Meet the Innovators Pushing the Fashion Industry Toward a More Sustainable Future

4 min read|Apr 26, 2022|fbtwitteremail

Elaborate runway shows. Trendy jean styles. Buzzy collabs. When it comes to fashion, there’s always something new to look forward to. But all that “new” comes at a cost beyond what you see on a price tag. 

Fashion’s environmental cost is causing a lot of brands to rethink how they operate. Thousands of companies are now tracking their impacts when it comes to climate change, deforestation, and water scarcity. Some are taking things further, helping shift the industry to a circular model. One where clothes, shoes, and accessories are sustainably made from eco-conscious materials, then used and reused again and again, so they don’t end up in a landfill. 

But some say the industry has to adopt greener practices faster to make circular fashion a reality. That’s where the H&M Foundation comes in. (Psst…they’re an independent nonprofit privately funded by the founders and main owners of the H&M Group.) In 2015, they launched the Global Change Award to help accelerate innovations across the entire supply chain. Meet 2022’s winners and check out what they’re up to.  

1. Vegan puffer material that helps heal wetlands   

Trends come and go, but puffy jackets are a cold weather classic. Probablyyy because they keep you cozy and dry without weighing ya down — thanks to a fluffy, feathery core. And now, material sciences company SaltyCo has cracked the code for making that core in a planet-positive way. 

Their secret? Plants grown in peatlands, which are basically bogs that store a ton of carbon. Many peatlands have been drained over the years to make room for farms and infrastructure projects, but SaltyCo rewets them and plants native vegetation that can help restore them. Then they use those plants to make filler that’s lightweight, warm, naturally water repellent, cruelty-free, and biodegradable. Yes, really. 

2. Laundry powder that makes old clothes look like new   

Real talk: Unlike a fine wine, clothes do not get better with age. Sweaters pill, tees lose their shape, and black leggings fade to gray. 

The team at BIORESTORE says ‘no more.’ They’ve created a powder using eco-friendly enzymes and minerals. It reacts with water and fibers in your clothes, launching a biochemical process that removes pilling and lint from yarn structures, rejuvenates colors, and restores shape and softness to fabric. All in one wash. Seriously. 

This patent-pending solution can make vintage and secondhand pieces look fresh and prolong the life of your fave wardrobe staples. So we don’t have to buy new clothes as often. Thanks, science. 

3. An app that can help cotton farmers cut pesticide use 

Turns out, the fabric of our lives is pretty chemical-intensive. Case in point: Cotton farms account for about 22.5% of worldwide insecticide use despite only taking up about 2.5% of global farmland. And many of those insecticides aren’t exactly great for the environment. Or us. 

In addition to contaminating soil and groundwater, some can affect the nervous system, throw off hormone levels, or irritate your skin. Experts say others could cause cancer. But without insecticides, farmers would have to fight a steep uphill battle to make enough cotton to make any money. Enter: Wadhwani AI. Their artificial intelligence-powered system, CottonAce, helps farmers find creepy crawlies as soon as they appear. Then offers real-time guidance around which pesticide to use and when. It could help reduce total insecticide use, increase crop yield, and help farmers make more money. That’s what we call a win-win-win.

4. A water-free process that makes more fabric recyclable  

It may not seem like it where you live, but water is a very precious resource. And the fashion industry is the second-largest consumer of freshwater, both drying up and polluting rivers, streams, and other sources. Meanwhile, Americans throw away 13 million tons of textiles every year. That’s about 2,150 pieces of clothing each second. 

Soooo yeah, recycling is important. But some fabrics — cough, elastane and polyester blends, cough — are harder to recycle than others. You probably know them as the stretchy, supportive, smoothing stuff your exercise and lounge gear’s made of. They’re super durable, which is great…until they get to the recycling plant.  

Luckily, Re:lastane has created a mild chemical treatment that targets and collects the fibers from clothes made with these materials when they can’t be worn any longer. The process is so gentle that the threads are left intact. And those threads can be used to make new garments. Plus, it doesn’t use any water. What. a. concept.

5. Biotech that turns greenhouse gasses into a resource 

Not-so-fun fact: The fashion industry accounts for up to 10% of global carbon emissions every  year. It would take a lot of trees to suck up that much greenhouse gas (hint: literally billions of metric tons). But the sisters and scientists behind Rubi have figured out how to mimic the way trees build themselves from CO2 to make thread out of carbon emissions from the air.  

The fabrics they make from that thread are water-, land-, and chemical-neutral, fully traceable, naturally biodegradable, and net carbon-negative. Meaning every garment created from Rubi fabric actually creates an environmental benefit, removing CO2 from the air and actively helping to reverse climate change. We’re impressed, too.

theSkimm

The fashion industry doesn’t have a perfect record when it comes to protecting Mama Earth and the people and things living on her. But new technologies, innovations, and eco-minded ideas can help us regenerate Earth’s shared resources. So she can bounce back and thrive. Here’s to a (sustainably) stylish future.

Skimm'd by Elizabeth Smith and Jessica Kelly


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