Project 1: Exercise 1 – Sustainability pt.2

How do you think sustainability might be addressed in relation to the production and consumption of textiles and other manufactured products? 

In Fashion and Sustainability, Design for Change by Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose several sustainable options are proposed for the life-cycle of textiles garments, the term life-cycle covers all stages – from choice and method of fibre cultivation to the end life of a finished garment.

Here’s a quote which summarizes the need for multi-angled approach to sustainability within textiles;

“In Order to move towards sustainability in the long term, it is the whole fashion cycle that has to undergo improvement and not just a few isolated parts” p.11 of Fashion and Sustainability Design for Change by Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose.

1. Agriculture/raw fibre production

Consideration of renew-ability/regrowth of crop – ‘rapidly renewable = regenerating within three years’, or ‘annually renewable = grown in a single year’. Must also take into account the ecological impact of growth, how much water is necessary to maintain crop, organic production – eliminates use of chemicals or pesticides harmful or known to have carcinogenic properties within humans and animals over prolonged use.

Renew ability –

Consideration of ‘life cycle’ or durability of subsequent fabric at stage of crop production – requires consideration of factors like; is this fibre biodegradable (reducing waste), can this fibre be chemically re-used or combined to make a new fibre from fabric once it has reached the end of its wear ability?

Low-chemical fibres –

“for certain fibres – most notably cotton – reducing the amount of chemicals applied to the fields during cultivation would bring substantial positive effects to both the lives of workers and the levels of toxicity in soil and water”, p.22  of Fashion and Sustainability Design for Change by Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose.

Crops/Cotton/Organic Cotton –

This seems to be a fairly complex issue, but on a simplistic level a strain of GM Cotton Bt was produced which was genetically engineered to include a bacterial toxin harmful to certain pests, the idea being this would reduce the use of pesticides and the subsequent harm to people/ecological systems. However some people on principle believe organic farming (which would not us GM crops), is a better alternative to GM crops – although yield is significantly lower, time consuming and has been shown to cause farmers problems in rate of income. Complex!!!

Reducing use of water –

Water is a massive component in the production of clothing. At the crop stage it’s vital for growing a healthy yield, but it’s also used heavily in the dyeing process. Different fibres require different amounts of water, unfortunately the fibres that tend to require less water at production or cultivation are the Polymer based or synthetic ones. Cotton is a water draining crop.Use of natural fibres which are grown in areas of heavy rainfall (such as wool, hemp, flax), require ‘no artificial irrigation’ and in that sense are more sustainable.

2. Ginning

I couldn’t find any information about best practice in sustainability in relation to Ginning in any of my recommended text books. So I took to doing a bit of research online. I researched ‘sustainable ginning practices’ and found a few links to the WWF ongoing project with sustainable cotton practice in Pakistan.  A further link under the title, Sustainable cotton production in Pakistan’s cotton ginning SMEs (Spring).   Also a link to a lengthier ‘better cotton report’ in which the report mentions a number of changes implemented in Ginning factories to address sustainability.

  1. Increasing efficiency of Ginning machinery = reduction in use of energy – thereby better ecologically.
  2. Introduction of health & safety measures to protect workers – prior to the initiative working conditions were dusty, causes coughs, asthma and TB. Workers often had hearing problems or became deaf due to the loudness of machinery. Electrical wiring was uncased, leading to electric shocks and some workers had seriously injured themselves or died from working on dangerous machinery from a height (without safety barriers). The ‘Better Cotton’ team ensured better ethical, social practices were implemented – ear phones, better lighting, safety railing, dust masks, were all improvements to the care of employees.

On a slight side note, the better cotton report also mentions a partnership with IKEA, who have taken steps to ensure their cotton furnishings used across products are sourced from sustainable cotton. Guardian Article; Ikea makes 75% of its home furnishings from sustainable cotton, by Lorna Thorpe.


3. Spinning  &  4. Weaving

I’ve joined comments on these two processes together because they seem to have similar steps towards or issues involving best sustainable practices:

“Spinning, weaving and knitting are largely mechanical processes and the major environmental burdens are related to energy use, solid waste production and the generation of dust and noise”, p.  48 of Sustainable Fashion & Textiles – Design Journeys by Kate Fletcher.

There is also the use of ‘sizing agents’ for protecting fabric during weaving or spinning processes. These sizing agents and those used in desizing (removing) create a waste product which is ‘highly polluting’ and water used/products used are rarely reclaimable.

Best practice in these stages as suggested by Katie Fletcher are;

‘In spinning, ask suppliers to manufacture yarn with readily biodegradable lubricants’ – p.48 of Sustainable Fashion & Textiles – Design Journeys by Kate Fletcher.

‘Avoid woven fabrics where PCPs have been added as a size preservative’  p.48 of Sustainable Fashion & Textiles – Design Journeys by Kate Fletcher.

‘Ask suppliers to combine scouring and desizing processes with bleaching to save chemicals, energy and water’.  p.49 of Sustainable Fashion & Textiles – Design Journeys by Kate Fletcher.

What isn’t mentioned by Fletcher but has been championed by some in the fair trade sector (namely People Tree). Is the use of manual or hand based weaving and spinning techniques.

Hand based practices – reduce use of machinery therefore reducing energy use and carbon foot-print. Reduces the impact of noise/dust on workers. However hand based methods are slower, require longer production times, lower output. Also raise issues of workers health/safety in the workplace – are workers working in safe conditions, being given adequate breaks, access to clean water/toilet facilities etc.

