Admittedly it’s not a new discussion: a Wall Street Journal story from 2001 chews over the prospect of waistlines that expand at the push of a button and sweaters that adjust from blue to green to match a favorite skirt. Yet when it comes to weaving technology into apparel, most designers are stuck on gimmicky one-offs—tech for tech’s sake that garners a lot of buzz but never makes it to market or that come with hefty pricetags.
That’s not to say that fashion and technology can’t come together in a way that resonates with consumers, even helping to tackle the apparel industry’s environmental issues.
Read the rest on the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator's website.
H&M has made no secret of its aim to turn old clothes into brand new ones, but an innovative idea could help the Swedish retailer take circularity to a whole new level.
A group of scientists from Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) in Australia was recently named a winner of the H&M Foundation’s Global Change Award for prototyping a process to use old jeans to color new denim.
Read my interview with Professor Xungai Wang, who led the research, on Rivet.
“After the Rana Plaza factory collapse, campaigners had to physically search through the rubble for clothing labels to prove which brands were producing there. Many simply didn’t know what their relationship was with those factories." - Carry Somers, founder of Fashion Revolution
It's Fashion Revolution Week and the fourth anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 garment workers, which means that apparel brands' supply chains are in the spotlight. Here are seven stories I enjoyed.
“We have one eye open and one eye closed”: The dirty labor secrets of fast fashion
According to Sarah Labowitz, co-founder of the Center for Business and Human Rights at NYU Stern School of Business, the apparel industry in Bangladesh "remains a long way from being safe and sustainable" and that the name-and-shame efforts over the last four years haven't delivered results. Read the rest on Quartz.
From field & factory to shop floor: The journey of your clothes
Refinery29 talked to Clare Lissaman, director of product and impact at Ethical Fashion Forum, about what consumers can do to make a difference.
Sustainable style: Will Gen Z help the fashion industry clean up its act?
Emma Watson, Reformation and brands like Veja and Matt & Nat are stoking young shoppers' interest in ethical issues, but journalist and author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World? Lucy Siegle tells The Guardian that cheap, fast fashion shows no signs of releasing its grip on the industry.
How four fashion design schools are teaching sustainability
Teen Vogue speaks with professors and students from Parsons, FIT, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and the Savannah College of Art and Design and learns that sustainability is intrinsically woven into all of their fashion design programs.
How much has actually changed four years on from the Rana Plaza collapse?
Just because something costs a lot of money doesn’t mean that the workers who made it were paid a fair wage. Read the rest on Refinery29.
Is deadstock the future of sustainable fashion?
Fashionista talks to the fashion brands giving a second life to fabric that was destined for the landfill.
14 sustainable and ethical fashion myths that need to die
Is donating your unwanted clothing really the best way to get rid of it? Is fashion the second most polluting industry in the world? Is anything with a "Made in China" label a POS? Ecocult discusses.
Back when I was a childrenswear editor, traipsing the trade show floor in search of new brands worth profiling, one of my go-to questions was: “What made you decide to launch a kids’ clothing line?” More often that not, the answer had something to do with the founder being a new mom who couldn’t find the exact star-printed one-piece/dinosaur graphic tee/pink tulle skirt she wanted to dress her baby in so she decided to make her own.
As someone whose job largely consisted of staying on top of children’s trends—and who watched many a new brand come and go in the space of a season—I can confidently say that was a BS reason to start a business.
And that’s exactly what I thought this morning when I was reading about a new direct-to-consumer womenswear brand based in London called Kitri.
“Started from the frustration of not being able to find well-made, distinctive designs without breaking the bank, we set out to create our dream pieces in the hope that other women will love them too,” the company’s “about” page reads. “We're coming directly to you—no middlemen, no extra cost—so we can bring you the best quality and designs for the best possible price.”
