While the fashion industry is already heavily reliant on technology, with 3D printers and software tools such as CAD, the clothing itself – the actual clothes we wear – are not yet sustainably made. This is because it takes over 300 years of life to make just one piece of clothing. Therefore, the only way to create sustainable fashion is through new types of materials that do not use any extra resources for manufacturing or energy for transportation.
This blog post will investigate whether sustainability in fashion will become more prevalent in 2022 by looking at some existing technologies and their potential impact on the future.
1. 3D Printing
Nike is one example of a company already using 3D printing technology in production. In December 2013, it created the first running shoe made entirely with 3D-printed parts, with no waste materials. The shoe was developed by Tinker Hatfield, the company’s VP of innovation and design. It took less than 24 hours to print each prototype shoe with the ability to be operational the next day. This shows how fast companies can test out new designs with this technology and how quickly they can produce these prototypes if they are approved in the market.
3D printers can also be used to print clothes themselves- offering a way to make garments from sustainable materials. In February 2014, a group of young fashion designers from the Netherlands were the first to print an entire outfit, including shoes, successfully. This outfit was made with recycled plastic. The designers used an Ultimaker 2 3D printer and PLA filament made from renewable ingredients such as corn starch and sugar cane.
(Leading uses of 3D printing between 2015-2020 – Statista)
3D printing has many benefits for the fashion industry. Not only can it produce sustainable materials really quickly, but it also requires no factories or extra resources in production. No factories or extra resources are needed because 3D printers create their own materials while they work – they use plastic cartridges that can be melted down and reused as many times as possible, which means no waste material.
Although 3D printing technology is already being used in production, this process is still not widely used by designers and brands as it can be expensive to buy 3D printers and materials. However, prices are set to fall over time, making this process even more sustainable. Furthermore, as the fashion industry embraces wearable technology such as smartwatches, consumers will also want to wear fashionable technology on their bodies. This could help grow the 3D printing industry even further as companies will be able to sell both the clothes and the 3D printers in one package.
Biomimicry is a design process that uses nature as a model to solve human problems. This has led to the development of many different materials, including synthetic spider silk, used in dresses worn by celebrities at high-profile events such as the Grammy Awards. Spider silk is one of the strongest materials globally and can be spun by spiders very quickly and cheaply. Scientists have been researching ways to replicate this material in factories so it can be used as a replacement for flax and hemp. Spider silk can also be dyed with natural dyes instead of chemical dyes that are not sustainable.
Although this technology is not yet available to mass-produce clothes, it is being made by several different designers, including San Francisco-based dress designer Sejal Shah Miller. She uses the material Tencel as part of her clothing range, which is made from sustainable eucalyptus trees. However, spider silk could be used to replace many more unsustainable materials in the future, as it can be used in garments and for accessories such as shoes.
3. Biofuels and dyes
Synthetic spider silk can also be made into biofuels and dyes. These can be created from waste food materials or from plants that cannot be eaten. This means that these dyes and biofuels do not compete with the food supply or natural resources and can therefore be seen to be more sustainable.
(Image Source: Science Direct)
Ecover, a cleaning brand, has produced biodegradable detergents that are made from 100% sustainable materials. They use ingredients such as sugarcane and maize to produce detergents instead of petrochemicals. Sugarcane can also be used to make biofuel, which can then be used to power vehicles. The biofuel industry has grown significantly in the past decade due to its potential as a ‘green’ energy source, fuelled by waste products such as sugarcane and corn.
Bioplastics are another sustainable alternative to petrochemical plastics. These are made from renewable materials such as corn starch, vegetable fats, and recycled waste. Although these plastics can take a long time to break down when thrown away, they do not produce any toxic chemicals when they do so and therefore cannot harm the environment. Corn starch is already being used in 3D printing materials to make sustainable clothes, so it is likely that this will be improved upon in the future.
5. Lightweight and cost-effective fibers
Fibers are an essential component of sustainable fashion. They can be used to make a whole range of products, such as accessories and textiles that are both durable and lightweight. Materials that are lighter tend to save energy in production, which means they reduce the amount of fuel needed to create these products. For example, the cotton you wear could be produced using less energy if it were made from a material such as acrylic fibers or polyester. Although cotton is a natural fiber created from plants, synthetic fibers have been created and improved upon for many years.
(Image Source: Wikimedia Commons)
These are just five examples of the many ways that fashion could become more sustainable in the future. However, as this article discusses, many of these changes will not happen overnight because designers and brands need time to think about new processes that can be used to produce garments. Achieving an eco-friendly and sustainable fashion industry will involve long-term planning on the part of designers, producers, and consumers. There is no one particular path for achieving this goal, and it will take time for designers to choose the most effective materials for their industry.