Adidas to Allbirds … sustainable fashion brands embracing the circular economy
May 19, 2019
Brands from Adidas to Allbirds have been experimenting with textile innovations that aim to push the industry towards a greener future.
We are all familiar with the challenges of our fragile earth, from climate change to resource scarcity – the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that humans are using the equivalent of 1.7 planets’ worth of natural resources.
Such resources, and water specifically, are central to the fashion industry’s supply chain. From planting and irrigating cotton fields, to dyeing and washing fabric – a world without enough water and raw materials spells out an uncertain future.
As a result, fashion is regarded as one of the “dirtiest” industries, having a significant negative net impact on the environment.
Ellen Macarthur’s “Circular Economy” approach challenges every business, to ensure that it takes a net zero from the world, it replaces all the resources or harm which it does – or even better creates a net positive, like Toms shoes for example, in doing some good for the world.
It’s for that reason, the industry is exploring the circular economy, which takes the traditional, make-use-dispose model in fashion, and rather promotes a closed-loop where items are reused, recycled and reduced.
We’ve seen numerous startups playing in this space for years, experimenting with different natural ingredients and formulas to create textiles ready for market. Today, a number of brands are jumping on board and partnering with such teams in order to replace traditional materials.
Here are nine of the strongest examples…
Stella McCartney has been championing sustainable fashion since the formation of her namesake label, pushing the envelope of what circular textile innovation means for the industry at large.
One stand-out circular textile from the brand is Re.Verso™, a regenerated cashmere made from post-factory cashmere waste in Italy. According to the brand’s self-implemented Environmental P&L account, using this alternative material reduced its impact by 92%.
Direct-to-consumer brand Everlane, which pioneered the concept of a transparent supply chain through its “radical transparency” approach, announced its newest sustainable material just this month – a fleece called ReNew, which is made from recycled plastic bottles.
The brand also pledged to replace all materials made of virgin plastic (including polyester and nylon) with material made of plastic water bottles and renewed materials by 2021. It expects to be recycling 100 million water bottles through its supply chain.
ADIDAS X PARLEY
In 2015, the two companies teamed up to make a sneaker that was made entirely of yarn recycled from ocean waste and illegal deep-sea gill nets. While the shoe was impressive in both design and sustainability, the partnership really started to come to fruition last year when sneakers like the Parley x Adidas Ultra Boost became more widely available to the public. Eric Liedtke, head of global brands at the company, said each pair of shoes uses the equivalent of 11 plastic bottles, which means that Adidas has recycled some 55 million plastic bottles this year.
The new material, which is made up of a sugarcane base, marks an important achievement in the industry, as it is the first ever carbon-neutral green alternative to the traditional EVA foam. To inspire industry-wide change, Allbirds also made this technology open-source and therefore available to everyone.
As part of its Cotton + Corn initiative, sportswear brand Reebok released its first-ever biodegradable sneaker range in August of this year. The product launch was part of the brand’s larger aim to reduce the brand’s environmental footprint with biodegradable products.
The shoe, which is also called the Cotton + Corn sneaker, is made with a cotton top and a bioplastic sole created from a corn-derived alternative material. It is also the first in its category to be certified by the United States Department of Agriculture to consist of 75% bio-based content.
The intimates collection is made using a mixture of sustainable fabrics such as recycled lace, eco mesh (a recycled type of yarn) and Lenzing TENCEL, a patented fabric derived from a wood cellulose material.
Every four years, the seaweed is harvested and spun into fiber together with lyocell to stabilize. For the Plant Bae collection, it was also enhanced with cellulose and modal to create an additionally soft fabric composition. The innovative material has seen previous incarnations in Falke socks and Lululemon sportswear in its VitaSea collection.
Salvatore Ferragamo created a capsule collection in 2017 made from an innovative new material derived from leftover orange peel. The brand partnered with Italian company, Orange Fiber, to product the silk-feel line, which included apparel such as t-shirts and delicate scarves.
This material is, for now, aplenty: a recent figure from the Italian Agricultural Department revealed that waste from the juice industry resulted in 700,000 tonnes of discarded orange peel on a yearly basis in Italy alone.
Piñatex is derived from the leaves of the pineapple plant, a byproduct of the pineapple harvest that has no other use for farmers. The creation of the textile therefore provides local farmers with an additional income.