SUSTAINABILITY AND TRACEABILITY – THE NEXT BIGGEST FASHION TREND OR CHALLENGE?
Arriving at the parc d’exposition in Paris for the February edition of Première Vision, you couldn’t help but be amazed by the seemingly endless rails of fabric samples and hundreds of suppliers who exhibited over the three days.
Première Vision, in touch with many top designers, highlighted the best of the next fashion trends from blurred lines, natural pastels and contrasting intense colours. Painting the new reality, Première Vision shone a light on the ‘Phygital’ age – a transition and amalgamation of physical and digital experiences – from virtual fittings to digital prototyping. The tagline, ‘Dream your reality’ emphasised, now is the time, to re-think how we design, consume and buy clothing through embedding sustainable practice and envisioning a new, imaginative, but realistic future.
As legislation, consumer demand and technology develop, a central focus of the weeks’ talks, feature displays and innovation area was sustainability. The sustainability focus manifested in the need to embed technology in design, particularly to ensure traceability. Incoming legislation in the EU as they enact the Circular Economy Action Plan is defining the next era of fashion. Moreover, France’s AGEC Law, is tightening rules on recycled statements as well as requiring textiles to clearly state their origins. Traceability was the buzzword and technology the answer:
- Looking at what data needs to be collected at each stage
- The complexity of defining such expansive webs of supply chains
- The importance of technology (e.g. Blockchain) in providing the confidentiality while sharing the necessary data with clients and auditors
- Technology to implant tracers in the materials from the beginning to verify traceability claims
- QR codes to convey the necessary information to the consumer and end of life plan for the product.
Yet, even though traceability is critical, without defining what we mean as sustainable, we may risk exacerbating the situation through poorly chosen fabrics and a lack of end-of-life thinking.
The innovative section of Première Vision demonstrated exciting products, such as the regenerative backpack from Banantex, beer-like brewed material from Spiber and utilising dyes of recycled material. The innovation area was dominated by alternative leather, made from pineapple, cactus, olive pips, leather offcuts and fish skin. It is exciting to see the potential of these products and diversifying our resources will be necessary. Yet, this can perpetuate the problem, when alternative leather does not hold the same longevity or if it replaces non-leather products which may be more sustainable.
Once venturing out to the main section of Première Vision, the focus on sustainability continued with a large selection of companies having at least a small ‘sustainable’ section, but with a greater commercialised use of organic natural materials such as cotton, hemp and linen or recycled materials. Lenzing technology has consolidated its leadership in producing a more sustainable viscose fibre for a diverse range of products – From their ‘EcoVero’ fibre created from sustainably sourced and traceable wood pulp to ‘TENCEL™ x REFIBRA™’ made from up to 30% pre and post-consumer cotton textile waste and sustainably sourced wood pulp.
However, many of these ‘sustainable’ fabrics use recycled or compostable material as only a proportion of the final product. This common problem facing the industry is, to reach certain properties and performance standards, often relies on synthetic and mixed fibres or treatments. While many products will use fewer virgin resources in production, the circle is far from closed, as mixed fibres are notoriously problematic to recycle and the increasing problem with micro- and nano-fibre shedding and chemical release in composting continue.
It is essential the materials are fit for their purpose but clarity is needed on where the recycled materials are sourced from and the end-of-product lifecycle solution, if there is one. Traceability is key but transparency is critical. Only then can we dream the reality of a fully closed loop fashion ecosystem.