June 8, 2018 Unstoppable – until the loop is closed
Two years ago, the functional textile supplier Sympatex set sail on a mission: to close the loop in the outdoor apparel industry without compromising performance.
Five hundred years ago, Ferdinand Magellan set sail on the first circumnavigation of the earth. After centuries of humanity’s confined nautical experience, he finally demonstrated that the earth is round by closing the loop.
Closing the apparel loop can be seen as a similar endeavor. After decades of a global culture of denial of the industry’s ecological side effects, many players in the apparel industry still hang on to the idea of continuous growth. Others prefer to stay on land for fear of leaving their habitual economic models. Only a few, fearless pioneers have dared to leave that safe harbor and venture into the headwind, often with improvised equipment and navigating by sketchy maps.
Yet just as the earth has always been round despite centuries of almost fanatical denial, our clothing industry has long passed the point of business-as-usual; it needs to be reinvented.
Shoes: 15 times to the moon and back
Lining up the 23,000,000,000 pairs of shoes produced every year, the line would run 15 times to the moon and back – produced by an industry that uses 97% virgin feedstock to create these products. Such an incredible waste. A waste that could be cut down instantly by 90%, as Sympatex demonstrated in a lighthouse project last year with a children’s outdoor shoe composed almost completely of recycled materials.
Of the 80,000,000,000 pieces of clothing produced per year, largely designed with the singular focus of constantly inventing new trends, over 80% ends up in the in landfill or in largely uncontrolled incineration; the rest is buried in downcycling applications. Yet if garments are designed for recycling, like the outdoor jacket co-created in a hackathon organized by Sympatex in 2017, synthetic polyester can emulate the broad range of high performance textile qualities and additionally be kept in circulation endlessly – without any compromise to its performance.
Slowing down will be too late
In order to maintain the Paris Agreement’s commitment to limit global warming, an 80% emission cut in the industry will be required by 2050. To return to a level where resource consumption matches the planet’s limits, we need to return to the level of consumption found in 2005. In light of the apparel industry’s current growth trajectory that has doubled its output in the past 15 years, it would be naive to believe that a call to decelerate will be sufficient within the time remaining.
Nor can shifting to natural fibers solve the ecological challenge. The one quarter of global apparel that utilizes cotton consumes massive quantities of water in countries with water scarcity and is responsible for about 1/5 of the world’s pesticide and insecticide use. A similar situation can be found in the shoe industry where one quarter of the material is leather – 85% of which is tanned using chromium salts.
Upgrade industry to close the loop
Designing-in the possibility to close the loop through a closed polyester material circuit has the potential to transform an industry currently believed to be the second dirtiest in the world into an enjoyable, yet responsible system that sustainably serves humanity. And we already have all the required technology in our hand.
Sympatex at OutDoor: Hall A1 / 004