5. Processing

Dyeing – Dye Baths & Dye Houses

Issue of fixation rates – ‘dye for cellulose fibres such as cotton have the lowest fixation rates; approximately 65% remaining, whilst the other 35% of dye flushed away’ p.38 of Fashion and Sustainability Design for Change by Kate Fletcher & Lynda Grose. – by using chemicals to help improve fixation rates, results as high as 95% dye fixing to the cloth have been achieved, reducing waste and pollutants.

Dye types – natural vs.synthetic – there are arguments around the use of naturally derived dyes or the natural colour of woolen or animal based fibres as an alternative to the chemically derived dyes. Natural dyes obvious involve a much lower use of chemicals at the start and some methods have been developed to fix these dyes to textiles without the use of harmful fixing agents. However the colour’s available are more limited. Colour is a huge consideration within the textile/fashion industry and is often what consumers are first drawn to – this makes manufacturers and designers reluctant to use the natural alternatives.

CAD – Computer Aided Design – Can be used to reduce amount of waste at the pattern cutting/arranging stage. Does have it’s setbacks through as the computer is not programmed to adapt to new ideas around sustainability/it eliminates human interaction with the issue of waste from the cutting stage.

Waste Reduction – new ideas around use for scraps or waste from the cutting stage; ‘from utilizing scraps in patchwork garments to recycling them into new yarns’,  p.48 of Fashion and Sustainability Design for Change by Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose. 

6. Stitching

CMT – Cut, Make,Trim sector improvements to workers rights and conditions –

NGO’s and Collaboration between brands sourcing from same supplier can/have put pressure on and made significant changes to working conditions in factories – by increasing amount of visits by pooling efforts/resources.

Fair Trade initiatives – by using fair trade factories for this part of construction companies can be ensured workers are afforded better working conditions, pay, and health benefits.

Local Suppliers – working with local suppliers as opposed to ones which are hard to reach or visit regularly increases transparency of working practices, allowing for a close check on working conditions and how many hours people are being worked. This would also reduce carbon emissions due to transporting clothes overseas to the retailers.

Using non electroplated metal buttons/fixings –

the electroplating process involves a massive amount of water and chemicals which cannot be re-introduced to a water supply for people, ‘The water waste from this process can destroy biological actions in sewage plants, and is toxic to aquatic species…This sludge must then be treated before disposal in a specially lined landfill’, p.52 of Fashion and Sustainability Design for Change by Kate Fletcher & Lynda Grose.

7. Distribution/Retail

Transparent Supply Chain / Carbon Foot Print – Data collection is tricky with a complex supply chain, using technology methods to increase connectivity and dialogue through the supply chain could allow for more real time data to be collected by companies on their energy usage throughout the stages of production to delivery. Increased data here means seeing where changes could or should be made to increase sustainability.

Switching to less fossil fuel intensive delivery methods – from air transport to sea or rail, the amount of fuel needed for a plane is far greater than that needed for rail (which can be electric) or a boat.

Retailers Informing Customers about care for clothes – care labels, can be used to encourage consumers to wash clothing at lower temperatures, thereby reducing the amount of water and heat energy used over the life time an item of clothing is in the care of a customer.

8. Use/Consumption and end of life  

Viable alternate end uses –

Incineration of fabric – can be useful for ‘energy recovery’ (p.17, Fletcher & Grose 2011)

Biodegradable fibres – reduces waste at landfill, which is already at a premium.

Recycling or re-use of fibre’s sometimes known as ‘post-consumer waste’ products – an existing garment made from a fibre which can be chemically reduced to fibre form again or in combination with another fibre to make a new textile product, thus extending life cycle of garment. Apparently even some of the most energy intensive methods for synthetic fibre recycling are; ‘around 80% less energy intensive than the manufacturing of virgin fibre (new fibre), p.26 of Fashion and Sustainability Design for Change by Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose.

Waste as a Biological Nutrient – In the book Cradle to Cradle, by Michael Braungart and William McDonough, a case example is given whereby  they worked with a company to create a fabric for the seat of wheel chairs which had a positive impact on the environment through its production and at the end of its life. Users could, ‘simply tear the fabric off the chair frame and throw it onto the soil or compost heap without feeling bad’, at the end of it’s use the fabric gave energy or nutrients back to the earth, waste had become a positive thing.

Consumer awareness/responsibility – whilst most of what I’ve discussed explores sustainability from a designers or manufactures point of view I think on an individual or consumer basis there must also be a shift in mindsets. Consumer education here is I think key, education about the ecological, social, human cost of buying certain kinds of textile goods. I think there are companies taking steps to make educating ourselves about these things easier – for instance The True Cost documentary, which explores the impact of fashion on people and the environment highlights the cost of our choices but also offers alternative buying methods.

I think there is also a need for people to take responsibility for the way they look after their clothes – have a longer term purchase view – being willing (and skilled enough) to repair clothes or alter them when and as need be to prolong life span. Also to make an effort to get rid of clothes in a better manner – i.e. make use of charity shops, have clothes swaps.


This is a very complex field, and I’m aware I could keep reading and researching and just add more information to the sections. For now I’m happy that this is enough research for the purposes of the exercise. I’ve done my best to make it clear where I’ve drawn from textbooks recommended for this part of the module.

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