How sustainable fibres are struggling to make an impact in the fashion industry

  • Style
  • Saturday, 22 Oct 2022

Global fiber production has once again increased to a new record of 113 million tonnes in 2021. Photo: AFP

These days, many fashion collections are made from organic or recycled fibres.

In fact, it seems as if these alternatives to conventional fibres – which are far less eco-friendly – have become something of an industry standard.

This is far from the case, however, as the latest report from the nonprofit Textile Exchange shows.

Fashion is now one of the many industries that is stepping up efforts to reduce its environmental footprint. This is achieved through new approaches, such as second-hand shopping or upcycling, but also through the use of new, more sustainable and environmentally responsible materials.

These are now legion, including fibres created from recycled plastic, the now famous innovative fabric made from mycelium, and textile fibres produced from mussel byssus.

All such initiatives reflect the willingness of some in the sector to reinvent themselves in order to drive the move towards a more sustainable fashion industry.

But contrary to what the profusion of these collections might suggest, they're not sufficient to contribute to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celcius.

Read more: Jeans used to be fashion's most polluting items, now they are more sustainable

Record fiber production

So suggests the latest annual report from the Textile Exchange organisation, which supports brands seeking to turn to low environmental impact materials.

Even before getting on to the subject of these more sustainable fibers, the analysis reveals that global fiber production has once again increased to reach a new record of 113 million tonnes in 2021.

Without significant change, it is expected to reach 149 million tonnes in 2030. In two decades, global fibre production has almost doubled, from 58 million tonnes in 2000 to 113 million tonnes in 2021.

This is not good news for the fashion industry in terms of its sustainability profile, which could see some of its climate objectives go up in smoke.

Faced with this observation, the nonprofit warns of the need to limit this growth, while accelerating the transition to fibres and materials that are less harmful to the environment, and by focusing on innovation, in order to achieve these climate goals.

Without this, the industry is unlikely to "stay within the 1.5-degree Celcius pathway," reads the "Preferred Fiber & Materials Market Report".

Read more: Don't throw away broken umbrellas – turn them into fashion items!

Too few sustainable fibres

Another not insignificant observation is that, while the global volumes of fibres are constantly increasing year after year, the share of the so-called more sustainable fibres has tended to stagnate.

This observation proves that the multiplication of collections designed from these sustainable and more environmentally friendly fibres is (very) far from being equal to those made from what can be considered more conventional fibers.

For example, the report reveals that the share of recycled fibres has only slightly increased in one year, from 8.4% in 2020 to 8.9% in 2021.

This increase is mainly due to the increase in the share of polyester fibres made from plastic bottles, the report explains. Similarly, fibres created from recycled textiles represent less than 1% of the global market.

Meanwhile, the production of fossil-based synthetic fibres has not stopped increasing, from 60 million tonnes in 2020 to 63 million tonnes in 2021.

This is an alarming observation, despite the efforts of the fashion industry, which has never used so many sustainable fibres.

To reverse the trend, Textile Exchange encourages brands to turn first to materials and fibres from organic, fair trade or regenerative agriculture, but also to invest and collaborate on new innovative materials.

"While these scenarios may help the industry think about potential future pathways and impacts, the future can – and must be – influenced.

We need to be part of the solution to create a planet that is habitable well into the future...

Significant acceleration in terms of climate action is needed in order to stay within the 1.5-degree pathway. Everybody needs to be – and can be – part of the solution," concludes the report. – AFP Relaxnews

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fashion , green fashion , sustainability , trends


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