2 Mar 2020

The Fashion Industry and sustainability

During our fantastic tour, we had the chance to ask a few students what sustainability concerns they had. A subject that came up was on the sustainability of the fashion industry, so here we will take a more in depth look at this particular industry. If you have any sustainability concerns you would like us to write about, or have been inspired by a new business/idea helping us towards a sustainable future, please get in touch via our email!

The fashion industry – is it sustainable in its current form? According to a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2017[1], the textile industry:

  • Was responsible for more greenhouse emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined;
  • Released 16 times more micro-plastics into the oceans than microbeads from cosmetics;
  • Was responsible for 20% of all industrial water pollution through dyeing and treatment processes;
  • Used 97% of new fibres from virgin sources;
  • Doubled production between 2000 and 2015 yet saw a 36% drop in the amount of uses per garment under the same time period; and
  • Saw 73% of clothing items end up in landfill or incinerated at disposal.

It’s pretty clear from these statistics that the answer is a no.

On a basic level, humans need clothing for protection from the cold, sun and wind. On top of that, many people identify clothing as an important way of self-expression and, globally, it provides over 300 million jobs – ditching it is not really a viable option, but is anything being done to change it to a more sustainable model? Thankfully many large corporations, including Nike and H&M, have recognised the need for a new circular model that the planet can afford. Businesses are not the only parties that are starting to change: here are some examples of things happening across the board to move the fashion industry into a more circular and sustainable future!

Consumers: the rise of second hand shopping is not just in our heads, the second hand clothing market has grown 21x faster in the last 3 years compared to the retail apparel market, with more and more women buying, or being willing to buy, second hand clothing. This trend is predicted to continue, with the second-hand market predicted to be 1.5x bigger than fast fashion markets by 2028! We are also reducing the size of our wardrobes and prioritising sustainability when purchasing[2]. Lots of positive moves for consumers and is forcing change, so keep the momentum going!

Retailers: retailers aren’t just acknowledging the need for change, they are implementing it! H&M have launched their first rental service at the Sergels torg, Stockholm store with many more rental services popping up online. A majority of retail executives in America have said they want to start stocking resale items next year (a trend that will hopefully spread to Sweden!) while many big brands are offering recycled plastic and sustainable cotton lines. You can even get free repairs through the Swedish jeans brand, Nudie Jeans!

Producers: a lot of investment is going into the development of new, more sustainable materials to replace oil based virgin polyesters and pollutant intensive cotton farming. This includes cellulose based products that can be sourced from forestry, and bio-engineered products that can be grown in labs to make alternatives to silk and leather (check out Mylo[3] and Microsilk[4] to learn more!). A push for more sustainable farming practices within cotton farming is also becoming more commonplace, with organic cotton options easily available on the high street, reducing pollutants and water use from large pesticide and herbicide use in the industry.

Public sector/infrastructure: since many clothing items are made of fabric blends, recycling them is not easy. Even many cotton items cannot be composted due to the chemical dyes used instead of natural alternatives. Here in Sweden, the IVF institution is working together with Vinnova and several other parties, to build the first, large, automated textile sorting facility in Malmö to increase fibre to fibre recycling[5]. Another exciting project is taking place in Kristinehamn with Re:newcell[6] who are using research from KTH in a pilot plant for recycling cotton into new fabrics. These projects are getting global attention and proving alternatives are wanted and available!

It’s a long way before the fashion industry can be seen as sustainable for future generations, but there is definitely the demand and the action for change. Let’s hope these ideas and our choices are the pebbles that start an avalanche.

We would love to be inspired by your sustainable fashion ideas and tips. Share them with us on Instagram by tagging @asap_2030 in your photos!


[1] https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/A-New-Textiles-Economy_Summary-of-Findings_Updated_1-12-17.pdf

[2] https://www.thredup.com/resale

[3] https://boltthreads.com/technology/mylo/

[4] https://boltthreads.com/technology/microsilk/

[5] https://www.ivl.se/english/startpage/top-menu/pressroom/press-releases/press-releases---arkiv/2019-07-03-green-light-for-large-scale-automated-textile-sorting-facility-in-malmo.html

[6] https://renewcell.com/