Fashion is one of the world’s largest industries and has been cited as the world’s second biggest polluter after oil. Up to 8,000 different chemicals are used for dyeing and finishing processes and it can take up to 2,700 liters of water to produce one cotton t-shirt.
One of the biggest challenges the fashion industry is facing today is how to create garments that cater to consumer needs, but also protect the planet. So, what is sustainable manufacturing? According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, it is “the creation of manufactured products that use processes that are non-polluting, conserve energy and/or natural resources; making them economically sound and safe for employees, communities, and consumers.”
For many manufacturers, it’s not so simple to go green. Fast Fashion has bred a group of consumers who want cheap, disposable, yet fashionable apparel. While this can be great for building new trends, it also means that the way the fashion is produced and manufactured is not so eco-friendly.
Recycling can be a first step, but there are many more options to embrace sustainable manufacturing. For real change to happen, brands need to educate themselves and invest in technology to build a sustainable manufacturing infrastructure. Furthermore, there needs to be a whole shift in the supply chain to find a balance for keeping costs down, saving fabric and being sustainable.
We’ve already discussed in the past how 3D can save time and money, but it can also be a sustainable solution. In the US, for example, the average person throws out around 70 pounds of clothing a year and over 11 million tonnes of textiles in landfills.
At PI Apparel last month, Target spoke about sustainability and the importance for the industry to collaborate together to push forward 3D to bring change, be faster and more sustainable.
In addition to consumers disposing old garments, brands are spending an average of $6-8 billion on physical samples a year, before even discussing the cost of overproduction or damaged and discarded rolls. Going digital can mean that up to 75% of those physical samples can be made in 3D.
Designers can get digital samples and make changes instantly – all at the very last minute – without needing to commit to fabrics. By using 3D technology to create digital samples, you can reduce the amount of fabric and water needed, but also the time to see product and make decisions.
Other trends gaining momentum for apparel manufacturing include:
- 3D Printing: Recycled materials or biodegradable can be used, and this process means not production wasted. It also leaves a smaller carbon footprint, and extends the life of existing products.
- AirDye: An air-based technology that can dye or print on one or both sides of a fabric at the same time without using water or chemical treatments.
- Sustainable fabrics: Knowing where the materials are from and using recycled or less wasteful fabrics such as organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, synthetics and recycled fibers.
Sustainability isn’t something that’s going to be achieved overnight. It’s important to be up to date on the current and upcoming initiatives. Many more tools, materials, technologies, and organizations continue to be created, but taking the first step is a start. By educating yourself now and investing in altering your business practices now, you’ll set yourself apart from your competitors and establish a more solid business strategy.