Sustainability, the circular economy and the backlash against plastics have risen to the top of the global agenda in 2018. As one of the most polluting industries on the planet the drive for improved sustainability in textiles is a twofold challenge; improving the manufacturing processes that produce fabrics and clothing, and changing the consumer behaviour shaping the industry.

So, how far has the textiles industry come in reducing water usage and pollution and encouraging consumers to re-think their fast fashion addiction?

There are an increasing number of businesses and organisations looking to change the way we produce and consume fashion, most notably WRAP who last year launched the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) – an industry-led action plan aiming to deliver positive environmental and economic outcomes to organisations by reducing carbon, water and waste through the SCAP 2020 Commitment. As part of SCAP, WRAP have the Love Your Clothes consumer campaign, encouraging people to value the clothes they already own or find alternative uses for them.

However, although changing consumer behaviour is of course a vital step in bringing positive change, we need to increase the spotlight on the manufacturing process.

Stella McCartney recently called on clothing designers to take more responsibility, saying “If everyone in the design world created a more sustainable product with more mindfulness, then it wouldn’t even be a conversation… but they’re not.” The designer even went as far to suggest imposing laws and regulations on the design process. Designing for sustainability is indeed one part of the solution when looking at the manufacturing process, and could potentially affect positive changes in the supply chain by using less material or different fabrics that require less energy and water intensive production processes.

In an article for WTiN, Dr Seshadri Ramkumar from Texas Tech University rightly points out that although environmentally friendly products and processes have been in vogue recently, economic sustainability needs to be brought into the equation. Without an economically viable solution, large-scale acceptance of green products will be a major challenge, particularly for an industry that is traditionally slow to adopt new technologies and remains extremely cost sensitive.

Safer Made’s ‘Safer Chemistry Innovation in the Textile and Apparel Industry’ report, commissioned by Fashion for Good, also looks at the use of hazardous chemicals in textiles manufacturing. Their report calls for the acceleration of the adoption of new technologies that reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals within industrial processes and rightly points out that the industry is often slow in embracing opportunities for innovation. Other measures it sets out include increased transparency of the products used in the process, reducing the use of the most dangerous hazardous chemicals and partnering with innovators to participate in the ‘innovation ecosystem’.

The approach set out by Safer Made builds upon what we presented in our own textiles white paper, highlighting that innovation and collaboration across the supply chain is crucial in the drive towards a cleaner, greener, more efficient future.

Catexel has been working with textile houses for many years to develop cleaner, greener, safer production practices. Our Pegasus [link] platform supports the reduction of energy and water usage in fibre production to produce more sustainable textiles by activating hydrogen peroxide during the processing of raw cotton yarns and fabrics. By enabling low-temperature bleaching of cotton, the technology also helps improve fabric quality with less piling and a softer product feel compared to bleaching at higher temperatures.

From designer to manufacturer all the way to the consumer, one thing is clear: a collaborative approach is key to helping the textiles industry lighten its environmental load. Given the fragmented nature of the market, the path to sustainability will not be fast or simple, but we must all push for change.

Liz Manning, Business Development Manager at Catexel.

To find out more about how our technology and help improve sustainability within the textiles industry, click here.

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