After MPs launched an inquiry into fast clothes, sustainable style is back in the spotlight. This is how a future of greener clothing might look.
Forecasting the fashion trends of the future can be dangerous. Many years ago, I tested compostable clothes on the road. Corn-starch separateds offered a way to consume fashion at a fast pace, guilt-free, and without worrying about them languishing in landfill forever. The garments that I wore all day, praying they wouldn’t start composting as I was riding the tube, never caught on.
This time I’m bolder and more confident than ever, and I feel like I have the firepower to make some predictions. The parliamentary environmental audit panel, headed by Mary Creagh announced that it would examine the social and environmental impacts of disposable “fast fashion” on Friday. Its goal is to transform the industry and make it more sustainable.
This kind of spotlight can make a big difference. Although there has been a significant increase in awareness about the social and environmental injustices that are inherent in the consume-and chuck-it cycle that governs how we dress, substantial change has been slow. Each year, we produce around 100 billion new clothes from virgin materials. According to Stand.Earth, 8% of global climate change is caused by the fashion industry according to a recent report.
If the garment industry were a country, it would be fourth in climate pollution. The committee faces a daunting task. These are my hopes for how your wardrobe will look in ten years if fashion’s sustainable revolution succeeds.
1. Fibres will be made from fruit
Our wardrobes are dominated in cotton, which is a poor crop and is heavily sprayed with pesticides. Polyester, which is derived from petroleum, dominates. These will be replaced by “wealth-from-waste” fibres such as “banana silk”, which is made from the stems and leaves of banana plants, and fruit “leathers”, which are made from pineapple. Pinatex, a Spanish brand, has already introduced the latter to the market. A square metre of pineapple skin is made from 480 pineapple leaves. It costs half as much as traditional cow leather and has a lower environmental impact than raising livestock.
2. You will purchase bags made from yeast
Modern Meadow is based in New Jersey, USA. They use sugar feedstock to yeast cells engineered to make collagen. The collagen is then pressed into sheets, and tanned in an eco-friendly way to make cow-less leather. The clever bio-leather will be commercially available in 2020. However, small samples have caused a stir among fashion designers for their animal-friendly and low-emission nature. On the west coast, Bolt Threads’s silk-brewing process is being perfected.
3. Natural colours will appear more natural
To eliminate heavy metals, acids, and solvents, expect brands to abandon toxic chemical dyes. These techniques use 10 times the water as conventional dyeing, according to tests. Don’t be discouraged if you love a lairy color palette. These dyes are not limited to porridge-hued neutrals, but also the wilder hues of nature.
4. The law could regulate your washing machine
Although the clothing industry has moved towards petroleum-derived synthetics, these are known to shed microfibres (fragments below 5mm) which could spell disaster for aquatic environments. California’s state assembly is pushing for a law requiring clothing with 50% polyester to include a warning label about microfibre shedding. It also advises that clothes should only be washed by hand. These will be mandatory if washing machine filters or fine-mesh laundry bags can be shown to contain microfibres in machine washes.
5. A wool cardigan is prized as much as a Birkin bag
You can wear organic cotton or wool if you are looking to make a statement. Natural fabrics will be highly prized and valuable, and they will be passed down as heirlooms. They will also be valued for their ability to not shed microfibres. Regenerative wool farming is being promoted as a viable option for naturals. It’s claimed that keeping sustainable-sized sheep and goat flocks on grassland helps to sequester carbon and restore watersheds, which in turn benefits wildlife habitats.
6. Silk will not shrink when you work out, and your jumpers will still fit
It’s a good idea to track the patents and investment if you want to map this brave new textile industry. Silk Inc is supported by six UK patents that cover 75 chemical formulations. The process of making silk protein from water can transform silk from being water-repellent into one that is water-wicking. This is essential for sportswear. It can also be used as a coating for cashmere and nylon to make wool shrink-resistant.
7. Print your own outfit
The first step is to 3D scan your body. For a perfect fit, you will purchase a file and then 3D-print or 3-D-knit your clothes at your home or in a designated shop. This approach eliminates waste stock and excess production, as designers such as Danit Perleg have already pioneered it. An 3D-printed Peleg design was worn by Olympian snowboarder Amy Purdy at the Rio Paralympic Opening Ceremony to great fanfare. Peleg last year produced the first 3D-printed clothing that can be customized and personalized for online sale. Although the pieces were printed over 100 hours, printing technology has advanced to make this possible.
8. You can be your own rag-trader
Your favourite brands will likely refurbish or remanufacture a large portion of your wardrobe. The concept of “recommerce” is already gaining momentum: Patagonia, an outdoor brand, has partnered with online reseller Yerdle to launch the website Worn Wear. Your pre-worn clothes can be returned to a shop where you will receive credit. They are washed and dried, then re-washed.
We don’t have a good idea of our fashion consumption at the moment. A survey conducted by reGAIN, a fashion recycling app, found that 27% Londoners tossed their unwanted clothes in the trash. Imagine what it would look like if this were reversed. There was such a demand for your worn threads that organizations contacted you daily to ask if you were done with your pants. It will happen.
9. Self-mending clothes
Penn State University, in the USA, has turned squid tooth proteins into liquid that can be used to coat materials. The textile can be repaired if it is torn by joining the two ripped edges. You can use it as a seamless, threadless, glue-free textile by adding warm water. Although the current production of proteins is very small, it could be used for medical purposes. However, in a decade, this could expand to clothing.
10. Your clothes will be owned by someone else.
An estimated PS30bn worth of clothes are left unworn in UK wardrobes. Sharing is now possible thanks to the fact that Armarium, a US luxury fashion-hire firm, joined forces last week with Browns, an upmarket clothier, in order to raise the bar on sharing and hiring. This is a rare rental service that only those who can afford to purchase from high-end designers are able to access. It’s only the beginning.