The environmental impact of the transportation industry is well documented and something that almost everyone is familiar with. We know the negative consequences of burning fossil fuels for air travel and other vehicles. Awareness is also being raised about the drastic effects of the meat industry, and the alarming problems resulting from our unstoppable use of plastic are now also coming to light. Yet there is one industry that touches all of our lives that hasn’t experienced the same level of scrutiny as how we travel or how we eat — the fashion industry.
It seems simple to state, but we all wear clothes every day. There is a huge environmental impact during both the production of clothing, and in the materials that are used. The polyester production for textiles in 2015 alone produced 706 billion kg of greenhouse gases, which is the same as the amount produced by 185 coal-fired power plants. Cotton production is also resource-intensive. It takes 2,700 liters of water to produce a single cotton shirt. There are a growing number of people who are tuned in to these factors, and sustainable fashion is finally starting to enter the mainstream. At this year’s Paris Fashion Week, a number of innovations were unveiled that show the future potential of environmentally conscious and sustainable fashion.
Fashion Tech Lab is a new incubator headed up by Russian fashion investor and digital entrepreneur Miroslava Duma. The organization, founded in 2017, is a venture capital fund and accelerator program focused on helping new technologies and innovations develop that will reduce the environmental and social impact of the fashion industry. FTL works with biotech, nanotechnologies, wearable electronics and tech textiles, with sustainability at the core.
Leather grown from stem-cells
Duma’s company teamed up with fashion pioneer Stella McCartney and Google’s Arts & Culture Lab to present an event at Fashion Week. On display were some of the revolutionary new ideas from six companies that could change the face of fashion. One of the most exciting products came from VitroLabs, a 3-D tissue engineering startup. VitroLabs uses stem-cell technology and tissue engineering to produce ethical leather. Being able to produce leather without the need for animals would not only have a huge environmental impact, but also remove the need for animals, eliminating the ethical concerns associated with the production.
We asked Cherie Birkner, founder of online platform Sustainable Fashion Matterz, for her opinion on the new technology. Through her work and the platform, Cherie is an important advocate and champion of sustainability in the fashion industry, and she is emphatic in her support for this innovative development. “Leather production is one of the most unethical and environmentally destructive industries. With lab-grown leather VitroLabs will be able to bring back creative freedom to designers and consumers with a conscience. If we have the option to buy the same pair of shoes from lab grown leather or normal leather only a fool would choose the second.”
Also exhibiting was Worn Again, which has pioneered a way to reuse non-renewable textiles and clothing to make new clothes. This greatly reduces the environmental impact by saving on the resources needed to produce clothing.
The fact that these companies are taking part in such a high-profile event, and that they have the backing of luminaries such as Stella McCartney and Miroslava Duma, shows that the fashion industry is aware of the issues that it faces and is actively seeking modern solutions. These revolutionary technologies might be a distance away from widespread commerciality, but the interest from wealthy potential customers shows that they are going to hit the first rung on the ladder. Let’s hope ethical leather and responsible clothing can become part of everyone’s wardrobe.
If you’re looking for more tips on sustainable fashion, here are Cherie Birkner’s top recommendations:
- Design For Circularity: A Design and System Innovation for a circular future of fashion
- Kleiderei: A monthly subscription service supplying sustainable and stylish clothing
- Vino Kilo: Handpicked vintage items sold through special pop-up events
- Deepmello: A whole range of products made from rhubarb leather