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Earth Day: Why Sustainable Fashion Is Now More Important Than Ever

by : Niamh Shackleton on : 22 Apr 2021 18:29
Earth Day: Why Sustainable Fashion Is Now More Important Than EverHappy Earth/PA Images

When people think about helping the planet, their first port-of-call might be to recycle more or reduce their meat intake, but a lot of people don’t realise the clothes they’re wearing can often have a negative impact on the environment, too.

A 2018 study found the apparel and footwear industry that year created more greenhouse gases than France, Germany and the UK combined, creating a staggering 2.1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions, Vogue Business reported. Material production produced the most emissions compared to other industries such as transport or retail.

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In a separate report, it was found the fashion industry makes up around 10% of global carbon emissions and 20% of wastewater, according to BBC News. This results in more emissions being created than both the aviation and shipping industry combined.

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While many fashion brands fail to take their carbon footprints into consideration, one company that does is Anas Anam, which created Piñatex – an innovative leather product that’s produced from fibres extracted from pineapple leaves.

Dr Carmen Hijosa, creator of Piñatex, became aware of the devastating impact the leather industry has on the environment after visiting the Philippines in the 1990s. There, she experienced first-hand the toxic impact of mass leather production in developing countries.

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This inspired her to created Piñatex; a leather made of fibres from the waste leaves of the pineapple plant. Due to the leaves being a by-product of pineapple harvesting, no additional environmental resources are needed to produce them.

Describing how the products are made, Dr Hijosa told UNILAD:

After pineapple harvest, the suitable plant leaves are collected in bundles and the long fibres are extracted using semi-automatic machines. The fibres are washed then dried naturally by the sun, or during the rainy season in drying ovens. The dry fibres go through a purification process to remove any impurities and open the fibres. They get mixed with a corn based polylactic acid (PLA) and undergo a mechanical process to create a non-woven mesh which forms the base of all Piñatex collections.

The rolls are then coloured using GOTS certified pigments and a resin coating is applied to give additional strength, durability and water resistance.

Since its commercialisation in 2017, the likes of Hugo Boss, H&M and Paul Smith have used Anas Anam’s products.

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Dr Hijosa added, ‘Once the fibre has been stripped from the leaf, the leftover biomass can be used as a natural fertiliser or biogas, offering a further opportunity to valorise agricultural waste and work along the principles of a circular economy.’

Dr Hijosa further explained how making the products with pineapple leaves helps the environment, as the leaves would have typically been disregarded or burnt. As a result, Piñatex saved 825 tonnes of leaves that would have been burnt, therefore saving 264 tonnes of CO2 being released into the atmosphere last year alone.

Another company in the fashion industry that’s trying to do more to help the environment is jewellery brand Salvari, which strives to be as eco-friendly as possible. It does this in several ways; from only using Fair Trade and recycled metals, to using environmentally friendly inks for its print products. Salvari also works with several global organisations to promote and implement conservation programs.

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Euan Leckie, founder of Salvari, told UNILAD that, due to being a home business, they’re able to keep their energy consumption to a minimum. He said, ‘All designs are sculpted in 3D on computer before digital files are sent for physical ‘lost-wax’ casting, which reduces design supply chain to telephony. Though we’re not responsible for what our customers will do with their jewellery, we aim to be as close to ‘cradle to cradle’ as we can be and are partnered with like-minded businesses that are committed to ecological and environmental responsibility.’

Salvari Salvari

Euan also explained what he hoped to achieve through creating Salvari:

Salvari’s aim, beyond designing thought-provoking wildlife jewellery, was to share information about the damage being done to the planet and wildlife due to industrial malfeasance, political indifference and corruption, and mindless human avarice. Given this initial remit, it would have been impossible not to consider sustainability as being wholly centric to all the company’s thinking, collaborations and processes.

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In light of this, the jewellery brand founder homed in on the importance of sustainable fashion and how the fashion industry is one of the ‘dirtiest’ there is, as it acts as the world’s second largest polluter for gas, oil and coal.

Euan explained: ‘Rapacious business practice and global supply chains revolve around production, raw material, textile manufacture, clothing construction, shipping and retail which usually culminates in cheap, low quality, margin-driven throwaway items.

‘Beyond its devastating carbon footprint, fashion uses huge amounts of toxic pollutants; pesticides for cotton farming and poisonous dyes in manufacturing originally invented by the notorious cartel of companies that made up IGFarben – not to mention the mountains of discarded clothing and non-degradable plastic waste that fashion creates daily.’

Salvari Salvari

Further detailing the devastating impact the fashion industry can have on the environment, Euan said:

Fashion gorges on natural resources (including a child-labour population estimated at over 100 million) to extract, farm, harvest, process, manufacture and ship ‘goods’.

Not many are aware that the cotton T-shirt and jeans combo they wear will have used up to 5,000 gallons of water to feed the plants needed for their production or that more than a half trillion gallons of fresh water are mixed with caustic and toxic synthetic colorants in the dyeing of textiles each year.

Euan also called on people to buy from sustainable companies and to lobby larger, corporate ones to do more to reduce their carbon footprints.

Happy Earth is another brand that prides itself on being ‘Earth first’. Explaining how it has achieved this, co-founder of the company David Winters told UNILAD, ‘We built every aspect of the company around protecting the planet, from the details of how we make our products to our overall impact. Every item is consciously and sustainably made, and with every purchase we give back to create positive change.’

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‘Combating climate change, planting trees, or cleaning up trash – you get to choose the campaign you want your purchase to support – and you get an “Impact Pin” with each purchase to track the positive impact you’ve made. From make to mission, people and the planet come first,’ he continued.

Happy Earth has made itself net-negative with emissions (meaning it removes more CO2 from the atmosphere than it emits), by using organically grown and recycled materials for its products. It also uses practices that minimise energy usage.

David said:

Our primary products are made from USDA and GOTS certified organic cotton with our Fair Trade partners in Peru. Peru has been growing cotton for thousands of years – the crop is native to that climate – which genuinely makes a world of difference. Conventional cotton generally requires intensive intervention to farm, which means more displaced water, more extraneous energy, more toxic pest repellents, and more manipulation of wild environments.

The cotton Happy Earth uses is fed naturally through rainfall, and natural pest-control products are used that don’t include chemicals that will pollute nearby waters.

Happy Earth also doesn’t use microplastics in its items, something which David, who founded Happy Earth alongside Dr. Victoria Gennar, describes as ‘detrimental to all facets of life on Earth,’ as the fibres that come off clothing with microplastics in them can end up in the ocean, the air and even the Arctic.

Happy EarthHappy Earth

‘By opting for plant-based fibres like organic cotton, we don’t contribute to the overwhelming microplastic pollution problem that’s reached every nook and cranny of our world,’ David added.

In addition to the products themselves being environmentally friendly, Happy Earth promotes climate change ambassadors to help the planet, as well having partnerships with non-profit organisations who deliver on promised ecological efforts.

While we can all agree fast fashion brands are cheap and convenient, it’s time we start investing in more sustainable fashion brands like these and become more aware of the harmful affects the clothing on our back is having on our planet.

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]

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Niamh Shackleton

Niamh Shackleton is a pint sized person and journalist at UNILAD. After studying Multimedia Journalism at the University of Salford, she did a year at Caters News Agency as a features writer in Birmingham before deciding that Manchester is (arguably) one of the best places in the world, and therefore moved back up north. She's also UNILAD's unofficial crazy animal lady.

Topics: Fashion, Featured, Global Warming