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Major retail brands adopt more sustainable practices

June 12th, 2017 / By: / EcoNote

Fashion forward means more fashion cycles and the days of three to four collections per year for a clothing design firm are gone. Sweden’s H&M, for example, introduces up to 16. That wealth of creativity and production has an impact on the environment, reports Fashionating World.

The magazine cites an estimate from McKinsey that when considering a spectrum of processes, from applying pesticides in cotton fields to the use of denim washes, making one kilogram of fabric generates, on average, 23 kilograms of greenhouse gases. Global clothing companies need to respond to their customers—including their demands for eco-friendly apparel, the article says.

One way to reduce a manufacturer’s footprint is to cut back on water and chemical use. Companies can also develop new materials and manufacturing processes that reduce inputs.

In 2016 H&M was the largest buyer in the world of Vetter cotton—cotton produced under a regimen to eliminate pesticides and encourage strict water management. The cotton is grown in 24 countries and represents about 12 percent of the 25 million tons of cotton produced globally each year. Kirsten Brodde of environmental activist organization Greenpeace says that H&M has also eliminated toxic per- and poly-fluorinated chemicals from its lines.

There are other bright spots in textile manufacturing. British designer Tom Cridland has created men’s clothing designed to last three decades, thanks to strong seams and special treatments to prevent shrinking. He expects revenues of $1 million this year, but admits that his model will be hard to scale.

Patagonia, a maker of climbing and hiking gear, sends vans to campuses to help students patch up jackets and trousers, and the company is concerned about inputs as well. After discovering a type of material for wetsuits that, unlike neoprene, requires no oil to make, Patagonia shared the findings with surfing brands such as Quiksilver.

The magazine also reports that Nike’s Flyknit method of knitting items, including trainers, reduces waste by 60 percent in comparison with cutting and sewing. Flyknit products have a large following: Revenues from the line totaled more than $1 billion in the last fiscal year.

Some brands have started encouraging customers to recycle old clothes by returning them to stores. But much apparel today is made of a mix of materials—often including polyester—so separating fibers can be difficult. Mechanical methods of recycling degrade fibers and chemical methods are too expensive to be viable.

Shipping secondhand clothes off to countries in Africa and Asia has its own complications. Even if local markets are large enough to absorb them, the poorer quality of polyester-mixed clothing means they do not survive long.