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Navigating the Future of Fashion – The Road to Innovations in Sustainable Textile Design

Published: April 25, 2024

By Risha Roy, Assistant Professor and Lead, Sustainable Fashion and Textile Design, School of Design, Anant National University

Amid global environmental challenges, the fashion and textile industry stands at a crucial juncture. The need for sustainability has led to a reassessment of traditional consumption and mass production methods. It is vital to realign these practices with current needs, advocating for an eco-conscious fashion approach to secure a sustainable future. This is especially important in the wake of resource depletion, ongoing climate change and waste generated throughout the production and consumption processes. However, new technologies and approaches have emerged to pave the way for a sustainable future, a silver lining the industry can pin its hope on.

To understand this transformative nature, it would make sense to throw some light on the trendiest industry terms and familiarise ourselves with processes that will take centre stage in the future.

Future-ready: This refers to the integration of technology and fashion in the form of e-textiles or smart textiles. These textiles offer a multitude of possibilities for interactive and functional garments. E-textiles can be made from simple conductive fibres or complex microprocessors and sensors. Smart textiles can change colour or shape in response to environmental factors like heat or light. They can also monitor vital signs such as heart rate and breathing or control devices through touch or gesture. Some examples of e-textile applications include adaptive clothing, luminous clothes, interactive clothing and advanced sportswear.

Additive Manufacturing: Additive manufacturing involves using PLA and resin, the most commonly used materials for building layers into a structure that can be formed into a 3D garment. The introduction of 3D printing into the fashion industry has several advantages. It allows for the creation of intricate designs while reducing water consumption, enables the production of custom-fit clothing without requiring a large inventory and promotes inclusive garments for various body types. The Dutch fashion innovator Iris van Herpen is a pioneer in 3D fashion printing, using this technology to create unique shapes, movements and material blends that would not be possible with traditional manufacturing methods. It is worth noting that she often combines additive manufacturing with other material processes.

Innovation in Alternative Materials: Exploring alternative materials with minimal impact on soil yield is paving the way for eco-friendly fashion that respects our planet’s resources. In India, Malai is a new material made from sustainable bacterial cellulose grown on agricultural waste from the coconut industry in southern India. Since Malai offers a leather-like texture and durability, it is used in fashion accessories. Additionally, it also offers a biodegradable and vegan alternative. Malai is committed to sustainability and incorporating natural fibres like banana stems, hemp and sisal to foster a circular economy. Malai decomposes quickly, breaking down within 90-150 days.

Recycling and Repairing: The resources are limited and finite. Hence, recognising the importance of repairing our garments not only promotes sustainability but also reinforces the idea of cherishing our belongings and reducing waste. The textile industry is embracing the circular economy to cut waste and extend product lifespans. Unlike aluminium cans, recycling fabric is complex due to limited resources and infrastructure. However, brands like Okhai have introduced take-back initiatives like Relove for used clothing to ensure better circularity. Some manufacturers are even turning textile waste into products like insulation and packaging. Despite multiple challenges, the demand for textile recycling is growing. The discussion on repairing is making a comeback with several repair cafe initiatives teaching and promoting sustainability.

Supply Chain Transparency: Transparency in the supply chain is crucial for ensuring ethical practices, fair treatment of workers and traceability of materials from source to product. It empowers consumers to make informed choices. There is a growing demand for transparency and ethical practices in all industries. Consumers want to know the origins of products, ensuring fair labour and sustainable sourcing. Companies are responding by investing in traceability systems, certifications and partnerships that promote responsible manufacturing. This emphasis on worker welfare and social justice is expected to continue and expand globally.

Interventions in Traditional Processes: From a purist perspective, handmade textiles carry a unique value that stems from craftsmanship, heritage and sustainability. Embracing these traditions adds depth and authenticity to modern designs. Implementing environmentally friendly practices in traditional textile processes is essential for minimising the industry’s carbon footprint and embracing sustainability at every stage.

Overall, the future of fashion relies on rethinking and realigning traditional methods for sustainability. With growing concerns about resources and climate, the industry is embracing innovation. Technologies like e-textiles and additive manufacturing offer eco-friendly solutions, while initiatives like recycling and transparency in the supply chain reinforce ethical practices. This shift marks a crucial step towards a greener fashion industry.

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