Is Fashion the 'New Plastic'?


The pandemic is having some strong repercussions on the world’s dynamics, its functioning and its future. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the fashion industry too is ripe for some rewiring and shifting of gears to create a more sensitive ecosystem

By: Nikita Vivek Pawar

Posted on: December 22, 2020

Bottega Veneta Kraft Bag

The Bottega Veneta Kraft bag is 100% recyclable

The outbreak of the virus has forced every sector to reconfigure its operations. Removing the redundant to accept the new, many consumers are adding the “do-I-really-need-it?” question in their criteria. The Game of Fashion is about to take an all-new update!

Brands like Neiman Marcus, J. Crew, and Roberto Cavalli have filed for bankruptcy, while Nordstrom has been forced to permanently close down 16 stores to save $150 million through internal restructuring. Every label, brand, and store is trying their best to stay afloat. A prominent polluting industry in the world as per the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the accountability of fashion brands towards being green, fair-trade, and sustainable has become imperative. Questioning the elementary goals and functioning of its system, is fashion becoming the new plastic?

The redundancy of routine

Of late, the fashion industry had been a prisoner of routine, becoming imprisoned in a vicious circle that most accepted to be normal and ‘the-way-fashion-is’. However, the pandemic hauled the traditional fashion weeks by the collar. Calling the fashion weeks culture a ‘worn-out ritual’, Gucci announced them leaving the fashion calendar as the brand would instead focus on creativity. 

Michael Kors Spring 2021 collection

For his Spring 2021 collection, Mr. Michael Kors recreated classics that will go on for longer, instead of focusing on trends

“I have for a long time thought that the fashion calendar needs to change,” Michael Kors said in a statement. “It’s exciting for me to see the open dialogue within the fashion community about the calendar—from Giorgio Armani to Dries Van Noten to Gucci to YSL to major retailers around the globe—about ways in which we can slow down the process and improve the way we work. We’ve all had time to reflect and analyze things, and I think many agree that it’s time for a new approach for a new era.”

Statistically, people around the globe are now buying more than 60% more garments every year as compared to in 2000. In Europe, fashion brands went from offering two collections per year in 2000 to five in 2011. 

About 40% of global production is done in India, Bangladesh and China, thus these countries alone can produce enough waste to create more than 6 billion garments from the scraps and leftovers. However, about 85% of the produce ends up in landfills. 

While these statistics might not be entirely in the industry’s favour, every cloud has a silver lining, we just need to spot it. As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Fashion brands from around the world have devised multiple interesting ways to recycle waste materials to create art and fashion, thus doing their bit for the society and the environment.

In the air 

The fashion industry is one of the top 10 most polluting sectors contributing to about 10% of carbon emission every year, which is more than that of maritime shipping and international flights combined. Textile dyeing and associated activities contributed to 20% of all industrial water pollution. At this pace, the fashion industry’s greenhouse gases emissions are expected to climb to 50% by 2030.

CO2, and its resulting increase in global warming and depletion of the ozone layer, has pushed brands, companies and industries to take relevant steps. British luxury car manufacturer Bentley has projected to go completely carbon neutral by 2030. 

Nike Super Bowl 50 Collection

The 2016 Nike Super Bowl 50 Gold collection employed Dyecoo technology

While we are looking at reducing this harmful gas, we are ignorant of repurposing the existing quantum of it. Dyecoo, an initiative by the World Economic Forum and the Forum of Young Global Leaders, uses reclaimed CO2 as the dyeing medium in a closed-loop process. When applied pressure, CO2 becomes highly solvent, thus allowing the dye to dissolve. The best part? This process of dyeing cloth does not use any water or any other chemicals – killing two birds with one stone! Nike and IKEA have already partnered with Dyecoo on major projects.  

On the land 

If the population burst wasn’t a concern already, agricultural waste, plastic, landfills, deforestation only add to the environmental imbalance. Thus, fashion brands are now using agricultural waste to produce fabrics. German brand Hugo Boss released a limited edition collection of footwear in April 2018 using discarded pineapple leaves, Piñatex, that imitates the texture of leather. Italian luxury brand Salvatore Ferragamo’s 2017 capsule collection used an innovative new material derived from the leftover orange peel that has a silk-feel. The fabric is a result of 700,000 tonnes of discarded orange peels yearly in Italy alone.

