Focus on Sustainable Fashion
“Sustainability in the fashion and textile industry is about using our resources in a smarter and better way. It is that simple and that goes for industry and consumers alike. We need rethink how we do things and just to do them better,” says Suzi Christoffersen.
Not one for complicating matters, Suzi’s career has been about bringing on solutions and incorporating sustainability in the textile industry through teaching, training, analyzing and consulting. She is an expert in sustainable and innovative textile materials and has worked closely with many Scandinavian brands and fashion institutions through her Copenhagen based company Closed-loop.
“Denmark is far from being the worst nation in terms of textile fibers wasted, actually we look quite good in comparison to many of our European neighbors. But still, we burn 24.000 tons of textiles fibers each year. Good textile fibers that we could recycle and use again and even again, with a bit of smart thinking."
The 5 R’s to remember
Simply buy less.
Be sensible and learn how to repair or have a tailor or seamstress repair your clothes. Don't stop using a shirt because the button fell off. If badly in need of advice, check on YouTube. Several clothing brands have good videos on repair of their products. Patagonia is good example.
Think of new ways to use the clothes you already have. An hour in front of the mirror can create new outfits made of clothes already in your closet.
Extend the life of the clothes you no longer use. Give them to someone you know or donate to charity.
Think about how you can be smarter and more sustainable in your use of clothes and textiles. You may surprise yourself.
"I am not talking about the total amount of textile fibers we get rid of annually, that is more like a 100.000 tons including the clothes we give to charities. No, the 24.000 tons are the textiles we throw out with our household garbage. The single sock, the torn t-shirt and the discolored curtain. The fabrics we deem unfit for any further use. To put that into a perspective; if these 24.000 tons were all say, cotton - we could make 18 million new t-shirts each year. It is just crazy that we are not doing that,” says Suzi. But, she points out for that to happen a system for recycling fibers needs to be in place, which is not the case in Denmark yet.
“But of course we need more than the bin. We need to raise knowledge and understanding of different fibers, because we can only recycle some of them. It is equally important for designers, manufacturers and consumers to know this.
Most people here are now aware of water consumption, water pollution, social issues, environmental challenges and overall use of resources in the Danish fashion industry. Even though we don’t face these problems directly because Danish brands have their production in other countries. But a growing number of fashion brands, including the big ones, are seeking ways to make their products and production more sustainable, through strategy, certifications, changes in production or different use of materials. It is all happening, but of course it could happen faster.
Consumer awareness and media interest has also risen greatly and I think it will grow a lot more. We have several organizations and institutions like the Copenhagen Fashion Summit actively bringing attention to these issues. That is good, because the all important link between consumers and manufacturers are the fashion designers. Their choices have a great impact on sustainability in the industry. Decisions on fabrics in terms of fibers is a good example of that.
Another example is how patterns are laid on fabric.
Another example of the importance designers decision are, is the choice of fabrics and fibers. I really hope to see more attention paid to this in fashion design studies, because when choosing a fabric, a designer is also choosing if a garment can be recycled to not.
Technology has yet to create a solution to split fibers, because only clean fibers can be recycled and unfortunately most of our clothes are made of mixed fibers.” She goes on to explain. “There are three types of fibers; natural fibers, synthetic fibers and so called man-made fibers. Mixing these fibers creates fabrics that cannot be recycled. I understand designers choosing to blend fabrics for quality or comfort, but if they want their designs to contribute to sustainable use of resources and be recyclable, clean fibers are the only choice. At least for now.”
Asked if all clean fibers can be recycled more than once, Suzi says there is a difference.
“Microfibers are the very fine fibers we recognize from cleaning the filters in our tumble dryers. Only, the synthetic fabrics in our running pants, polyester shirts and fleece jackets also create microfibers in the washing machine, mixing with the waste water and ending up in the oceans. There, these tiny microfibers enter the marine ecosystem, mistakenly consumed as food by the smallest marine animals and travel from there up through the food chain, eventually landing on our dinner plates and in our bodies where they don’t belong. This is especially alarming as damaging chemicals easily stick to microfibers, “ says Suzy. “So there are several things to consider and sometimes solutions can be simple. In this case a solution could be in using a big washing bag for clothes of synthetic fabrics and that way prevent microfibers from mixing with the waste water.”
But how big a part can consumers play in solving challenges like those put forth to the fashion and textile industry in the Nordic report referred to with this article?
