For 10 years, I’ve been working on-site in the fashion industry’s own factory–China. And like most people I have been consuming fashion and apparel my whole life–I’m a part of the problem, and so are you. But there is a big difference between me and most people. I have seen the dark side of the textile industry. I have visited factories and almost fainted by the chemical haze and I’ve seen textile workers working long hours every single day with only a simple mouth protector.
So I would like to give you the grand tour. Let’s go through the sickest part but also the part where a small step could have the biggest impact–the dying process.
It all starts with the buyer–the fashion company that orders their apparel from a garment producer. The producer will order a lot of fabric in the specified quality. The fabric mill on the receiving end is not certain how much is needed and the material is cheap so the mill will produce a lot of fabric. The fashion company then decides on how much fabric they need and the fabrics that are not getting used will be wasted. The mill then dyes the fabric, which means the fabric is dipped in huge amounts of hot water containing chemicals.
« I have seen the dark side of the textile industry »
As you understand this process is no way near efficient. Some of the side effects are polluted fresh water, textile workers exposed to harmful chemicals and excessive use of energy and CO2.
So who should we accuse? We are all guilty but we can all confess and change. I have with my own eyes and nose witnessed the decease of this industry, but there is a way to change–there is a way to improve.
We aRe SpinDye (WRSD), the company I now work for, has developed a simple yet brilliant method to reduce the environmental footprint of the dying process, the Spindye® method. It works like this: The fashion company decides what color they want. We use pigments and melt it together with the raw material to form a single material in a defined color. It all takes place in a dry process. Then the melted (and dyed) material is spun into thread and woven into fabric.
Since the dye and raw material become one early on, encapsulated in the fiber, the durability and color fastness of the fabric are far superior to traditional textiles. Also, since many different fabrics in the same color can be made from one single source of yarn and thread, resource efficiency is sky high–there is almost no waste and every inch is made use of.
And we have proof. Fjällräven has used our technique in their brand new product Re-Kånken, a remade version of their iconic Kånken backpack. The results speaks for itself: 85 percent less water use, 75 percent less use of chemicals and it requires 40 percent less energy. Carbon dioxide emissions are a fifth lower than in conventional dyeing.
So what’s the catch and what can you do? There is really no downside, except that hardly no-one is using the method. In the short term–spread this article so we can attract more customers and in the long term–be inquisitive, curious and demanding. Together we can make the fashion industry more sustainable!