To Fashion Designer: How To Balance Creativity and Sustainability

Source: ICICLE

In the past 15 years, the explosive growth of the fashion industry has made it the second most polluting industry in the world. When we immerse ourselves in the world of fashion, we can’t ignore the negative environmental impact it has created.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe pointed out that the high percentage of global wastewater (20%) and carbon emissions (10%) are the main pollutants of fashion industry. Furthermore, the almost linear clothing production system drains non-renewable resources. The fashion industry, with its complex operating system from the supply of raw materials to manufacturing, transportation, and disposal, has gradually caused serious environmental damage.

The good news is that designers can affect 80-90% of the environmental and economic costs of a product. Accordingly, designers can have a positive impact on the sourcing of raw materials, the manufacturing process, design concept, etc. In the meanwhile, they can also influence consumers by inviting them to change the way they discard clothes. This is the power of designers!

We believe that designers can make the fashion industry more eco-friendly and more sustainable. Although there are still many challenges, we all know that changes are to be made one step at a time and it is not reasonable to change the entire fashion industry system overnight.

The life cycle of fashion

In the cycle of fashion, the initial stage of water and soil pollution started from the raw materials production using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Furthermore, the outsourcing of raw material production to developing countries resulted in more carbon emissions as they have to be exported from one country to another. The manufacturing process produces large amounts of chemical pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, that are released into water, soil, and air. Last but not least, consumers add on to the negative environmental impact of the fashion industry as they excessively wash, dry, iron, or dry clean their items. The textile waste generated in the production and consumption processes is also a contributor to the environmental damage that can’t be ignored.

  • A large amount of fresh water is needed to grow cotton. The amount of cotton used to produce a T-shirt will consume about 2700 liters of water.
    — WWF
  • The global textile uses a trillion kWh per year, which reaches 10% of the carbon footprint.
    — Textile exchange, Sustainable textile global market report
  • The carbon footprint of making a T-shirt is about 15kg, approximately 50 times the weight of the T-shirt itself.
    — Carbon Trust, Working with Conventional Clothing: Product Carbon Footprinting in Practice
  • China produces 26 million tons of textile waste each year, indicating that there is a specific market potential for the recycling of used clothing, with a maximum revenue of 60 billion yuan.
    — China Association of Circular Economy  

1. What sustainable raw materials are available for my design? What design techniques can I apply to reduce the negative impact on the environment?

A call for recycling

Everlane, an ethical and sustainable clothing brand, launched its “ReNew” collection which uses fibers from millions of recycled plastic bottles to make coats, sweaters and parkas.

Source: Everlane

2. How will consumers wear my design? How can I extend the longevity of my design?

Cross-season and unisex clothing made with sustainable raw materials

Canadian designer Chelsea Claridge founded the outerwear brand Caalo in fall 2019 to provide cross-season and gender-neutral fashion outerwear. The brand uses sustainable Thindown material as lining, and the outer fabric mainly comes from Seaqual, an eco-friendly material made from plastic bottles found in the Mediterranean Sea.

Source: Caalo

3. What can I do for textile waste and clothing recycling?

Waste remolding: progress of recycling

The Swedish brand Rave Review combines sustainable fashion with high-end. The designers, Josephine Bergqvist and Livia SchücK, share the same interest in applying sustainable development to clothing, promoting a “progress of recycling “, building a new Swedish fashion brand without negative environmental impacts. Presently, they mainly purchase materials through second-hand clothing stores and the Internet, and plan to cooperate with recycling companies overseas as the brand grows.

Source: Rave Review

In spite of the challenges, we still believe in the positive aspects of fashion. We are convinced that sustainable fashion can develop into a lifestyle, not just a short-lived phase. Through this platform, we wish to advocate environmental protection, highlight the importance of sustainable fashion design, production and waste recycling, and help solve the problem of the fashion industry.