Sustainability is finally becoming a huge concern in arts, technologies and especially fashion, as everyone should be responsible for it. Future generations may be left with nothing as we are taking away normal human rights such as access to safe and clean water with our lifestyle. The hidden cost of fashion is an environmental crisis. We rarely think about it, but water is the origin of life; it is what our bodies are made of, the essence of our nourishment, the hidden spirit of nature, but it looks like we are unable to perceive its value, as if we could not fully grasp how serious things would get if we were to lack it completely. Despite knowing it, is the industry doing anything to reduce its impact on the environment? Current fashion textiles are polluting aquatic ecosystems. Action must be taken now to explore innovative bio-textiles and future technologies. If not, our beautiful bodies made of water will just turn into a fleeting memory.
by Jasmin Kusumaningsih, Maria Sofia Frenandez & Anoushka Redemeyer. Illustrations by Jasmin Kusumaningsih
What is a sustainable lifestyle?
By definition, it means to be able to maintain something at a continuous safe rate, preferably with products that are manufactured with ethics, economics and the environment in mind. So far, fashion has acknowledged that textiles are problematic and non-sustainable.
Irresponsible and excessive usages could have destructive effects on nature, which humans survive on. Whether it is cotton, polyester, or synthetic fibres, companies have not been using them wisely.
In 2019, the United Nations has confirmed that 7,500 litres of water are required to make a pair of jeans1. Imagine the lake nearest to you disappearing within a blink of an eye and multiplied by the amount of clothing manufactured by brands, sold by retailers, and collections released within a short period of time. One by one, they would turn poisonous and toxic.
According to the UN, around “80% to 90% of wastewater is returned to the environment untreated,” it causes detrimental effects on aquatic nature and all habitats involved – including us2.
The most harmful effects of textiles on the environment are caused by post-purchases.
During washing cycles, our garments undergo an intensive cleaning process, causing tears and leading to un-filterable micro-plastics being released into the environment. Plastic, making up about 60% of the material used for our clothing worldwide3, inevitably ends up in the ocean.
Young people are now becoming more aware that we are causing this, and fears are growing larger inside themselves. With the rising demand for sustainable sources, more brands have grown aware and designed their products to be more environmentally friendly.
Levi’s recently launched a waterless capsule collection to be more sustainable in bio-textiles.
They are focusing on innovative techniques that make jeans durable.
This is done by using cottonised hemp. Compared to cotton, it grows quicker, uses less water, leaves behind cleaner and healthier soils. Is it really that sustainable though? Is it a bluff? Is this just a way of pulling the wool over our eyes?
A lot of work goes into the making of cottonised hemp. For now, the world-known denim brand has made a lot of progress statistically: 4.2 billion litres of water were saved since introducing Water<Less®.
According to the company, 6 billion litres of water are reused and recycled. 75% of their cotton now comes from more sustainable sources and is organic4.
Biomaterials have also grown in popularity among new start-up brands.
The recent introduction of 3D-printed biomaterials can potentially reduce the need for water usage5. These bio-fabricated textiles tend to grow from live microorganisms, such as algae, yeast, and fungus. While making traditional textiles would pollute large amounts of water, 3D printing biomaterials does not6.
They have the common characteristic of being self-regenerative with only small support creating huge interest.
Companies have been competing to create better textiles.
New York-based AlgiKnit produces bio-derived yarn from kelp. They are great as water filters and support marine ecosystems.
The Californian start-up company MycoWorks produces mycelium mushrooms that grow into moulds. Over the past few years, brands like Iris Van Herpen used them for haute couture shows that ended with a standing ovation.
The same trend was followed by Stan Smith’s Mylo shoes from Adidas. Their versatility results in various shapes, colours, textures, and finishes. Problem is that making one sneaker would take two weeks, and one garment could take even longer to be completed7. Regardless, there are many things to improve before it could be implemented commercially.
In the few past years, numerous brands have shifted into a more conscious and ethical lifestyle with better types of fabric, water usage, and processes.
Could our future and home be saved?
There are still many improvements to be made, from production to the consumer’s mindset. However, as technology is making giant strides on bio-textiles, natural water sources have a chance of surviving. This way, our bodies made of beautiful clear water will not just be a fleeting memory. Maybe.
Jasmin Kusumaningsih is an undergraduate student in Fashion Design & Accessories at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.
Maria Sofia Frenandez & Anoushka Redemeyer are undergraduate students in Fashion Business at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.
1. Villeman, Cyril. (2021) UN launches drive to highlight environmental cost of staying fashionable. Online Available at: https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/03/1035161 [Accessed 17 June 2021].
2. UN – Water. (2015) Quality and Wastewater. Online Available at: https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/quality-and-wastewater/ Accessed 26 June 2021].
3. Resnick, Brian. (2019) More Than Ever, Our Clothes are Made of Plastic. Online Vox. Available at: https://vox.com/the-goods/2018/9/19/17800654/clothes-plastic-pollution-polyester-washing-machine [Accessed 17 June 2021].
4. Off The Cuff. (2021) What Are Waterless Jeans? – Levi’s® Water<Less® | Off the Cuff. Online Available at: https://www.levi.com/US/en_US/blog/article/how-we-make-jeans-with-less-water [Accessed 17 June 2021].
5. Valich Rochester, Lindsey. (2021) Will Clothes of The Future Be Made from Algae? Online Available at: https://www.futurity.org/algae-3d-printing-clothing-2558382/ [Accessed 26 June 2021].
6. Smith, Kerry Taylor. (2021) How is 3D printing a Sustainable Manufacturing Method? Online Available at: https://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=20017#:~:text=Rather%20than%20sculpting%20an%20item,CNC%20manufacturing%20or%20injection%20molding [Accessed 17 June 2021].
7. Bainbridge, Jamie. (2021) Stan Smith Mylo: Recreating an Icon made with Underground Roots of Mushrooms. Online Available at: https://news.adidas.com/originals/stan-smith-mylo–recreating-an-icon-made-with-underground-roots-of-mushrooms/s/3403a796-7db3-429c-8a3b-6378c2f962b0 [Accessed 17 June 2021].