Ferragamo orange fiber capsule collection

Salvatore Ferragamo created a capsule collection in 2017 using discarded orange peels

Indian brand Mohh has created an entire range, ideated with quirky designs, which utilise some components that are recycled or upcycled, such as cycle seats, wheels, leftover hardware. The products are plastic-free and multiple ranges are manufactured by repurposing and upcycling wood and metal waste. Mohh is also moving away from cardboard to more sustainable honeycomb packaging, experimenting with options which are available in the market, such as eco boards (made by recycling tetra packs, plastic, etc.) and sending the assembly instructions digitally to avoid wastage of paper. 

A marketing professional by qualification, Pritika Singh, founder of Mohh, says, “Whenever there is scrap leftover from retail orders of our parent company, Satin Neo Dimension, we try to utilise it in our products such as metal sheets, wood, etc., especially for smaller pieces like a stool or chair seat, bringing out maximum creativity and uniqueness in our products.”

Mohh furniture

A standing shelf from Mohh

Similarly, luxury luggage brand TUMI recently launched their first travel collection made with recycled materials. The Spring 2020 collection has alone diverted more than 395,000 plastic bottles from ending up in landfills. Its outer body fabric is made from surplus nylon – also destined for landfills, until it’s given a new form as a hardworking textile ideally suited to modern travel. The brand envisions a transition to 100% renewable energy by 2025 and is working to reduce carbon intensity by 15%.

“As part of our sustainability program, TUMI will continue to make changes across our business to minimize our impact on climate change. The robust performance of recycled PET alone – meeting all of our 30 rigorous tests – enables us to use responsible materials with no compromise for our customers and uphold our commitment to protecting the planet we love to travel,” says Christine Riley Miller, TUMI’s Director of Sustainability.

Tumi pet bottle bag

TUMI's Spring 2020 collection uses recycled PET bottles

If you ever thought carrying a paper bag is not feasible, leave alone being sturdy, you might find yourself astonished. The Bottega Veneta Kraft bag is a result of luxury the sustainable way. The bags are made from recycled corrugated cardboard paper, are 100% recyclable and FSC certified. The corrugated cardboard gives a natural-looking crumpled look and texture to the bag. To make the bag durable and strong, the raw material is then treated with aliphatic polyurethane film and micro-fibre fabric for protection and waterproof capabilities.

In the ocean 

Besides polluting our air and land, we also managed to harm the marine ecosystem. Be it the polluted water released into oceans or the oil spills or the existence of plastic in our oceans. The detrimental effect on marine biodiversity has led to many regions being pronounced as dead zones.

Ulysse Nardin Diver watch

Ulysse Nardin's Diver watch uses strap made from recycled fishing nets

Swiss luxury watchmaker Ulysse Nardin has selected an innovative polyamide yarn, fully recycled from fishing nets, to weave its new wrist strap, compatible with many of its watches. This strap is the watchmaker's first 100% waterproof fabric. It is interwoven on the edges to prevent fraying and withstand abrasion. The dyeing technique used before extrusion by the supplier JTTi for its YTT+ yarn reels gives a uniform black colour and has the non-negligible environmental advantage of not using water during production. 

Italian luxury brand Gucci was one of the first luxury fashion houses to use ECONYL - a 100% regenerated nylon yarn made from recycled fishing nets. The luxury brand used this yarn for its men's outerwear. Gucci Equilibrium - a platform that highlights the brand's work to bring positive changes to the fashion industry has mentioned the brand moving from virgin to recycled plastic beginning since 2015.

Gucci North Face Econyl luggage

The latest Gucci X The North Face collection uses ECONYL in luggage pieces

American clothing company Patagonia is one of the most prominent advocates of upcycling and recycling. The brand uses recycled plastic to create fleeces, shorts, and jackets in their Re\\\collection. To encourage further recycling and prolonging the lifespan of Patagonia pieces, the brand accepted clothing items that are beyond repair to be reused and recycled. 

Another interesting program, created by Ecoalf, is ‘Upcycling the Oceans’ that collects the trash that is destroying the oceans. This trash is then turned into top quality yarn. Ecoalf uses recycled wool, nylon, cotton and used tyres to produce t-shirts, pullovers, jackets and flip-flops. So far the Ecoalf Foundation has managed to involve more than 2,500 fishermen in 32 ports to collect more than 300 tons of trash from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.

Apart from all this, washing clothes leads to the clothes shedding minute plastic after every wash. This has resulted in the presence of 14 trillion micro-fibres in the oceans which are expected to reach 22 trillion by 2050. As a consumer, it is our responsibility to ensure we have filters to prevent the release of these fibres, and have regular disposal of the fibres.

The pandemic has been a call of awakening for many underlying issues that had been ignored or treated as minuscule and unimportant. Let’s hope we soon have a reimagined fashion landscape working towards making the world a better place to live in!

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