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Product, Service & Design Innovation
UN, Circular Innovators Continue Mission to Slow Down Fashion

A handful of new initiatives, products and innovations continue the attack on fashion’s wasteful and environmentally and socially destructive practices from a variety of angles.

Fifth batch of innovators starts Fashion for Good’s Plug and Play Accelerator

This week, a new class of innovators joined the Fashion for Good-Plug and Play Accelerator. The world’s premier sustainable textile and circular fashion innovation platform welcomes the 10 startups below, which aim to reshape the fashion industry for good. The program involves a twelve-week curriculum, including mentorship and business development opportunities with the corporate partners.

The 10 entrepreneurs were carefully selected from hundreds of applicants. While each innovator has a unique value proposition, this batch has a focus on innovative data management, new materials, dyeing technology and end-of-use solutions. The accelerator aims to drive market validation and prime these technologies for implementation at scale:

  • Checkerspot is a technology platform that enables the design — at a molecular level — of new materials. Checkerspot's technology expands the palette of sustainable, high-performing materials available to product designers.

  • Dimpora has invented a novel waterproof membrane material. Current waterproof membranes use toxic chemicals that bioaccumulate in the natural environment. Dimpora’s material is free of such chemicals but still delivers breathable, high-performing membranes — a fully biodegradable and waterproof membrane is under development. 

  • Designing for Circularity-Friendly Behaviors

    Join us as leaders from BBMG and REI examine how leading brands are innovating and scaling circular models to attract new fans and earn customer loyalty, all while eliminating waste — Thurs, May 9, at Brand-Led Culture Change.

    Farfarm develops responsible fabrics using agroforestry systems that regenerate nature and communities in Brazil. They educate agricultural families to plant natural fibers such as cotton, jute, ramie and dye-producing plants using agroforestry principals that mimic nature and don't require chemical fertilizers, all while restoring biodiversity and keeping a standing forest.

  • FastFeetGrinded seeks to make footwear circular by collecting and recycling used shoes into new products. Together with retailers, they collect used shoes that are then sorted and deconstructed into their component parts. Those materials are fed back into the footwear manufacturing supply chain or manufactured into new products such as playground flooring.

  • Indidye has developed a new, low-impact dyeing method for plant-based dyes — the process uses sound waves to bind natural dyes to cellulosic fibres. Indidye’s technology uses less water and creates no wastewater, is biodegradable, and requires less energy than a conventional dyeing process. Indidye also produces a dye stuff and is developing a cellulosic fiber — both of which are 100 percent biodegradable.

  • Indigo Mills Designs is revolutionizing the Indigo-dyeing process by making it more sustainable, more economical and faster. This state-of-the-art, foam dyeing process produces zero water discharge and minimal dye waste, all while producing deep indigo colours that the fashion industry loves.

  • MonoChain has developed an easy to integrate blockchain platform to bring primary and resale markets together to enable a circular economy and simultaneously combat fake products. MonoChain facilitates the reuse of fashion items and empowers brands to generate new revenue streams by connecting them to the resale market. 

  • pond Textile has developed a 100 percent plant-based, biodegradable resin, made to replace petroleum-derived polyester fiber. The material is derived from plant starch with the possibility for feedstock to be sourced from waste streams. pond Textile can serve as a glue/binder material or can be extruded as a fiber.

  • Pure Waste textiles produces ecologically sustainable and premium quality recycled fabrics and yarns. They take offcuts and spinning waste from factories in India and mechanically recycle them into yarns. Their products are entirely made of recycled textile waste, sometimes combined with recycled polyester or viscose and offers the consumer the same quality and comfort as those made out of virgin materials.

  • VeChain is a blockchain-enabled product management platform. Using blockchain technology to secure product data enables retailers and manufacturers to easily collect, manage and share product data across the supply chain, all the way to the end consumer. Tagging systems are used to connect physical products with the digital world, facilitating transparency throughout the supply chain and product lifecycle.

UN Alliance to address impacts of fast fashion

Image credit: UNEP/Cyril Villemain

Just a few short weeks after the UK’s Environmental Audit Committee called on the government to make fast fashion retailers take responsibility for the waste they create, the UN has launched the Alliance for Sustainable Fashion to halt the industry’s environmentally and socially destructive practices, and instead harness it as a driver for improving the world’s ecosystems. 

Fashion is the world’s second-largest consumer of water, generates around 20 percent of the world’s wastewater and releases half-a-million tons of synthetic microfibers into the ocean annually. The average consumer buys 60 percent more pieces of clothing than 15 years ago, and each item is only kept for half as long.

The fashion industry is valued at around $2.4 trillion and employs over 75 million people worldwide. It loses about $500 billion of value every year due to the lack of recycling and clothes that are thrown into landfill before ever being sold.

