Water and waste are issues at nearly every step of the textile and apparel lifecycles. Luckily, solutions are being developed across the board.
Girlfriend Collective broke onto the fashion scene about two years ago with a launch campaign that offered anyone who signed up a pair of free leggings made from recycled post-consumer water bottles. The campaign effectively built a following of loyal customers and rave reviews, so the company has continued to expand its offerings into a full collection of sustainable activewear. This month, Girlfriend Collective launched a line of tops made from waste produced by cotton manufacturing.
Cotton linter is the term for the ultrafine, silky fibers that stick to the seeds of the cotton plant after it’s been ginned. A waste byproduct, this material can be dissolved in a solution of ammonia and copper oxide to create a regenerated cellulose fiber called cupro. It breathes and regulates body temperature like cotton and can be machine-washed and -dried.
Girlfriend Collective’s new Cupro Collection has five styles of drapey tops that retail for $28-$38 and come in a range of colors: Jane, a cropped tee; Frances, a scoop neck tee; Celia, a classic tank; Stella, a high-necked tank; and Margot, a ballet-inspired wrap top.
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Each top is estimated to save 682 gallons of water compared to a regular cotton tee, but the company’s efforts don’t stop there. Girlfriend Collective is also donating 10% of net profits from each Cupro Collection purchase to Charity Water to offset the cost of producing the collection. The company has also continued its efforts to be “as transparent as possible” by disclosing where it sources its materials and where they are made into clothing. Its cupro material is produced at a Japanese facility that recycles all waste produced by the plant and achieves a near 100 percent recycling rate. Wastewater from the dyeing process is treated, with clean water being released back into streams and dye mud being used at a pavement facility to make paving stones for local sidewalks. The garments are cut and sewn at the company’s SA8000 certified facility in Vietnam.
Speaking of wastewater, the huge volumes of it being drained directly into rivers, streams and the ocean pose one of the biggest dangers to marine life. To produce one pair of jeans, the industry typically consumes thousands of gallons of water across processes to finally achieve the desired wash level. Reducing water and chemical use at mills, adopting dyeing processes that don’t use water, designing more water-efficient finishing techniques, and installing new wastewater treatment technology are among the actions the industry is taking to combat this problem.
For its part, one of Pakistan’s leading denim manufacturers, Artistic Fabric and Garment Industries (AFGI), has developed proprietary dyeing and finishing processes that result in no wastewater. Its Double Zero technology combines its True Zero Dyeing and True Zero Finishing processes to save the amount of water traditionally used in Indigo dyeing and mercerize finishing. By using only the minimum required dye to allow colors to penetrate the fabric, all of the company’s dyeing and fabric finishing water is evaporated at the end of the process or recovered, resulting in zero water being discharged, no effluents and no Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD).
At its LEED Gold Certified facility in Karachi, AFGI also uses a hard water recycling machine to recover fibers from post-consumer denim intended for disposal and recycles them into new denim (see video below). 25% of the company’s virgin cotton is certified under the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), and AGFI hopes to increase this figure to 100% by 2020.
Post-consumer waste is another huge problem in the fashion industry. In the UK alone, unwanted clothing is responsible for 300,000 tonnes – equivalent to 50 trucks worth of clothing per day – going to landfill. As much as 95% of the clothes thrown away could have been reworn, recycled or upcycled.
While the vast majority of those in the UK are still tossing unwanted clothing in the bin rather than recycling it, the appetite for recycling is growing, and this is where a new app steps in. reGAIN is the UK’s first app for the recycling of unwanted clothing, marking another step toward a circular economy in fashion.
After downloading the app on their Android or iOS device, users can ship their old clothes, shoes and accessories to reGAIN free of charge from over 20,000 drop-off points across the UK. In return, they can earn discount coupons to use online or in store at several leading retailers. The reGAIN app has partnered with a number of fashion brands and retailers including Superdry, Asics, New Balance, boohoo and Missguided, as well as lifestyle brands and experiences including Expedia, Hotels.com, EVE Sleep and BodyBuilding.com.
“We are realists, not idealists. We know that we can’t stop people from buying clothes, but we can incentivise them to change their habits and divert hundreds of tonnes of clothing from UK landfill. Our long-term goal is a world in which clothes never become waste,” said Jack Ostrowski, founder of Yellow Octopus, the company behind the reGAIN app.
Yellow Octopus has been providing sustainable stock exit solutions for British fashion retailers including ASOS, John Lewis and Primark, UK supermarkets and more for over 12 years. The companies is leveraging this experience with handling large volumes of post-consumer textiles into the reGAIN app, with the aim of involving UK consumers and helping them to change the way they think about the value of clothing and how they dispose of things they no longer want or need.
In order to keep its carbon footprint to a minimum, reGAIN only accepts one drop per week per customer, with a minimum of 10 items in each shipment. Once the clothes reach reGAIN, they are either reused and reworn, recycled, upcycled, or used as combustibles for energy production.