The sorely missed writer, traveller and chef Anthony Bourdain once said ‘we all have blood on our hands’. When it comes to the clothes on our back, can many of us say otherwise?
Responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions and numerous human right violations of garment workers worldwide, the fashion industry has long been a bad fit for people and planet. And there are going to be no quick fixes here, with the journey to net-zero unquestionably a long and winding one. But it is not all doom and gloom for the world of fashion as big structural changes now underway are laying the foundations that will allow an industry to completely reconceptualise itself.
What is needed might be more transformation than makeover, but industry leaders appear to be waking up to that, with groundbreaking initiatives like Fashion For Good (FFG) a great example of the progress that can be made when established brands commit to actively transition to net-zero practices and products, and young innovators are given the investment they need to scale their game changing products.
The latest example of this from FFG arrived today with the launch of the ‘Untapped Agricultural Waste Project’. Bringing together a consortium that includes brands like Adidas, nature-based fibre pioneer, Birla Cellulose, funding partner, Laudes Foundation, and six innovators, it has a goal of developing alternatives to replace climate crippling conventional fibres like cotton and polyester, which cause nearly 40% of the emissions in the textile supply chain, with materials made from agriculture waste.
“Fashion for Good has made an appreciable effort to bring the brands and innovators in tandem,” said Shikha Shah, Founder and Director, Altmat. “We are hoping that it will address two critical things: One, it accelerates the process to take materials made for agricultural residue to the market, and two, it calls for better and recurring commitment to use these materials for scale. We are excited to see commitment and confident about the promise our materials hold.”
The project will gauge the potential of natural fibres created by the six innovators using agriculture waste like banana, pineapple and rice husks. Waste than is often burned in South and Southeast Asia, as part of the 92 million tonnes of agriculture waste burned annually, which in 2017 caused around 149 million tonnes of CO2.
For the next 18 months the project will focus on testing how viable fibre blends made from agriculture waste could be in replacing conventional fibres.
“By 2050 the world textile industry must be fossil-free, to be CO2 neutral,” said Dr Michiel Scheffer, Program Manager Sustainable Textiles, Wageningen University and Research. “Hence no oil based fibres: textiles should be fully biobased. Direct extraction of fibres, transformation through cellulose or polymerisation of sugars are then three essential routes. Agrofood residues have the potential to enable those three routes, provided alignment in investments is engaged.”
AltMat, Bananatex, Chlorohemp, Agraloop by Circular Systems, HempTex India and 9Fiber, are the six innovators that will be developing these natural fibres made primarily with agricutural waste, ensuring they meet the necessary performance requirements. With Birla Cellulose on hand to provide insight on how to do it in a way that makes the material suitable for widespread use in the supply chain.
Early next year the project ams to ‘move beyond lab scale’ and accelerate the adoption of new fibres by working with partner brands and ‘supply chain players’ to produce them at a commercial scale. Which it is hoped will be the green light for ‘brand offtake agreements and financing to facilitate scaling’.
“By 2050 the world textile industry must be fossil-free, to be CO2 neutral. Hence no oil based fibres: textiles should be fully biobased. Direct extraction of fibres, transformation through cellulose or polymerisation of sugars are then three essential routes. Agrofood residues have the potential to enable those three routes, provided alignment in investments is engaged.” – Dr. Michiel Scheffer, Program Manager Sustainable Textiles, Wageningen University and Research