By 2050, we’re likely to see an enormous 22 million tonnes of microfibers as part of marine pollution. This is as a direct result of the increased use of synthetic fibres in fashion.
Washing clothes made of synthetic textiles causes tiny plastic fibres to shed and travel through waste-water treatment plants into public waterways.
Many people are unaware of the impact fashion has on the environment. Research indicates that about 100 billion pieces of clothing is produced each year, many using synthetic materials and harmful chemicals.
Being more aware of what natural raw materials are available, how they are processed and in what manner the clothing is produced can make a positive difference to the planet. Here are some ways that fashion can become greener.
Naturally good to produce
Clothes made from materials that don’t impact the environment are essential to reduce the high CO2 emissions the fashion industry produces. Stay clear of synthetic materials that are produced using harsh chemicals. Many South African fashion houses are turning to hemp or organic cotton as an alternative, or recycled plastic to make a durable fabric.
One raw material overlooked by many is Merino Wool. “Merino Wool is an all-natural, environmentally friendly fibre from wool-producing sheep, all that is needed is grass, water and fresh air,” says Monica Ebert from Core Merino, a line of wool athleisure wear.
Sourcing close to home
Reducing the emissions involved in transporting materials is a growing focus. South Africa is home to many eco-conscious brands that make high quality garments creating a positive change to the pollution–fuelled fashion industry. Materials available locally that can be used in fashion include cashmere, wool, bamboo, soy, and corn.
“Home-grown is best grown if you want to lessen your carbon impact on the environment,” notes Ebert. “South Africa has nearly 17 million wool-producing sheep, which means no need to import this renewable fibre.
When looking at making fashion greener, staying away from the use of chemicals is imperative. Synthetic fibres are produced using harmful chemicals that finds its way into our water systems from the manufacturing process and can never be broken down.
“Wool has become the fabric of choice, not only for its soft feel on the skin but because no chemicals are used to make this naturally unique material that keeps you cool in the heat and warm in the cold,” explains Ebert.
Less is more
In our attempt to remain water-plentiful in the coming years, South African citizens continue to be water-conscious. Many people wear clothing only once before throwing the item into the washing machine.
Each washing cycle can use up to 170 litres of water and added to that, the use of laundry detergents is also harmful to the environment. Fibres like wool can be worn many times before needing a wash due to its naturally odour and stain resistant qualities.
Fashion in the future
Huge strides are being made by fashion, both globally and within our own country to make clothing more sustainable. This includes using alternative clothing dyes that are derived from plants, sugar molasses and micro-organism pigments. This will help get rid of the heavy metals, acids and solvents usually found in clothing dyes.
Biodegradable clothing is also on the up, with wool the frontrunner in this trend. “As wool is made of a natural protein called keratin, if exposed to warm, damp soil conditions and oxygen, it can biodegrade within 6 months,” explains Ebert.
Another new development is 3D printing, which is recently being used in South Africa to minimize product wastage, as only the required amount of raw materials gets used in the manufacturing process.