Are recycled textiles the future of fashion?

Consumers are becoming ever-more eco-conscious, but they still want to look good. Is giving them a way to reconcile their conscience with their fashion sense the way forward for the clothing industry?

The fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters. Fast-changing, affordable fashion may appeal to consumers, but it results in an ever-increasing amount of textile waste that ends up in landfill, and the manufacturing processes can be incredibly harmful to the environment.

The public has never been more aware of environmental issues, and as a result an increasing number of clothing retailers are responding by opting for recycled textiles.

This is not the niche market it once was – eco-fashion has gone mainstream. At this year’s London Fashion Week, designers Vin & Omi showcased a collection of clothes made from sustainable fabrics. Some of the materials on show started life as metal cans and plastic bottles, others were ‘eco textiles’ they have developed themselves, including ‘leathers’ made from chestnut skins.

It is unlikely that the designers are expecting the average consumer to start wearing chestnut skins on a daily basis, but they do believe that fashion is the best medium to get their message across.

It’s a message that would certainly shock most fashion-savvy shoppers.

Buying clothes is probably the most common way in which we all contribute to water pollution and environmental degradation around the world, and yet it may be the least well-known in terms of it being a major polluting issue, partly because the manufacturing often takes place in other parts of the world, so it is lost on many how far-reaching the implications of pollution created in textile manufacturing are.

But when chemicals get into rivers, and these rivers are used to irrigate farms, chemicals inevitably find their way into the food chain. Despite the evidence, persuading consumers to change their shopping habits is a tricky business. But as we’ve seen in the food industry, it’s not impossible.

Through effective marketing campaigns we’ve seen a shift towards people buying free-range eggs and farm-assured meats, so it’s entirely possible that we could see more and more shoppers actively seeking out eco-friendly fabrics in the same way they look for Fairtrade ingredients.

Judging by the increasing number of high street brands that are committing to become ethical retailers, it can be assumed that consumers are becoming more aware of the impact their fashion choices have.

H&M is a great example of an eco-conscious fast-fashion retailer on the high street. Its Conscious Exclusive range uses recycled and organic material, and the group carries out a sustainable strategy across the entire brand.

Additionally, in an effort to reduce the number of clothes ending up in landfill, (it is estimated that £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year) garment collection boxes have been installed in many branches. Customers can drop off unwanted textiles in return for a voucher. They are then collected and sorted to be reworn, resued or recycled.Essentially, H&M Group’s sustainability message forms a key part of its overall marketing strategy.

Sportswear brands are also recognising the importance of presenting an eco-friendly image to their customers. It’s reported that in 2017 Adidas sold one million pairs of trainers made from plastic found in the ocean.

Some brands are taking a further step, applying innovative techniques to the manufacturing process. Italy’s Italdenim uses crushed shellfish exoskeletons, a food industry by-product, as a fixing agent for jeans instead of chemicals, and in Spain, Jeanologia are eliminating chemicals to create distressed look jeans by using lasers and air instead.

So for consumers who want to feel good about looking good, it’s never been easier.

Pelican Communications is a specialist in the environmentfood and drinkoutdoor and leisure and packaging sectors and offers a range of services such as media relationsbrand managementevent managementdesign and people developmentContact us for marketing and communications expertise.