The clothes are lovely (tops with fluted sleeves or ruffle backs, pyjama trousers, dresses with architecutral details) and prices range from £45 to £165 (so less than what you’d pay for similar styles at the higher end of the high street), but do we really need another brand using the “no middlemen” line to sell us more stuff? Not to negate Kitri’s raison d'être, but a bunch of direct-to-consumer brands are already on the scene, waving that same flag: Everlane, Outdoor Voices, Reformation, DSTLD, M. Gemi, La Ligne, Mott & Bow…
But Everlane breaks down the production cost of each item, revealing its markup as well as how much a comparable style would retail for, and Reformation reveals what impact each of its garments had on the environment.
Kitri’s website, as eye-pleasing as it is, does neither one of those things.
According to the brand’s ethical policy, outlined on its FAQ page, “We take the ethical manufacture of clothing very seriously and all of our suppliers are compliant with the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) base code. We know our factories; we know their business practices and our Kitri representatives work side by side with our suppliers to ensure ongoing ethical, social and environmental compliance.”
Great! But the product pages only say what each piece is made from (mainly polyester, viscose and cotton, which aren’t very sustainable), not where or how they’re manufactured.
And while each of Kitri’s designs is produced in limited quantities, new arrivals will hit the site weekly. Given that the world now consumes an estimated 80 billion new pieces of clothing each year, any new brand on the block needs to consider the consequences of working with conventional materials that are less than kind to planet Earth. If sustainability is important to you, let you customers know that when they visit your site. Otherwise you’re just another brand hawking another cold-shoulder dress.
Will the future of fabric be grown by scientist farmers in labs versus out on large parcels of land? When Adidas unveiled a sneaker prototype late last year, dubbed the Futurecraft Biofabric and featuring an upper made from a synthetic spider silk called Biosteel, the news was covered everywhere from Fast Company and Complex to Wired and PC Magazine. Most headlines homed in on the same thing: at the end of their lifetime the shoes’ uppers could be broken down in a sink at home using a digestive enzyme and safely rinsed down the drain in a matter of hours.
A triumph indeed, but what got fiber folks giddy with excitement was that a major brand with mass-market appeal had finally picked up a nature-based sustainable material grown in a lab using renewable resources.
Read more on the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator.
Before we begin, let’s get one thing straight: I wholeheartedly believe that fast fashion giants H&M and Zara are to blame for our throwaway clothing culture, but I also applaud them for trying to change. Yes, their eco-friendly collections are tiny compared to the rest of their assortments, but they have to start somewhere and a small step forward is still a step.
That being said, if a brand or retailer is going to pump marketing dollars into promoting its more ethical offering and touting its transparency, why not say more than simply throwing around buzzwords like “environmentally friendly,” “organic” and “natural”? And are these collections produced instead of a selection of less sustainable threads or in addition to?
Last month, Spanish retailer Mango announced the launch of its first-ever sustainable collection: Mango Committed, an assortment of men’s and women’s pieces manufactured in Portugal, Turkey and Morocco, using organic and recycled cotton, recycled polyester and Tencel and dyed with environmentally friendly inks.
That’s all well and good but Mango doesn’t say much more, like where that organic cotton comes from, or whether the recycled polyester is made from post-consumer PET bottles, or what exactly makes those inks environmentally friendly. Has the average shopper even heard of Tencel? Another missed opportunity: explaining how the materials used to make Mango Committed help reduce the retailer’s environmental impacts.
Inditex-owned Zara released its Join Life clothing collection last September, comprising pieces made of organic cotton, Better Cotton and Tencel, as well as recycled fabrics. Unlike Mango, Zara’s website explains why each of these materials is considered more sustainable than conventional fabrics, both on product pages and in a dedicated Join Life section.
In order for a product to be included in the collection, it must satisfy Inditex’s internal “Right to Wear” sustainability standard regarding raw materials and the use of water-saving technologies such as low liquor dyeing machines or spun dyeing. However, as Ecouterre pointed out, “sustainable” becomes a debatable term when you churn out more than a billion units of clothing in a single year.
