Automatgenererad bild.

28 October 2015

Knowledge of sustainable fashion collected for new initiative

Mistra Future Fashion has presented the results from its first four-year period in a manifesto stating that for the fashion industry to be capable of long-term sustainability all stakeholders must work together and at a uniform pace.

‘We must start looking at our clothes in a new way,’ says acting programme manager Sigrid Barnekow.

During Mistra Future Fashion’s four years of activities, work has been done in eight different areas. The results have now been summed up in a manifesto that is both retrospective and forward-looking, identifying a direction for a second phase of this research programme.

‘In the manifesto, we’ve compiled a synthesis of the results we’ve arrived at so far. One conclusion is that we must base our work on garments, which must get the respect they deserve — from society, producers and users alike,’ says Sigrid Barnekow, acting programme manager of Mistra Future Fashion.

The programme has identified four crucial areas for sustainability in the fashion industry. In brief, the sector must go from one to multiple business models; consumers must participate more actively; design must become more environmentally aware; and recycling of textiles must become more effective.

Multiple lives for clothing a must

In practical terms, the Swedish fashion industry — which had a turnover of SEK 237 billion in 2013 and, today, is entirely oriented towards selling as many garments as possible — must develop new business models. Instead of always seeking to sell more, it must find means of earning money several times from one and the same product. This may be done by making it possible to resew and update garments after a while, selling them to new owners, renting them out instead of selling them, or finding methods of making recycling financially worthwhile.

For consumers, sustainability may be ma matter of choosing quality more consistently and ensuring that the clothes they have are used for a longer period, either by themselves or by others. If we consumers used our clothes three times as long, on average, as we do now there would be a 70% fall in the industry’s environmental impact.

‘We should all think about whether the clothes we’re about to buy will be used just a few times or for ten years. We’re investigating the scope for giving consumers more choices in the future. Perhaps we’ll buy a garment for ultra-fast consumption; for instance, clothes can be made of paper resembling fabric, so that they can’t even be washed and go straight to recycling. Alternatively, we can invest in a coat that will be around for a long time, and then we choose material that will last.’

Designers’ role in creating sustainable fashion, too, needs clarifying. This would happen if, for example, they designed clothing from the start, at the drawing board, on the basis of how it will be used and recycled, and also gained greater influence over decisions throughout the production chain.

Recycling and new garments

The fourth challenge is recycling of textile materials. This is technically complicated, but the objective for the new programme period is to develop knowledge and processes that enable new fibres to be extracted from the mountain of textiles that are discarded every year.

‘If we can create a workable ecological cycle, it will be a major advance. To achieve this, we need more knowledge of how fibres break down during the use phase. We also need to create a profitable, efficient collection system and develop technology that permits automatic sorting and recovery of new high-quality raw materials from worn fibres.’

Another conclusion is that the fashion industry is complex and cannot be reformed unless all stakeholders simultaneously move in the same direction.

‘Our ambition is to bring about a systemic shift, but success isn’t achievable in just a few years. However, we’ve laid a solid foundation for further research.’

The idea is that researchers on the programme will, over the years ahead, delve deeper into the four areas identified as crucial for the creation of a sustainable system.

In addition, two different garment prototypes are to be devised: one intended for long-term and one for short-term use.

‘These garments will be central in the research and later serve as a springboard when we study what’s required in the design area, what the supplier chain should be like and how they can later be recycled later on.

Text: Per Westergård, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

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