Something old, something recycled: Learnings from New York’s Annual Fashion Sustainability Summit

Colourful silhouettes of clothing suggesting single use or fast fashion issue  

Did you know that by 2030, the global fashion industry is likely to consume about 118 billion cubic metres of water? That’s enough to fill 48 million Olympic-size swimming pools, according to Pulse of Fashion’s 2017 report. Movements supporting sustainable apparel manufacturing and circular economies are now gaining traction, and the recently-concluded Annual Fashion Sustainability Summit in New York (on January 31) is a case in point. Organised by New York-based non-profit Slow Factory Foundation, in partnership with the United Nations, the fifth edition brought together notable climate advocates such as actor Yara Shahidi of Black-ish fame, Bonnie Wright from the Harry Potter series, designer-turned-entrepreneur Waris Ahluwalia, and designer Tina Knowles (mother of Beyoncé), among others. They not only highlighted how the rise of the resale market is a hot topic in the fashion industry, but also looked at experts’ solutions on reversing the damage fashion has caused the planet. Ten percent of our carbon emissions, to be precise. Panelists at the event included scientists, biologists and technology experts who candidly fielded questions from 400 climate enthusiasts about such pressing issues. Here are five learnings from the Summit:

Bolt Thread’s first product made from Mylo

Bolt Thread’s first product made from Mylo   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Meet Mylo

Since its entry in 1941, polyester arguably continues to reign in the fashion industry. No innovative textile has been crafted to take over its popularity or reverse the ecological damage, for that matter. At the Summit, San Francisco-based Bolt Threads — which also creates fabrics for Stella McCartney — proposed Mylo as the breakthrough material that is 100% bio-degradable. “It is made from mycelium, which is the root structure of mushrooms, with fine, thread-like cells. This revolutionary material isn’t animal-based or petroleum-based, but it can be used in the same way as leather [traditional and synthetic],” says founder Dan Widmaier, who previously launched microsilk, made from spider silk protein.

Not just textiles

About 300 million pairs of shoes end up in landfills every year. Committed to tackle the issue is French sneaker brand Veja. “When we started in 2004, our goal was to deconstruct the production of the sneaker,” says co-founder Sebastian Kopp, who launched its limited-edition collection last month (in New Delhi) in collaboration with Anand Ahuja’s multi-brand store, Veg-Non-Veg. “We didn’t know a lot about making sneakers then and we chose to go to Brazil and ask questions. The first was, ‘What is canvas?’ It is cotton, a plant that uses almost 2% of the world’s agricultural land.” For Kopp, who also makes sneakers out of fish leather, opting for organic, fairtrade cotton from farmer associations in Brazil and Peru was not an ecological act. “It was normal to try to do something better.”

FutureCraft.Loop shoes by adidas

FutureCraft.Loop shoes by adidas   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Embrace circularity

Like most industries, the take-make-waste model or the linear economy is also prevalent in fashion. According to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, which champions circular economy, only 1% of all textiles get recycled every year. Speaking about how adidas is trying to change consumer behaviour, Ayesha Martin, director of Global Purpose at adidas, says, “The test run for the FutureCraft.Loop shoes, made from a form of thermoplastic polyurethane, involved consumers returning used products for recycling. Some didn’t, so we have to work towards shifting mindsets,” she says. To be launched commercially next year, buyers will keep getting a ‘new’ pair if they return the old. By 2024, the sportswear brand is committed to using only eco-friendly elements in their products.

Voices from the Summit
  • Bonnie Wright, actor and advocate: “I love my socks from [Washington-based] Arvin Goods because they use only recycled cotton and next to no water in their production process. Whereas an average pair of socks uses about 50 gallons of water.”
  • Yara Shahidi, actor and advocate: “Whether it is social justice or racial equity, they are starting points to realise how much more there is to be passionate about. I am intentional about whom I choose to collaborate with. What I love about adidas is that it is one of the only teams where we haven’t had to ask about their plans to be part of the climate conversation.”
  • Waris Ahluwalia, designer and actor: “If we are not balanced as individuals, then how is the planet going to be balanced? It was one of the reasons why we started House of Waris Botanicals — looking at plants, starting from the source, trying to get ourselves balanced before we can have an impact on the planet.”

Quit wish-cycling

Wish-cycling (when your expectation of recycling a material exceeds the ability of the recycling facility) can start with good intentions but you might be doing more harm than good. “Any sort of paper that has a foil attached to it [like coffee cups] are not recyclable. If you want to recycle a food container, you have to clean it,” says Jay Kaplan, Environmental Manager, at New York-based environmental solutions company, Waste Management. “It rings true especially when most of us are guilty of throwing our stained pizza boxes in the recycling bin thinking it would magically turn into another pizza box.”

Conscious washing

Turns out, your washing machine is where most of the microfibres in the ocean come from. “The tiny particles made of polyester, rayon or other synthetic textiles do not get filtered in the machines, which has led to the textile industry contributing to about 35% of microplastic pollution,” says scientist Marco Tedesco. What happens next? The plastic debris flows into our water stream, and then the ocean, to finally end up in our food chain. While doing less laundry can lessen the number of microfibres flowing out, US-based MojaWorks’ microfiber filters and laundry balls (that catch the lint) are other solutions. ₹4,061 onwards on

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 11:10:16 PM |

Next Story