced (54 million tonnes), and cotton, which accounts for 25% (26 million tonnes) annually. Let’s discuss how the raw materials create pollution:
Polyester: a synthetic material that is easily produced from fossil fuels. It is non-recyclable, non-biodegradable, and sheds toxin waste in landfills. It is also responsible for fast fashion and the overproduction of clothes as polyester is cheaper than natural materials. Thus, producers embrace polyester to produce cheaper clothes and encourage customers to change clothes more often.
Cotton: a natural material that requires much water, approximately 700 gallons of water for a cotton shirt. It also damages the soil, turning fertile land into a wasteland, as farmers often use chemical pesticides and fertilizers to increase their yield.
The manufacturing of clothes can also produce even more waste and emissions. For example, the dyeing of clothes can produce toxic water, which is usually dumped carelessly into the rivers and then into the phreatic zones. WEF estimated that the fashion industry is responsible for 20% of industrial water pollution. The production of clothes also relies heavily on developing countries, such as China and Bangladesh, which depend heavily on coal-powered factories, contributing to the ongoing global warming. There are so many issues we have to act on if we are to rethink fashion.
It is only recently, however, that the news of the pollution from the fashion industry started reaching mainstream media with the start of the trend of “fast fashion”. Companies like H&M and Zara gained their popularity in the early 2010s due to their cheap clothes. They were able to reduce the price tag since production was being offshored to other countries. This accelerated the demand for new clothes and these companies started increasing the number of collections every year. Consumers also wore the clothes half as many times as they did ten years ago. This is called “fast fashion” and it has contributed 13 million tonnes of trash or 85% of textiles being thrown out each year (World Economic Forum). The majority of clothes cannot be recycled and thus, left in the landfills or oceans which can pollute the environment due to the microplastics shed by polyester. Not only does fashion contribute to a large share of GHG emissions, but it also brings about the question of pollution, excessive water usage, and waste management.
A path towards redemption: How does responsible fashion will look like?
As consumers start to raise questions about the pollution from the fashion industry, major players became more aware of the environmental damage their products create. During the past 10 years, major brands started massive efforts to reduce pollution in their supply chain. Still, it is hard to differentiate genuine efforts from a marketing ploy. Changing Markets Foundation reported that 59% of sustainability claims by fashion brands are considered “greenwashing”, a marketing technique that makes a product appears “sustainable”. Oftentimes, the products are not produced as advertised such as the materials are not actually recyclable or the manufacturing process still relies heavily on fossil fuels... Or this is the real transportation/distribution CO2 costs that are not taken into account.
One amazing effort made in the industry is the Environmental P&L (EP&L) used by Kering Group, a multinational corporation that specializes in luxury goods, and developed by PwC, one of the big four consulting firms. To read more about the economic method that PwC utilizes, click here. This method allows companies to compare apple to apple by converting different environmental impacts into monetary value. This allows the company to know which stage of the life cycle of their products are having the most environmental impacts and require the most effort. Kering has set out to reduce environmental impacts in the stage of raw material production. If this method is adopted widely, customers can easily recognize which companies are making a difference and becoming more sustainable.
Some solutions shaping a green future for fashion
Here are some brilliant solutions that sustainability tech startups have created and used extensively in the fashion industry:
Infinitedfiber technology takes piles of cellulose-rich waste that would otherwise be landfilled or burned – old textiles, used cardboard, crop residues like rice or wheat straw, and more – and transforms them into premium-quality fibers for the textile industry. The company got awarded by WWF and some of their clients include Adidas, H&M, Zalando.
Kintra Fibers is a bio-polymer start-up that has designed a proprietary bio-based and compostable polymer optimized for synthetic textile manufacturing and applications. As mentioned in this article, synthetic textiles, such as polyester, are produced from fossil fuels that are carbon-heavy. Kintra Fibers aims to de-carbonize the textile industry through their biopolymer and greener process.
Azolla is an early-stage biotechnology startup developing technology to replace toxic materials with sustainable, affordable options by converting pollution into biomaterial. Azolla's production is inspired by nature’s ability to “make things” literally out of thin air, season after season, using only CO2 and sunlight to create bio-fiber. This groundbreaking technology has the potential to transform carbon dioxide gas directly into nano-cellulose material for the textile industry, an industry that uses 98 million tons of non-renewable resources each year.
Vividye offers technology to apply colors and designs to textiles that can be later removed to re-apply new ones, without harming the material. The textile industry has one of the largest water and waste footprints in the world with approximately 5.8 trillion liters of water used annually. Vividye’s technology optimizes the use of resources by dramatically extending the lifecycle of the raw material, significantly reducing water consumption and the release of chemicals into the environment. The vision for Vividye is to become leading within the circular textile economy. Creating a new way of consuming fashion.
The startup aims to help 180+ sustainable fashion brands make online sales as well as find physical retail spaces to promote sustainability in fashion. They have turned vacant space into a fashion hub, where customers and designers come together to appreciate ethical fashion. Currently, you can visit them if you are in NYC 250 Bowery St. Founded in 2018 by Devin Gilmartin, you can meet him at our Atlas Society meetup this Thursday!
The green catwalk
This Thursday, we will be organizing a “green catwalk”, on Pala, our virtual private island. During this event, we will be inviting several people who have something to say about sustainable fashion because that’s what their life has been dedicated to; as well as a couple of investors who have been investing in this space.
At Atlas Capital, we do not only focus on new technologies, but we also aim to revolutionize traditional industries into greener ones. We believe that by bringing innovators, supporters, and investors together, we can create a tsunami that will heal the Earth from the past damage that we have caused. Now is the time to build a future we actually want to live in.