“I believe consumers do and will play the biggest part. The fashion industry is one of supply and demand, and what is demanded tends to be supplied. The fashion industry is making changes, but I want to see it take more serious action. The Nordic initiative which began in 2015 has already had a great impact and created knowledge, research and information on political, industry and public levels alike, that all call for response and action. But it takes time and in some cases that may not be bad. When serious changes are being made they need to be well planned and executed. My feeling is that in five years we will begin to see truly important changes in the fashion and textile industry. And, that these changes will originate in pressure from informed consumers. We can support big changes and sustainability by using common sense and simply rethinking how we buy and use our clothes,” says Suzi Christoffersen.
More information: closed-loop.dk
The past years have seen an increasing focus on sustainability in the fashion and textile industry within in the Nordic region. This was taken to a political level in 2015 when the Nordic Council of Ministers for Environment endorsed an action plan titled Well dressed in a Clean Environment - Nordic action plan for sustainable fashion and textiles.
A part of the plan’s political declaration read: There is much to be done, and the challenges we face are considerable. But the bigger the challenges, the bigger the opportunities. The fashion and textile industry is an important exporter for some of the Nordic countries, but at a global level it is also one of the most polluting and resource-intensive industries. The Nordic Region consumes huge amounts of textiles, and clothes are a key part of our “buy-it-and-throw-it-away culture. This trend must be reversed - for the sake of both the environment and the economy.
Click here to download the report and read more about this Nordic action plan, set forth with the ambition to develop framework conditions for sustainable design, production and consumption in the period up to 2020.
The value of the personal luxury goods market has increased over the last 20 years and is expected to continue increasing.
Apparel/fashion is ranked number 6 on lists showing the average size of the leading 250 consumer product companies.
The fashion industry is one of the most globalised industries, involving an extensive number of stakeholders.
The yearly CO2-pollution caused by the average Nordic consumer’s textile consumption is adequate to the co2-pollution caused by a 2,000 km drive in car.
The apparel manufacturing market has an annual revenue of 618 billion US$ dollars and due to an increase in population and a growth in disposable income, the revenue is expected to rise (May 2015). The textile industry furthermore represents 7 % of world exports.
Switching from 60 to 40 degrees when washing saves 41% of the energy used. Wash care labels indicate the highest temperature allowed; most of new wash machines clean just as well at lower temperatures. With an average of 3 wash loads per week, a German households could save more than 440 million euros each year.
Average consumer laundering uses 1650 litres of water per 1 kilogram washed.
The World Bank estimates that the global textile industry is accountable for 17-20 % of industrial water pollution; the pollution comes from dyeing and finishing treatment of fabrics. More than 70 different, unremovable toxic chemicals have been identified in the water.
Furthermore, 25 % of chemicals produced worldwide are used for textiles.
Approximately 28 billion kilograms of textiles are dyed per annum in the apparel industry using over 5 trillion litres of water; adequate to 2 million olympic swimming pools. Highlighting China, a country producing half of the world’s textiles, the textile sector is one of the top five most water consuming industries.
- The apparel market is expected to grow 3 % annually up till 2025, causing demand to outstrip supply.
The average Danish consumer consumes 16 kilograms of clothing annually; this is adequate to 64 t-shirts or 16 pairs of jeans.
50 % of all textiles thrown away are recyclable.
There is a water reduction of 70 % for processing ecological cotton.
Cotton accounts for 24% and 11% of the global sales of insecticide and pesticides respectively.
About 20 million tons of cotton are produced each year in around 90 countries. China, United States, India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and West Africa account for over 75% of global production.
Eighty percent of a product’s environmental and economic costs (are) committed by the final design stage before production begins.
20,000 litres of water are needed to produce one kilogram of cotton; equivalent to a single t-shirt and pair of jeans.
More than 25 million workers are employed in the fashion industry
13,1 million tons of textiles are trashed each year.
These facts and numbers were compiled for JONAA by Closed-Loop, from several trusted official and industry sources.
Vilborg Einarsdottir is the Editor-in-Chief of JONAA, the Journal of the North Atlantic & Arctic and a JONAA partner & founder. Formally a journalist for 12 years in Iceland, she has worked since 1996 as a specialised producer of film, photography and media productions on extreme locations in Arctic Greenland and as a cultural producer in the Nordic region. She has written scripts for feature films and documentaries and edited photography books.