Overproduction, excessive water consumption, microplastic pollution, harmful emissions, and waste production: These are some of the fashion industry’s damaging impacts on the environment.
According to the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, “the fashion industry is a $2.4 trillion global industry that employs approximately 300 million people across the value chain.” With this size and global reach, they note that the industry is responsible for an estimated two to eight percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, textiles account for approximately nine percent of annual microplastic losses to the oceans.
One way for the fashion industry to be more sustainable is to procure and utilize environment-friendly raw materials. As a synthetic material made from plastic, polyester requires high energy consumption and contributes to air and water pollution during production. Cotton is also considered unsustainable despite being a natural fiber because of how it is conventionally produced. According to the World Wildlife Fund, cotton production and processing consume large amounts of water, while its cultivation severely degrades soil quality.
In lieu of these popular raw materials, here are some sustainable alternatives.
The Philippines is rich in plant and nature-based resources for natural textiles, which the Department of Science and Technology’s Philippine Textile Research Institute views as a way to address issues like the long decomposition period of synthetic materials and the unnatural components in it that can harm the environment.
This local and natural solution usually uses byproducts, like pineapple and banana leaves that would otherwise be thrown away. Using these repurposed materials can also help minimize food waste, which is a win-win for sustainability.
Abaca is a plant native to the Philippines, which already adds to its sustainability factor as a raw material for the local fashion industry. Aside from this, the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PFIDA) states that planting abaca can “assist in improving biodiversity conditions if intercropped with coconut palms and other tree species within former monoculture plantations and rainforest areas.”
It can also help minimize erosion and sedimentation in coastal areas, improve water holding capacity in the soil, and produce waste materials that can be converted into organic fertilizers. PFIDA also says that abaca “does not deplete soil as much as other plants and requires less land for its production.”
Abaca is known to be strong, durable, and breathable, which makes it a good fabric material for long-term use. In 2012, local manufacturing firm Asia Textile Mills Inc. developed and showcased abaca denim fabric in New York.
Bacterial cellulose has actually been commercially used as a raw material source for plant-free rayon and fabric. Compared to traditional cellulose sources, it can be produced anywhere without the use of forest or land resources.
Filipino designer Hazel Roldan makes use of Acetobacterxylinum, a type of bacteria naturally found in soil around plants like sugarcane, in making bacterial leather. She starts cultivating the bacteria by brewing tea with sugar and letting it grow in the mixture until it is suitable for sewing. However, this bacterial leather is still being studied and developed.
Indian company Malai also uses bacterial cellulose in coconut water to make bio-composite cellulose jelly as a leather alternative. Researchers are also exploring the use and development of algae in making biodegradable, carbon-capturing textile.
Reducing waste across the supply chain is the core of sustainability in a circular economy framework. As shown by several fashion labels like Tela and Anthill Fabric Gallery, this can be achieved by using recycled or upcycled post-industrial or post-consumer scrap fabric instead of new raw materials for their products. This sourcing option is less resource-intensive and helps the environment by keeping fashion raw materials out of the landfill. Check if your supplier has a Cradle to Cradle certification, which assesses factors like material health and product circularity.
Global Organic Textile Standard-certified fiber
Fashion businesses may also look for raw materials that are certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard. This textile processing standard for organic fibers is recognized internationally, and it evaluates materials based on ecological and social criteria.
Other sustainable fashion certifications you should consider include the Better Cotton Initiative, Global Recycle Standard, Organic Content Standard, and Responsible Wool Standard. Getting materials from suppliers with these certifications is a more environmentally and socially responsible option for fashion labels that would still like to work with traditional textiles.
There are many sustainable raw material sources in the fashion industry that are accessible through nature and technology. Of course, a brand’s responsibility in sustainability doesn’t stop there; fashion labels should also ensure that their products are manufactured ethically and are durable and long-lasting so they don’t quickly end up in landfills after purchase. With all of these efforts combined, the fashion industry can move closer towards a sustainable, responsible, and ethical future.
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