The Ethisphere Institute, an organisation that defines and measures corporate ethical standards, named H&M one of the world’s most ethical companies for the seventh straight year on Monday. And in all fairness, the Swedish retailer is doing its darndest to position itself as one.
Across all of H&M’s product ranges, 20 percent are now made from more sustainable materials, and it’s one of the world’s biggest users of recycled polyester and one of the biggest buyers of organic cotton. The latest Conscious collection, launching online and in 160 stores worldwide on Apr. 20, will include kids’ pieces for the first time. It’s also collected more than 40,000 tonnes of clothing since first launching its worldwide Garment Collecting initiative in 2013, some of which has wound up in its Close the Loop collections made with recycled textile fibres.
But a lot of this information is stowed away in its corporate sustainability reports and press releases. Yes, Conscious products labeled with a green hangtag are available in H&M stores and online throughout the year, as well as themed Conscious collections that get their own special section and marketing push, but are they doing enough to inform shoppers about why those pieces have added sustainability value?
On its e-commerce site, for instance, the description of a blouse tagged with a green Conscious label simply says that it was made partly from recycled polyester. When I dug a little deeper (into the sustainability section of the corporate website), I discovered that any product carrying a Conscious tag is made of at least 50 percent independently certified materials such as organic, recycled or other more sustainable fabrics. So while someone who's done their homework may be aware of those green tags and what they mean, even using them as a sort of roadmap to help them shop, most people likely don't.
At the end of the day, anything that encourages shoppers to make better choices is a good thing in my book. But it’s up to brands and retailers to put that message out there and help condition consumers to care—and it’s going to take more than a green label to do that.
Green and Ireland already go hand in hand, but the country’s burgeoning sustainable fashion scene is fast proving there’s more to Irish-made apparel than Aran jumpers and tweed caps.
For the week that’s in it, here are five Irish brands fighting the good fight and crafting their wares on home ground.
Women’s sweaters and outerwear in classic shapes and go-with-anything colours, made using Irish and British fabrics that the designer has dubbed “steeped in tradition, hardwearing and long-lasting.” Read: Donegal tweed, Irish linen, Scottish cashmere and English Ventile cotton (a tough but soft material made from long-staple cotton). Each piece is handmade in small runs in a workshop in Dublin.
Vintage-inspired womenswear made from a mix of sustainably sourced natural fabrics, such as Fair Trade organic cotton, wool, linen, hemp and silk. Born in France and based in Greystones, Co. Wicklow, designer Sophie Rieu’s eponymous brand isn’t her first foray into ethical fashion. That came back in 2003 with the launch of Unicorn, a label she only retired last year when she launched her namesake line (and her studio/shop still bears the name Garden of Unicorn). Rieu christened “Raw,” the latest collection, her most sustainable to date, designed and made in Ireland using 95 percent stock fabrics. She also offers made-to-measure and upcycling services.
Ready-to-wear, accessories, couture and bespoke bridal gowns and headpieces handmade in West Cork using vintage and locally sourced materials as much as possible. Bestsellers include her kimono scarf tops, made from reclaimed polyester chiffon scarfs. Fun fact: Florence Welch wore an Alice Halliday white lace, sequin and crystal embellished cape when Florence and the Machine was on tour in Australia in 2010.
Galway-based Tweed Project uses crisp white Irish linen and soft Donegal tweed to craft masculine-inspired separates that bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary design. Each piece is made to order so delivery can take up to two weeks. Styles range from scarves and shirts to pants and tote bags.
Mamukko is an accessory brand based in Kinsale, Co. Cork, founded by Hungarian brothers Levente and Attila Magyar. They collect post-consumer sails, decommisioned emergency life rafts, PVC tarpaulin and other textiles and upcycle them into bags, totes and wallets. Each one-of-a-kind piece is stitched to industrial strength with Adler and Singer sewing machines and has a unique serial number, either hand-stamped onto the bag itself or stitched on a label made from upcycled sailcloth.
