When a fashion item is no longer trendy, it either goes in the bin or in (unfortunately) few cases, goes to a donation box. However, the former is the most common; according to the Environmental Protection Agency, clothes made up 9 percent of all municipal solid waste produced in the U.S. in 2014.
Not only do these clothes end up in landfills, their production also costs and causes a lot of environmental damage. Fast fashion uses plastic, synthetic and non-biodegrablable materials –such as plastic-based acrylic, nylon and polyester threads– for their clothing and use toxic chemicals for dyes which create incredible amounts of water pollution as well as GHG emissions.
However, in recent years we’ve seen the evolution of green fashion: fast fashion’s greatest opponents. Green fashion companies aim to use mostly bioengineered materials for their textiles and apparel. made from living bacteria, algae, yeast, animal cells or fungi, these new items of clothing could very well be compostable fast when their time comes to head towards the bin.
Biodegradable fabrics decompose quite easily and naturally due to microorganisms; the more chemicals used to create the fabric, the longer it takes to biodegrade. There are currently big developments in using funghi, particularly mycelium, for faux-leather fashion pieces, as seen in Stella McCartney’s and Hermes’ newest collections.
Nonetheless, there are some clothing pieces that go generally unnoticed and are the ones to go to the bin most frequently: underwear. Only 2% of underwear is sustainably sourced, and every 5 minutes 10,000 fashion items end up in landfill. Which is why UK-based Stripe and Stare, an underwear, sleepwear and loungewear company, have decided to create the world’s first 100% biodegradable underwear and sleepwear line. Their statement of “Designed in London. Grown in a forest. Composted in your garden” is heard loud and clear in this collection. The most interesting thing about the launch, however, is how it uses several biomaterials to create the items.
It combines Tencel, SeaCell and Roica V550 to create a harmonious item that is both comfortable to touch, resistant to washing and biodegradable. After being buried in soil, the Stripe and Stare undies take just around 180 days to fully break down and decompose safely.
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of these materials.
Tencel: According to Tencel’s website, “the name means ‘Ten’ for the tenacity of the fabric and ‘cel’ because it is made from cellulose or wood fibre.” Tencel Modal fibers are an incredibly soft, natural, and sustainable fiber made from wood pulp. Considered a milestone in the R&D of environmentally sustainable textiles due to it’s incredible softness, color retention, breathability, and moisture management, Tencel fibers are made exclusively in Austria by Lenzing. In Austria, the fibers are extracted from Beech wood forests, grown without any chemical fertilizers or artificial irrigation, using 95% less water to produce when compared to cotton. Lenzing also claims that 100% of the water used in the production process of pulp-to-fiber is reused. 100% of the raw Beech wood material is “converted into cellulose and other bio-based, bio-refinery products, and the surplus energy is recycled into the production of other fibers at the same production site”, according to the company.
SeaCell: Produced by German company smartfiber AG, Seacell is sustainably produced from algae and wood cellulose fibers. Rich in vitamins, trace elements, amino acids and minerals, the material is gentle on even the most sensitive skins. Smartfiber AG’s process is clean and sustainable and saves energy and resources; the algae used is carefully washed, dried, ground and incorporated into cellulose fiber, from which textiles are made. According to the company, “Harvesting of the seaweed is a gentle, selective and, most importantly, sustainable process. It removes only the part of the seaweed that is able to regenerate. The seaweed is entirely untreated and all its ecological value is retained.”
Roica V550: Invented in Japan by Asahi Kasei, the Roica family of materials gives clothing it’s staple stretchiness, replacing traditional elastane that can take 50-200 years to biodegrade. Roice is a groundbreaking material, as it’s the world’s first 100% compostable stretch fibre, biodegrading in just 6 months without releasing any toxic substances and decomposing to CO2 and water. Certified Cradle to Cradle Gold and Hohenstein Environment Compatibility Certified, Roica is “the premium stretch fiber by, the global leader in development and manufacturing of innovative materials, has been bringing together high-tech performance and certified sustainability.”
Whilst these innovative biomaterials certainly represent a clear future and path for green fashion, it’s also important to note that the price of sustainability is high. Even Eileen Fisher has admitted that “The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world … second only to oil. It’s a really nasty business … it’s a mess.” and Rachel Grant, founder and CEO of unisex luxury brand Bad Decision Adventure Club has also acknowledged the difficulty of mass-purchase of these products: “The reason why it can get so expensive is because it takes low-impact organic crops to produce them. They are typically grown without pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and can’t be genetically modified. There are very strict federal guidelines to be certified organic which is why it’s more expensive to mill organic or recycled fabrics — you’re paying for conscious fashion.”