Natural design has always been part of the textile and clothing industries. Thousands of years ago we used the silkworm to produce silk in ancient China and the flax plant to create linen in ancient Greece. (1) What tied all of this together was biodiversity. From agriculture to forestry, raw material production for clothing relies on biodiversity for organism health, access to water and fertile soil. (2) The clothing industry doesn’t need a rethink. It just needs to return to its natural design to stay circular.
What we call ‘waste’ in natural ecosystems is one type of raw material being converted as food for another organism. If we used nature’s design to improve how we create our clothing, we’d be able to return nutrients to the soil and health to organisms so that biodiversity can thrive. A circular economy, and lifestyle, depends on good product design that doesn’t create waste and pollution and that allows products to be reused, repaired and remanufactured. (3) We should base our lifestyle and economy on how nature interacts with us.
The Clothing Industry and Biodiversity
Natural resource extraction is the leading cause of biodiversity loss. (4) Today, the clothing industry is linear. That means a ‘take-make-dispose’ economy supported by raw materials that are transformed into goods and discarded when they’ve reached end-of-life.
A circular economy, and lifestyle, is a way to protect biodiversity.
If we buy clothes that we can use for a longer period of time, that reduces the need for virgin fiber production, processing and disposal. If we develop safer chemistry that doesn’t create toxic waste and fabrics that don’t shed microplastics for the clothing we wear, we would avoid environmental pollution that threatens biodiversity. (5)
A great example of this is how TENCEL™ Lyocell fibres are created. The fabric is spun into yarn from sustainably sourced wood pulp from certified forests, which undergo thinning. The production facility reuses 99% of the process water and chemicals used to create the fabric - a closed-loop system that reduces toxins in our environment. Not only is the production process circular, but it is part of the biological cycle as the material can revert back to nature without leaving harmful substances behind. (6) Our first activewear collection uses this fabric as we wanted its design to stay timeless and circular and present no risks to biodiversity.
Protecting the Value of Clothing and the Environment
Slow fashion is a circular lifestyle’s best friend. If we put more value into what we buy from beginning to end, chances are that clothing can keep its value and be reused by others. This creates a positive cycle of use. By the end of this decade, clothing resale is expected to rise to double the rate than that of fast fashion. (7) A second-hand piece of clothing purchased ‘saves 1 kg of waste, 3040 liters of water and 22 kg of CO2’. (8) It also allows a great design to be enjoyed by others, growing its sentimental value into the future.
Not all clothes are equal in their ability to revert back to nature and have no toxins. It’s important to look at any piece of clothing’s material composition when making a purchase to ensure that it’s fully biodegradable/compostable, free from toxic substances and that its quality lasts.
Clothing is intimately connected to both our consumer culture and biodiversity. Meaning, waste and regeneration are all tied together into a complex fabric that our economies and ecosystems depend on to thrive. We should make an effort to transform the way we produce, buy and use our clothing so that nature doesn’t need to make double the effort. A cradle-to-cradle lifestyle protects and rebuilds biodiversity.
Farfetch, QSA, ICARO, and London Waste and Recycling Board, Understanding the environmental savings of buying pre-owned fashion