Alone the title which Michael Schragger, the CEO of The Sustainable Fashion Academy, chose for his lecture at the ISPO ACADEMY sounds frightening: “Innovation & Sustainability: Rethink or Die!”
However, it’s meant to be. Anyone who fails to question the business models that are common in the textile industry sooner, rather than later, risks their future. Andreas Andrén, the COO of WeAre SpinDye, explained that sustainability also has financial benefits.
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Water and energy consumption on the up
Michael Schragger, the CEO of The Sustainable Fashion Academy and a renowned expert on sustainability, is convinced that urgent action is called for. In his lecture, he cited various megatrends to demonstrate that “wait and see” is not a solution.
Schragger began by summarizing the current situation: he reckons that people are living in an era of superlatives and records. Plus, their life expectancy has increased: in 1950, the average maximum life span was still only 47 years; it is now 70 years. And also: there is less poverty in he world; at the same time, the global population is growing relentlessly – especially the middle classes.
Schragger said that the pressure on the resources is constantly increasing: the consumption of water and energy is on the up, along with the carbon concentration, the temperature on the Earth’s surface is rising, the rainforests is escalating – as is our consumption of everything in general. “Many things are improving at a rapid pace, becoming worse at a rapid pace, moving faster and faster,” Schragger said.
Textile industry: a long way away from the optimum
What does the clothing industry have to do with this? “Many people aren’t aware of the clothing industry’s actual impact on this,” Schragger explained. He then said that officially, a staggering 23.5 million people were employed in the global textile industry. However, unofficially, this figure is likely to be twice that.
He went on to say that in Bangladesh, 80 per cent of textile industry workers are women. Their jobs had led to them marrying later, having children later and financing the education of their children with the money they earn.
Schragger explained that the clothing industry has a direct influence on this. However, unfortunately, the increasingly rapid turnover in the fashion world also has negative effects: it increases the pressure on the suppliers, which results in disasters like the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory. He said that the chemical textile industry still has a long way to go when it comes to operating sustainably.
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Business as usual no longer works
Schragger believes that at the latest since the financial markets also respond to the increasing environmental risks and the price of cotton has been brought into correlation with climate change, everyone should have realized that “business as usual” will soon no longer work.
“Whether intentional or not: many companies will have to close because they will soon no longer be able to comply with the legal regulations,” Schragger forecasts: “We must rethink the way we use raw materials, improve recycling and come up with loop economy models, develop new design theories and techniques. The outdoor industry does this better than others, but still by no means well enough.”
WeAre SpinDye: new dyeing technology
Andreas Andrén, the COO of Swedish company WeAre SpinDye, demonstrated at the ISPO Academy that sustainability and financial viability are my no means mutually exclusive.
In the contrary: “The current practice of spinning polyester fibers first to then elaborately dye them afterwards, which is extremely harmful to the environment, makes neither ecological nor economic sense,” Andrén said.
He cited Lego as a prime example. No one would think that Lego actually manufactures its bricks colorless and then dyes them afterwards, says Andrén. Only the textile industry works like this. That is why SpinDye has invested in the development of a dyeing technique where the fibers are already dyed during the spinning process.
He says that this makes it completely unnecessary to dye yarns or fabrics, which saves resources and costs. Why has the industry not come up with this idea years ago?
“Dyeing textiles is an ancient technique deeply rooted in our culture; natural fibers have always been dyed in this way.” When synthetic fibers became popular, the existing infrastructure and techniques were simply adopted,” Andrén explains.
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Sustainability as an opportunity
Many brands are working on the minimization of their carbon footprint and the development of new, sustainable ideas. Adidas, for example, has produced shoes made from recycled plastic waste recovered from the sea – not a small, limited edition but actually millions.
Levi’s recommends not washing your jeans all the time; airing them out will often suffice. At the same time, an increasing number of new ideas with regard to more specific production methods that result in less waste and less surplus are constantly being developed. The cues here are “zero-waste cutting”, improving cuts through body scanning and customization up to 3D printing at home.
The product life span is also being addressed: the second hand market is operating more professionally all the time, thereby extending the useful life of our clothing; there are clothing leasing models, repair services, exchanges and much more.
Michael Schragger is certain: “Stay on the ball, or you’ll be left behind” He views sustainability as an opportunity – and that was the good news part of his lecture.
The market is changing and offers new opportunities that can be exploited. Schragger said: “The responsibility lies with the brands.” “They can increase the pressure that’s necessary in order to change things.”
The manufacturing companies are also gradually realizing that a sustainable approach is a financially worthwhile exercise. Ultimately, all partners in the system have to start to provide the incentives needed to allow the entire industry to change.