By Sondra Kim
Plastic doesn’t go away. For one thing, most of the common products we use daily are made of it, or come packaged in it. Furthermore, as a waste this material is almost indestructible. It’s been around for about half a century, but managed to create the devastatingly huge environmental problem we’ve heard so much about. Just imagine: The amount of plastic we throw away each year is enough to circle the Earth four times.
While we can refuse plastic bottles and ban other disposable products attempting to make a small contribution to the environment, there’s a blind spot.
Things we wear
Textiles and plastic bottles are not as unrelated as we might think. Actually, 65 percent of the textiles we produce worldwide are synthetics, most of which are made of the same material that goes into ubiquitous single-use products. Contrary to the common belief, most PET is manufactured specifically to be made into fibers, not bottles. That means the environmental burden of plastic production and waste is a question of unsustainable practices in various industries, including fashion.
The fashion industry itself is far from innocent: As the awareness about how our clothes are made grows, we get to know the true cost of the garments. The abuse of people and planet is the price that is paid for our addiction to bargain-price clothes. That’s why recent years showed a clear trend toward sustainability, closed-loop systems and cradle-to-cradle alternatives in the fashion business.
How do eco-conscious innovations reinvent the industry?
It starts with a mind-shift of how people should use resources and the reconsideration of a product lifecycle.
One of the first sustainable steps that frontrunners in the textile industry are taking is the design of eco-friendly fibers. The idea of recycling plastic for yarn has been around for about 15 years, but China-based Dutch entrepreneur Monique Maissan explored it further.
In the minds of many fashion addicts, the words ’sustainable fashion’ have long been a synonym for ‘ugly fashion.’ However, this concept is changing, and Maissan founded the company Waste2Wear as part of the change.
See for yourself: Waste2Wear fabrics were recently featured in the haute couture collection that opened Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Amsterdam.
Created by couture designer Monique Collignon, the collection became the first fashion show to display haute couture designs made of 100 percent recycled PET bottles. The designer chose Waste2Wear fabrics for her pret-a-porter Couture-Light Collection, also presented during the Amsterdam fashion event.
Responsibly-produced fabric for a single Couture Light dress takes 30 PET bottles out of the environment. It’s not hard to imagine the positive impact fashion can have, if almost the entire collection consists of elegant garments that are actually made of recycled plastic.
The collections received a standing ovation, leaving fashionistas and trend-setters wondering what the fabric, which flows like silk and drapes beautifully, can possibly have in common with a plastic bottle. It is plastic! It took a lot of effort to explore the capabilities of recycling technology that could provide the sustainable textiles that perform to the most exquisite standards.
The result, though, is worth it and doesn’t go unnoticed. Recently the Waste2Wear founder and CEO has been recognized with a prestigious business award, and this is not the first time. This year, the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge Foundation will award a Chinese company for the very first time in the history of the award. The award distinguishes entrepreneurs who operate companies responsibly. A year ago, the company was awarded the European Economic and Social Committee’s Award for Sustainability.
It may have taken a long time for companies to understand the importance of business models that integrate social and environmental impacts, ethics, human rights and consumer concerns into their core strategies and operations, but we are actually on the verge of an era when pursuing sustainable practices becomes the norm. Well, a practice, that turns environmentally damaging waste into stunning textiles sounds just like a new standard for sustainable fashion.
Visit Waste2wear for more information.
Images: Courtesy of Monique Collignon.
Sondra Kim is a Shanghai-based environmental writer. Thinks in green, writes about sustainable fashion, lifestyle, recycling, and plastic pollution.