Sequin-wearing Santas manned the windows of Selfridges’ Oxford Street store this past holiday season, but the iconic location is starting off the New Year with a much less showy showcase. As part of the department store’s just-launched “Material World” campaign, eight of the flagship’s windows are championing the cause of sustainable fashion.
Each one is dedicated to a particular textile, such as cotton, linen, leather and wool, and features an up-and-coming designer that’s working toward reducing the environmental impact of fashion.
For instance, Brooklyn, New York-based Study NY stars in the cotton window because it uses organic cotton to create clothing that’s free from harmful pesticides and dyes. Another window highlights British knitwear label Tengri and its use of responsibly sourced yak hair (each animal is hand-combed once a year when it sheds its winter coat) that supports more than 1,500 nomadic herder families in Mongolia.
But the window that caught my eye was the one with Tortoise, a Los Angeles denim label whose patent-pending “Wiser Wash” process uses up to 90 percent less water than a traditional washhouse.
That’s huge: It takes about 11,000 litres of water, on average, to produce a single pair of jeans. That’s the equivalent of flushing a toilet about 1,800 times.
Unlike conventional denim production methods, Tortoise’s Wiser Wash uses natural and biodegradable additives along with ozone technology (which harnesses the natural bleaching capabilities of ozone gas), removing the need for corrosive chemicals while using almost no water to achieve a broken-in vintage look.
And the water it does use is recycled, ready for future washes and clean enough for plant irrigation.
The best bit: Tortoise’s parent company, the LA washhouse Eco Prk, wants to work with other denim companies to introduce cleaner processes to their production.
It’s not just small companies; corporations are stepping up to the plate, too. Levi Strauss & Co., arguably the world’s most famous jean maker, took its Water<Less finishing techniques public last March—on World Water Day, no less—to encourage other denim companies to use them in their production.
At the time, Levi’s claimed to have saved more than a billion litres of water since the program began in 2011. The company’s 21 water-saving techniques range from applying undiluted softener in a tumble dryer with a spray (instead of in a wet bath) to spraying an enzyme mixture onto garments and then tumbling them in a washing machine with steam as an alternative to traditional stonewashing.
If all other denim producers utilize Water<Less techniques, Levi’s believes the industry could save up to 50 billion litres of water by 2020.
Outdoor apparel brand Patagonia is also having a go at cutting its water consumption during denim production, despite jeans making up only a small part of its offering. The brand introduced environmentally friendlier dye and manufacturing processes in 2015 and now uses dyestuffs that adhere more easily to cotton, which minimizes indigo dyeing, rinsing and garment washing. The result: Patagonia is using 84 percent less water than conventional processes.
Vegans and environmental advocates, rejoice. Researchers have discovered how to turn food scraps into sustainable raw materials for fashion.
Couldn’t care less? Silence your inner sceptic with these stats: According to the European Commission, roughly 88 million tonnes of food are wasted in the EU each year, at a cost of about €143 billion. To put that in perspective, it’s about the same weight as 1,900 Titanics. Meanwhile, in the United States, an estimated 40 percent of food (or 30 million tonnes) goes to waste—and that’s not including pre-consumer leftovers.
Though plenty of people do their part in turning that waste into compost, fashion made from food byproducts presents a creative way of getting your five-a-day*.
London-based Ananas Anam develops, manufactures and sells Piñatex, a non-woven textile made from the fibres of waste pineapple leaves in the Philippines—a byproduct of the fruit’s harvest—that offers a sustainable alternative to leather.
Apart from the obvious difference between Piñatex and leather (read: no animals are harmed in the making), the production process doesn’t use any water, pesticides or fertiliser beyond what is already used to grow the pineapples. It also provides an additional revenue stream for the pineapple farmers.
Similarly, Offset Warehouse offers a fabric made from the leftover stems of banana plants after the fruit has been harvested. The socially responsible company has partnered with a Nepalese NGO to employ locals to extract fibres from the stalks and spin them into yarn which is then woven into a fabric that’s suitable for tailoring.
