Color of fashion is bright green

City talk | Thin Lei Win 23 Oct 2020

From using custom-made, biodegradable fabrics and "living" clothes that photosynthesize to polyester created from planet-warming carbon dioxide, thinking firms are on a quest to transform one of the world's most polluting industries: fashion.

The business is responsible for 10 percent of global carbon emissions, says the UN Environment Program. That's more than all pre-pandemic international flights and maritime shipping combined.

A big chunk of fashion's emissions - up to 40 percent - comes from the manufacturing of polyester, the most used fabric.

"So if we can bring emissions from polyester to zero or negative value, we can significantly reduce industry emissions," says Benoit Illy, chief executive of French start-up Fairbrics.

He and cofounder Tawfiq Nasr Allah, both chemists, aim to replace existing polyester-producing processes, which use fossil fuels, with their new technology.

By next year, Fairbrics - the name refers to a "fairer" way of producing fabrics -expects to be able to produce a kilogram of polyester yarn a day. The aim is to take the effort to industrial scale in 2024.

The need for a scale-up is clear: the fashion industry currently consumes more than 60 million tonnes of polyester a year.

Under pressure from increasingly environmentally-aware shoppers, brands from luxury fashion houses to high street names also are taking steps to reduce waste.

The world's second-biggest fashion retailer, H&M, is set to showcase a recycling machine that could turn old jumpers into new sweaters or scarves on the spot at a Stockholm store.

If Aniela Hoitink, founder of Dutch firm MycoTEX, has her way, people's wardrobes will fit a more biological lifecycle, with garments grown and later decomposed in the way trees grow and drop leaves.

She is working with mycelium - the feeding threads of mushrooms - to produce custom-fitted, on-demand clothing that reduces waste and cuts chemical use. At the end of its life - a minimum of two years - a garment would be biodegradable.

The process of growing mycelium, harvesting it, putting it into a 3D mold, drying it and then finishing a final product is currently about two to three weeks, says Hoitink.

And 3D modeling allows for seamless garments that are comfortable and perfectly fitted, Hoitink adds. "When you have a customized garment it's a luxury. But we believe that with this production system we can do that on a mass scale."

In particular, the material could make it easy to shape garments for different body types and markets, she notes.

"Right now, everything is based on western sizes," she points out. "But African bodies are quite different. Asian bodies are quite different. If we can design with all those different body types in mind it would be much nicer for everyone."

London-based Post Carbon Lab wants to take emissions-cutting even further, making sure fashion and design have a positive effect on the climate by turning fabrics into carbon-absorbing surfaces.

Designers and researchers Dian-Jen Lin and Hannes Hulstaert do this using photosynthetic coating technology that involves introducing micro-organisms, such as algae. The resulting textile, with live organisms, can then absorb climate-changing carbon dioxide, Lin says.

Fairbrics, MycoTEX and Post Carbon Lab are three of 10 finalists in this year's European Social Innovation Competition, themed "Reimagine Fashion."

THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION

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