With greater focus being placed on the fashion industry’s environmental impacts, efforts are emerging almost daily in an effort to help the sector shed its unsustainable rep.
Retail giant Target and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) have teamed up to accelerate sustainable cotton research. The partners have launched the ISS Cotton Sustainability Challenge, an innovation challenge aimed at improving the sustainability of cotton using the International Space Station (ISS) as a research and development testing platform.
Twenty-three million metric tons of cotton are produced around the globe each year, with one kilogram of cotton requiring 10,000 to 20,000 liters of water. Conventional cotton production also requires the intensive use of agricultural chemicals, which can have severe health impacts on workers and surrounding ecosystems. While efforts are being undertaken to make sustainable cotton a mainstream commodity, only 13 percent of cotton is grown in a sustainable manner. The ISS Cotton Sustainability Challenge could help serve as an important catalyst for industry-wide change.
The challenge will run from September 1st until November 1st and will invite leading researchers and scientists in the fields of life sciences, physical sciences and remote sensing to propose new experiments on the ISS to address cotton sustainability.
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The winning proposals will receive up to $1 million in funding and support to send their research to space. The microgravity environment on the International Space Station provides the ideal environment for identifying variables to make cotton production more efficient and sustainable — researchers can collect data on fluid dynamics and how water use can be reduced while sustaining or improving yields. Additionally, the remote sensing capabilities of the space station offer a unique vantage point from which to study crops on the ground.
“In today’s world, it takes about 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton t-shirt,” said Cynthia Bouthot, Director of Commercial Innovation and Sponsored Programs at CASIS. “What Target is doing is looking at their whole supply chain from a sustainability standpoint, trying to learn something through this challenge on the space station and bring it back down here to Earth for that more sustainable production.”
Meanwhile, Stella McCartney is back in the news a week after launching a new campaign targeting the fashion industry’s patterns of overconsumption and waste. The vegetarian luxury label is following in the footsteps of Patagonia and partnering with Bolt Threads, a Bay Area-based technology startup known for its Engineered Silk™ derived from natural proteins.
Cutting-edge, sustainable textiles constitute a considerable portion of Stella McCartney’s materials portfolio and the partnership with Bolt will allow the brand to take its responsible sourcing commitments to the next level, while simultaneously setting a new precedent for the industry.
“On a personal and professional level, partnering with Bolt Threads is so exciting because it feels like everything is finally coming together and the dots are being connected between fashion, sustainability and tech innovation. This is something that I’ve been personally on a journey to find for much of my career and I just feel like there is finally a new opportunity to bring so many industries together and for them to all work as one for a better planet,” McCartney said.
“It is a truly modern and mindful approach to fashion. The industry has so much heritage, but at times it can be damaging to the environment and it can also drag you in a backwards direction and for me, I always want to move forward in fashion, and this is truly a moment to celebrate technology and the future of fashion.”
Bolt Threads engineers fibers from scratch based on proteins found in nature and then develops cleaner, closed-loop processes for manufacturing, using green chemistry practices. In its collaboration with Stella McCartney, Bolt will create silk using yeast, making the textile vegan-friendly and cruelty-free, thus staying true to the designer’s vegetarian philosophy.
“From the day we founded Bolt Threads, we’ve dreamt of partnering with Stella McCartney,” said Dan Widmaier, CEO of Bolt Threads. “Not only does she have an unparalleled aesthetic, but her values and pioneering sustainable fashion align perfectly with our vision for the future of fashion.”
Throughout 2017 and beyond, the partners will continue to work together to roll out new sustainable fabric innovations with the aim of driving the luxury fashion industry towards a more sustainable model.