The Alliance aims to improve collaboration among UN agencies by analyzing their efforts in making fashion sustainable, identifying solutions and gaps in their actions, and presenting these findings to governments to trigger policy.

The UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion creates a common platform and dialogue for a host of UN agencies that are working to make fashion sustainable: The Food and Agricultural Organization is promoting Blue Fashion, which uses sustainable marine materials and protects arable land; the International Trade Centre has set up the Ethical Fashion Initiative to spotlight artisans from the developing world; and UN Environment is pushing governments to foster sustainable manufacturing practices.

The implications of sustainable fashion are not confined to the environment, but also social impacts. A more responsible value chain creates new jobs and opportunities for rural workers, especially smallholder farmers or those working in forestry.

“By using fashion as a form of activism and empowerment, the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion doesn’t perceive sustainability as a limitation to fashion, but rather a trigger for bringing real creativity and passion into the industry,” said H.E. Siim Kiisler, President of the UN Environment Assembly. “Research shows that fashion presents many opportunities for reducing waste and improving the environment. But the industry cuts across many sectors, and so to capture the full opportunity, the UN and its partners need an integrated approach that goes beyond individual Sustainable Development Goals.”

Levi’s x Outerknown release latest collaboration; Outerknown finally caters to the ladies

Image credit: Outerknown

Meanwhile, earlier this month, Levi Strauss & Co. launched the Levi’s® Wellthread™ x Outerknown Spring/Summer collection, which features the company’s first foray into the use of a “cottonized hemp” denim, made with hemp that’s been altered to feel just like cotton.

Hemp requires far less water and land to grow and has roughly half the carbon footprint of conventionally grown cotton, but the fabric’s coarse feel has prevented it from being widely adopted in the apparel industry. Now, however, Levi Strauss has employed a process that softens the hemp, giving it a look and feel that is almost indistinguishable from cotton. This groundbreaking treatment and use of hemp will also show up in the Fall Levi’s® Wellthread™ x Outerknown collaboration and in more Levi’s garments in the near future.

“We know hemp is good for the environment, but it has always felt coarse,” says Paul Dillinger, VP of Product Innovation at Levi’s®. “This is the first time we’ve been able to offer consumers a cottonized hemp product that feels just as good, if not better, than cotton.”

The garments in this collection include jeans and a trucker jacket made with a 70/30 cotton-to-cottonized hemp blend. The hemp was sourced from a rain-fed hemp crop and thereby reduced the water used in fiber cultivation by roughly 30 percent. The collection also features single-fiber, fully recyclable nylon board shorts, in which all materials – the fabric, the eyelets, the core, the stitching – are made from nylon, meaning it can theoretically be recycled in perpetuity and re-made into other nylon garments, thus achieving the closed-loop recyclability that has long eluded apparel companies. This is possible because the shorts conform to the same single-fiber strategy that earlier Wellthread™ products were based on. Nylon is the newest material breakthrough in this regard, following successful circular strategies for cotton and polyester achieved in past seasons, all designed with a future state of recycling in mind.

All garments in the collection were crafted in facilities that offer Levi Strauss & Co.’s Worker Well Being initiative, which offers workers health and planning advice, along with financial education programs.

LS&Co says the Levi’s® Wellthread™ x Outerknown collection is a distillation of the multi-pronged approach necessary to transform fashion.

Image credit: Outerknown

Meanwhile, OuterknownKelly Slater’s sustainable clothing company for men — this week released its first women’s collection.

Inspired by and designed for women who are making change — in their respective fields and in their communities all over the world — Outerknown women's debut collection of 17 styles includes a variety of tops, dresses and bottoms in various colors that all work together to create a versatile wardrobe of effortless, everyday essentials that come with a clean conscience. The entire collection is made of 100 percent benefit fibers (organic, recycled, and/or regenerated) with prices ranging from $48-268.

Co-founder John Moore says that over the years, they noticed that Outerknown's customer base was growing beyond just men. "Women were always 'borrowing from the boys' and have continuously showed their support of our ethos, quality and style. We thought it was time to give them pieces they could call their own."

Some of these pieces include dresses, shirts and kimonos made of 100 percent organic cotton and produced in collaboration with Piece & Co — an organization working to empower women around the world through textile manufacturing. It is an organization that is near to Outerknown as it parallels the brand's commitment to social and environmental responsibility

Outerknown women's debut campaign features environmental activist and Trash is for Tossers blogger Lauren Singer; activist and Female Collective founder Candace Reels; and Raychel Roberts, model and founder of vintage clothing brand Chasseresse.

"It was important for us to look to women with an authentic connection to people and planet," Moore said. "Lauren, Candace and Raychel each embody the intelligence, enthusiasm and drive to leave this planet better than they entered it; and more importantly, are sharing their knowledge to inspire change."