Sparks Circular economy

Sustainable threads

 By Michelle Leslie
Circular economy

It’s a two trillion dollar a year industry and one of the biggest contributors to global water pollution thanks to the chemical dyes used to colour our favorite garments...

Water waste isn’t the only problem. An estimated 85 percent of the clothing we produce ends up piling up in landfills, never making its way to recycling plants.

Making fashion more circular

A handful of global brands are hoping to change that. Recently, Nike, H&M, Burberry and GAP followed the lead of Stella McCartney in their quest to create more sustainable threads.
“By working towards this bold new vision, the fashion industry can capture USD 460 billion currently lost due to the underutilization of clothes. An additional USD 100 billion from clothing that could be used, but is currently lost to landfill and incineration, can also be captured”, said Ana Silva, Head, Sustainability and Innovation at TINTEX Textiles SA.
As management consulting firm McKinsey pointed out in a report entitled The State of Fashion, “if (fashion) were ranked alongside individual countries’ GDP, the global fashion industry would represent the world’s seventh largest economy”.
The report also found that consumers have high expectations of the fashion industry. While consumers are demanding deals and bargains, they also expect that the fashion industry will conduct business in an ethical manner. More than two-thirds of all the respondents polled reported that they actively want to be associated with sustainable brands.

Managing water and energy supplies

TINTEX is part of a fashion collective between city authorities, fashion producers, designers and brands that are all working together on an initiative, Make Fashion Circular. This partnership seeks to improve fashion’s footprint through three key areas. This includes developing business models that extend the lifecycle of clothing, using materials that are renewable and safe, and finding smart solutions to turn used clothing into new clothing.
“(Our) waste management successfully recycles or reuses 98 percent of all production waste”, according to Silva.
Some of TINTEX’S smart solutions include reducing energy and water usage and investing in renewable solar energy. Through textile design and innovation, TINTEX is demonstrating sustainable management of resources. Another example is using pre-consumer cork waste to help create a solvent-free coating that is breathable, natural and waterproof and can be used on knit and woven fabrics.
“In addition to this, TINTEX is pleased to announce its membership with Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) a not-for-profit organization that exists to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment where it grows and better for the sector’s future,” stated Silva.

TINTEX’ Autumn/Winter 2019/2020 collection includes vibrant tones (

Northern partnerships

Canadian company Canada Goose has put sustainability at the forefront of its business. Based in Toronto, the luxury apparel company, whose roots date back almost a century, is known the world over for its fashionable and warm parkas. Designing with Canada’s northern communities in mind, Canada Goose has cultivated partnerships with northern communities, donating unused materials and ensuring a more circular approach to fashion.
Building on partnerships dating back to 2007, the company established resource centers in the Arctic to promote Northern Canadian traditions by providing traditional sewers with access to free materials so they can craft their own outerwear.

Using nuclear science to green fashion

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is helping the fashion industry go green using an electron beam. So how does it work? A pulse of irradiated electrons is shot at dyed water. When the electrons hit the water, the complex chemical bonds of the clothing dyes are broken down. Once the chemical bonds are broken down they can be removed from the water, and the water can be treated and recycled for further industrial applications.
According to the IAEA, “Unlike other technologies that have come to the forefront in recent years, electron beam technology is an attractive approach because it treats water without using any chemicals that could further pollute downstream. Electron beam treatment is also advantageous as it operates at ambient temperatures and pressures and its performance is not affected by solids since the electron beam can easily penetrate them”.
Electron beam technology is not new, being used commercially since the 1950s to help sterilize medical equipment and remove bacteria from food. The process of using electron beams does not make water streams radioactive.
Recently, The North Face announced a program called The North Face Renewed, which will refurbish clothing, renewing threads and selling these garments to customers at a discounted price.
Breathing new life into old clothing, cutting down on water and energy consumption and diverting clothing from landfills. It’s a more circular approach to fashion, and it is coming to a store near you.

READ MORE: Circular economy around the globe by Peter Ward

about the author
Michelle Leslie
Alberta, Toronto and now Ottawa. Meteorologist, Journalist & Munk School Of Global Affairs Fellow.