Closing The Loop On Sustainable Fashion – Forbes

By Emily Braham

The true cost of cheap clothing is no longer breaking news—especially with so many stories of rampant worker exploitation, increasing textile waste in landfills and natural resource depletion leading the headlines. Although we may spend a few dollars less on those cool jeans and tees, we actually pay high human and environmental costs for our clothes.

Still, fashion remains central to the way we shape ourselves in the world. It is a nearly US$3 trillion industry, employing 57 million people worldwide. Bringing change to its lucrative value chain is not a task for the faint-hearted.

An unlikely network of social entrepreneurs, designers, fashionistas and “woke” brands is bravely standing up and calling for a whole new system, one that re-imagines the path from design sketch to a consumer’s closet as a closed loop—only taking what it gives back.

How does this work?

Rather than using old growth or endangered forests, as around 30 percent of viscose and rayon does, fibers in this closed-loop system, for instance, come from only reused materials. And after being used, those recycled fibers are used again, and again, until finally turning into biodegradable waste and dissolving back into nature.

Widespread adoption of this kind of a more ethical and sustainable system will only come, though, if more businesses and consumers understand the devastating end-to-end impact of fashion’s often messy and reckless production cycle.

Changemaking by Design

After half a lifetime in the apparel industry, former fabric specialist turned social entrepreneur Stacy Flynn wanted to find a way that new could be made from old, where waste could be “designed out” of the manufacturing process.

Her moment of clarity came in 2010 after visiting a clothing recycling enterprise in China that operated under a “cloud of pollution.” She saw that children in the area couldn’t enjoy nature, in part because of the impact of the company’s textile waste and pollution. Flynn connected the dots and realized she was contributing directly to this dirty legacy by thoughtlessly pursuing a high-flying career in an industry obsessed with consumption.

“I began circling around one question,” she says. “Is there a way to break down this waste and turn it into a new fiber, which [could be] a lynchpin in the entire system?”

There was.

Flynn’s social enterprise, Evrnu, now makes fiber from cotton garment waste, a fiber she describes as finer than silk but stronger than cotton, and that uses 98 percent less water and 90 percent less carbon emissions than cotton and polyester respectively. “This is a game changer,” she said. “It takes what we perceive as waste and turns it into a modern-day resource.”


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