FT Rethink

    Fashion’s future in the forest

    Fashion’s future in the forest

    The fashion industry and sustainability have never gone hand in hand. The garment business is responsible for 5% of global greenhouse emissions and 20% of waste water. But a change is building momentum, and very soon the fibres that make up our clothing could be sourced from the forests around us.

    While some brands such as Patagonia and Stella McCartney have been singing the tune of ethical fashion for a number of years, the rest of the industry has been slow to face up to the challenges that face the planet and how the trade needs to take responsibility for its role.

    But fresh, exciting innovations are set to change this and high street brands are increasingly moving to become more conscious of what they can achieve by prioritising sustainability.

    … change is building momentum, and very soon the fibres that make up our clothing could be sourced from the forests around us

    In our latest FT Rethink video, we highlight a novel innovation – wood can be transformed into sustainable textile fibres. This development could be a game-changer for both the industry and the planet.

    Austria-based company Lenzing is one of the companies spear-heading the shift. It produces wood-based fibres which are used in the fashion industry. In a similar way to the cotton plant, trees produce cellulose which, once extracted, is dissolved and has air blown into it. From there comes a beautiful fibre.

    CEO Stefan Doboczky said that trailblazers such as Stella McCartney have made sustainability more acceptable for high street retailers and fashionable brands, leading to a shift in the industry.

    "NGOs started to work on the brands [and] consumers started to wake up. Consumers put pressure on the total value chain, consumers put pressure on governments, governments wake up to the challenge, we get an EU Green deal and things start to fall into place. Whether we want it or not, the whole industry will follow," he said.

    The shift cannot come soon enough. As well as the problem of emissions and waste water, using materials such as polyester causes pollution in the oceans, said Marc Palahi, the director of the European Forest Institute. Wood is the only alternative for the textile sector, he says.

    … the true purpose and the true engine of our economy is nature

    "Movement is taking place in many different brands using different strategies but all converging on the same point – that we need sustainable materials and we need sustainable processes," he said.

    Another company which is rising in the sector is Finland-based Spinnova. It manufactures wood-based textile fibres completely free of chemicals. Companies such as this are working at the forefront of changes we will soon see more often on the store floors.

    For the consumer, the difference in buying an environmentally sound piece of clothing and one that is not can be very minor – as little as 20 cents, says Doboczky.

    Blending technology and nature in the way that has allowed wood-based textiles to prosper is key to the future, said Palahi.

    "The secret in the coming decades is to recognise [that] the true purpose and the true engine of our economy is nature."

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