The Sustainable Angle is a UK-based not-for-profit organization that initiates and supports projects that help minimize the environmental impact of industry and society. Its principal project, The Future Fabrics Expo, now in its fifth year, focuses on the fashion industry and how its egregious environmental impacts can be reduced through innovation in textiles, and novel ideas to transform the fashion system and design practice.
We recently spoke with Researcher and Project Manager Charlotte Turner about the impetus for the organization and its impacts to date.
How did The Sustainable Angle get started? What drove the organization’s focus on fabrics?
The Sustainable Angle was started by Nina Marenzi in 2010 in London. While Nina was researching for her dissertation ‘Organic Cotton: Reasons Why the Fashion Industry is Dragging its Heels’ for her MSc in Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development at Imperial College, she interviewed numerous fashion designers, representatives of the textiles industry, and NGOs. As a result, the need for a curated sustainable textiles showcase became apparent and the Future Fabrics Expo was born.
What can people expect from the 5th Future Fabrics Expo this month?
The 5th edition of the expo (29th–30th September, London) will be bigger than ever before, showcasing hundreds of diverse, individually selected fabrics with a reduced environmental impact, sourced from dozens of international mills and suppliers we’ve met from Italy to Germany, France and China. Along with a diverse range of sustainable silks, leathers and leather alternatives, varied dyeing techniques and numerous fashion-appropriate materials, it will include a new innovations area to share some of our more unusual and boundary-pushing discoveries, including sustainable buttons and materials made with pineapple and mushroom, and feature the Taiwan Textile Federation with leading Taiwan Eco Textiles mills showcasing hundreds of new sustainable technical textiles. This year we’ll also provide a platform for Redress’ EcoChic Design Award designs to be showcased, highlighting both creative and desirable ways to produce fashion with less harmful environmental and social impacts through the reduction of waste.
How do you evaluate the environmental criteria of the fabrics and mills?
Importantly, we select fabrics according to quality, aesthetics and suitability for both fashion and function. To ascertain environmental impact, we assess each fabric and mill individually against our environmental criteria (looking at biodiversity, water, waste and energy), which we developed together with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion. The fabrics and mills aren’t definitively graded, but are individually awarded these criteria in relation to the provenance, processing, raw materials and systems management involved in the fabric production. As well as these four key criteria, ethical and local production, recycled materials, and entirely certified supply chains are taken into consideration.
What do you think is the greatest challenge related to sustainable fabrics or sustainable fashion?
One of the greatest challenges we’ve been up against is the outdated reputation that sustainable materials have of being low-quality, rough and scratchy, undesirable and unsuitable for fashion. The Expo proves that this simply isn't the case — in fact, there is a growing range of beautiful and functional materials that are less harmful to people and planet, and still commercially viable. The adoption of more materials like this along with carefully considered design could also help the image of sustainable fashion, as we’ve seen how important it is for design to still be at the forefront of the product — a product isn’t guaranteed to sell simply because it’s more sustainable. It’s essential that it still looks great, functions well, and offers good value.
Another challenge we’ve been working to solve is accessibility to high-quality sustainable materials, provided with accurate information that enables an understanding of where these materials come from. That’s what we’re doing at the Future Fabrics Expo, and to make it even easier to discover sustainable materials from any location, we launched www.futurefabricsvirtualexpo.com to share a wide range of fabrics from our collection.
You recently partnered with Avery Dennison — how did that come about?
In early 2015 we announced our official partnership with Avery Dennison Retail Branding and Information Solutions (RBIS) to provide leading apparel brands with innovative, sustainable material and branding solutions. This collaboration combines the unique capabilities and expertise of each company to drive the future use of new sustainable materials in apparel branding. As part of this, The Sustainable Angle researched and curated a selection of innovative materials with a reduced environmental footprint to be showcased in RBIS’ Customer Design & Innovation Centers (CDIC) in Los Angeles, USA and Sprockhovel, Germany. In addition, Avery Dennison RBIS have utilized their extensive sustainable materials portfolio and lean manufacturing footprint to create and produce the merchandising and communication mechanism for all of the fabrics in TSA’s portfolio, which we’re excited to show at the upcoming Future Fabrics Expo. The Future Fabrics Expo is also supported by Kassim Textiles and Elmer & Zweifel.
We've been hearing about some potentially game-changing innovations in fabrics (ex: Worn Again's textile-to-textile chemical recycling technology) — what trends or innovations are you seeing that make you most hopeful for the future sustainability of fashion?
Technical textiles is an area that’s offering up some of the most exciting innovations we’re seeing at the moment, from regenerating waste materials and products to create new materials of equal quality, to developments in dyeing and finishing techniques that require little or no water or chemical input, vastly reducing pollution. At the same time, we’re seeing some incredibly exciting developments with more noble materials: For example, at the 5th Future Fabrics Expo, alongside performance and fashion materials we’ll be showing a leather alternative made from pineapple leaves which would normally be discarded — instead they are being utilized to make truly beautiful materials, simultaneously creating new income streams for communities in the Philippines.
What lessons have you learned from your projects that could be applied to other industries?
Perseverance and visibility have shown themselves as essential components to progress and working towards improving the industry, both for us and for the mills and brands we work with. To effect change you need to be visible and not hide away your ideas, so we’ve seen that the mills that are most persistent with showcasing their sustainable developments to brands are the ones contributing to the improvement of the industry and seeing the most financial success. This is something that could certainly be applied to other industries, as there is room for improvement everywhere.