Orange Fiber, an Italian startup and a winner at last year’s H&M Foundation Global Change Awards, extracts cellulose from the byproduct of citrus juice production (everything that’s left over after orange juice is made) to create a new textile, instead of depleting natural resources by growing cotton or bamboo or using petroleum-based synthetics such as polyester or nylon.
Looking for an ethical alternative to goose or duck down this winter? 37.5 Technology (formerly known as Cocona) figured out that when activated carbon from coconut shells is blended with recycled polyester, it provides a higher warmth-to-weight ratio than other synthetic insulations. It’s been used in outewear from Nau, Adidas, Under Armour, Eddie Bauer and The North Face.
Not a fruit or a vegetable but a byproduct of breakfasts everywhere, coffee grounds make an excellent—and natural—odor eliminator. S.Café technology from Taiwanese company Singtex turns recycled coffee grounds into yarn and fabric that absorbs odors, reflects UV rays and dries 200 percent faster than cotton.
*not really though
H&M hosted a conference in Myanmar Thursday to address industry-wide challenges such as fair living wages and the protection of human rights—three months after the Swedish retailer was called out for employing 14-year-olds in its factories there.
More than 100 industry stakeholders, including suppliers, brands, trade union reps and NGOs, attended the “Fair and Equal” conference in Yangon to share best practices along the supply chain and find solutions together.
Peter Rademaker, the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) development partner relations coordinator, delivered a keynote speech, as did Impactt founder and director Rosey Hurst and Anna Gedda, head of sustainability at H&M Group.
But it was during a panel discussion moderated by BBC journalist Yalda Hakim that the issue of improved social dialogue was raised. While panelists highlighted triumphs concerning trade union engagement, democratically elected workers’ reps and collective bargaining processes, they also pointed out that more changes need to be made to cement a sustainable fashion future.
“We are happy to see H&M, as an actor from the private sector, to take a lead in bringing all the relevant actors together to get closer to making functional industrial relations and collective bargaining a reality in the fashion supply chain,” Rademaker said.
According to H&M’s supplier list, the company works with 26 manufacturing factories in Myanmar (previously known as Burma) and 12 processing facilities. Among those suppliers, only one is graded “platinum” and 13 are classified as “gold,” indicating their stance as preferred suppliers making around 60 percent of the company’s products.
However, a book released in August titled “Modeslavar” (or Fashion Slaves) revealed that since 2013, children ages 14 to 17 had worked for more than 12 hours a day in two of H&M’s silver-rated factories: Myanmar Century Liaoyuan Knitted Wear and Myanmar Garment Wedge.
Silver suppliers are factories that H&M allegedly has “long-term oriented and close relations with.” While the retailer said it had taken action with both factories, it defended its employment of teenagers in a statement released to The Guardian.
“When 14- to 18-year-olds are working it is therefore not a case of child labour, according to international labour laws. ILO instead stresses the importance of not excluding this age group from work in Myanmar. H&M does of course not tolerate child labour in any form.”
It’s not the only controversy happening in the country. A report released Dec. 1 by NGO Progressive Voice claimed that Myanmar’s garment workers—90 percent of whom are women—are faced with poor working conditions thanks to inadequate protection from national legislation.
Researchers conducted 199 interviews and found that 95 percent of those surveyed regularly work six days per week and 88 percent regularly work 10 or more hours a day. The report also alleged that 54 percent of workers interviewed face pressure, intimidation and threats of dismissal from their supervisors.
In addition, the nation’s minimum wage—introduced a year ago and still one of the lowest in the world—has purportedly resulted in harsher working conditions for two-thirds of those interviewed, as well as reduced pay for some long-term or skilled workers.
Despite the involvement of H&M and other big brands in leading Myanmar toward a more sustainable fashion future, the Progressive Voices report stressed that the onus is on the government to ensure that workers’ fundamental rights are protected and that working conditions are bettered.