Hello everyone! I’m so happy to present you this wonderful interview today of my yogi friend Rosanna. She did the Yoga Teacher Training with me at Power Living last year (check out her interview about her Yoga Teacher Training experience here) and today she’s back to tell us more about her studies about the environmental impact of fashion industry. Let me tell you that I think that her studies are, I think, so incredibly important for our future. And I also find that this is a perfect topic to talk about during this #PlasticFreeJuly challenge! Now I let you read!
Hi Rosanna! I’m so happy you are back on the blog! Today, I’d like you to tell us all about your studies! Can you tell us about your course?
Hi, glad to be back! – I mentioned last time that I am studying ethics in fashion at Heriot-Watt University in the Scottish Borders, and most interested in the environmental impact of the fashion industry.
My research has developed into looking at microfibre release from textiles, specifically how much fibre is lost through washing and wearing garments, and how wearing garments impacts the quantity of fibre lost during washing. I am focussing on acrylic and wool fibres, and the difference between shedding of synthetics and animal hair.
The main reason for this is there is natural growth in the demand for synthetic fibres because they are cheaper, as well as the athleisure trend and increased demand for sportswear. The rising veganism lifestyle is further influencing purchase behaviours and people are choosing to buy synthetics more and more.
It is true that livestock production produces high quantities of methane, but it seems to be forgotten that synthetic fabrics produce high quantities of micro-plastics, both through daily use and when washed… just because we cannot see them, does not mean that they are not there, and they are now found in almost every place they are looked for, including on glaciers and in remote areas of the Arctic.
When did you realize you wanted to study that subject?
I initially studied Textile Design at Nottingham Trent University, but I wanted a broader understanding of the industry, so I transferred to a top up year in International Fashion Business, for which I received my 1st class honours degree. In that year I learnt about trend prediction, marketing and buying, and was first exposed to the negative side of the fashion industry… at the time, the awareness of the textile waste issue was developing as a result of fast fashion and mass consumption.
I decided to looked at how upcycling post-consumer waste could reduce the impact of fast fashion, by adding new value and integrity to products post-consumption. I looked at bags made from donated fire-engine hose by Elvis & Kresse, amongst others, and considered how the material story would affect the way people would use it, and dispose of it, if it meant they would look after it more… and buy and dispose of less stuff. My research suggested that it would, but it is a difficult business model to develop mainstream.
My answer to this was a fibre called Econyl, which is essentially regenerated nylon, made from old fishing nets extracted from the sea, amongst other post-consumer plastic. This was what introduced me to ocean plastic pollution back in 2016, and I have been interested in the issue of plastic consumption ever since… micro-plastics from textiles feels like a natural progression.
What are the major things you discovered since you started?
It sounds like a cop-out, but the answer is, that nothing is straightforward… by trying to solve one problem somewhere, you will inevitably cause another problem somewhere else. Holistic consideration and balance, as with all things, is key.
Is there a better fabric than another after all?
Following on from the previous question, the answer is no. The best fabrics are the ones already in your closet, or on the second hand rail. I personally go vintage where I can because most often the quality is better.
The problem with virgin fibres is they all require raw materials, whether it’s oil, or sheep fleece, or cotton bolls, and these all have an impact. If you stop using one, and start using more of another, you might be using less oil, but you’ll need more water to grow your cotton… and so it continues.
There is a lot of research going into the production of new, less-impactful fibres such as those made from food-industry waste – the future is in renting clothing, reusing clothing, and innovation.
How the whole supply chain can make things change?
The problem with the fashion supply chain is it so complex, and in most cases opaque and untraceable at times. Globalisation of production, and the economic collapse of the early 21st century has driven down the price of clothing, and brands are looking for cheaper and cheaper production. Whether they’re social issues with labour, factory facilities, etc. or environmental issues with chemical use and disposal or raw material sourcing etc. the list is endless… because everything is happening on the other side of the world we are even more blind to it and only care about making money. At the same time, the need for economic development in these countries forces their governments to overlook these problems (corruption is also an issue) but ultimately the people need their jobs to survive…
How veganism impacts the whole chain?
What people choose to buy, defines what brands decide to sell. If suddenly thousands more people refuse to wear wool and leather, brands have to find alternatives to feed this demand. There are options being developed, and some are available at the higher end of the market, but this is very niche and not readily accessible at lower price points… so for now the answer seems to be synthetics. Which takes me back to the growth of this market, expected to reach 70% of global textile production by 2030, and the impact this might have on the way we dispose of our clothes, and what types of fibres end up in the surrounding environment – more plastic clothing, means even more micro-plastics.
Is there really a way to change mass consumption?
Industries in general are shifting towards service economies – nowadays most often we stream music rather than buy it, we watch films on Netflix rather than buy DVDs… this is all reducing mass consumption, although we don’t think of it like that, we think of the immediacy of access. So, there are answers.
The fashion industry is moving this way as well, with rising demand for clothing rentals, and clothes swaps (arranged meetings everyone takes their unwanted clothes, and swaps them), and significant growth in the secondhand market suggest in part there is decline in virgin consumption… the thing is the global population continues to expand, and the majority of people are still buying more stuff, so overall the positive impacts of this become negligible.
Do you think the brands are opened to it?
Some are actively making changes, some are still actively avoiding it… there is no definitive answer other than to say that I think they would be very negligent if they chose not to address at least some of the issues in their supply chain. It is likely that if they do not, they will find themselves struggling in a few years as people become more and more picky about where their clothes come from and how they are made.
I also think it’s important to understand that the issues go beyond just clothing production – the level of pollution caused by the fashion industry is vast. It is commonly stated as the 2nd most polluting industry in the world, its impact on global warming is extensive, and it is paramount that the world acknowledges the seriousness of an industry which is commonly disregarded because all it does is make pretty frocks.
How do you think the circular economy can change that?
The issue of waste is very topical at the moment, with plastic-pollution high on the agenda, and China’s import ban on plastics (they will no longer recycle the worlds plastic waste as it adds to their pollution and to their own waste streams).
What needs to be identified first, is there is no such thing as waste. Out of sight out of mind, yes, but not waste. Everything goes somewhere.
The circular economy enables us to make the most out of all resources, by creating a system where waste is not the end goal, but instead things are designed for reuse. This is how it can change things, we are no longer aiming for disposal, we are appreciating material value to its full extent, and creating the best way to make the most of it.
How that subject empowers you?
We live in a world where badly designed systems have become normality, and out of fear of change, we are stuck. Making more and more stuff, buying more and more stuff, all with the impression that it makes our lives better, that our problems will be solved if we make more money, have a bigger house, and buy a better car. We forget the importance of appreciating what we have.
I truly believe humanity has reached a pinnacle point, where our strive to be more than what we are is destroying the world that we live in. Our need to consume more things, is exploiting the world of its resources and accelerating global warming. We don’t have a choice now but to act, for the sake of the future of Earth, we have to change.
How has it impacted your lifestyle? Did you become a minimalist or Zero-Waster or both?
In truth, I am neither… both these lifestyles take active commitment and dedication, it is not a half-hearted choice to take them on.
I endeavour, as I hope all those reading this do, or may choose to now, to reduce my plastic usage as much as I can, and think twice before buying something new – 9/10 I buy second-hand or vintage, and I either sell, donate or recycle unwanted clothing. I carry a reusable coffee cup and water bottle, and choose the freestanding veggies at the supermarket. I recycle the plastics I can, avoid buying things with unnecessary packaging, and compost food waste.
We don’t all have to be the perfect example, and not everything has to be done in extremes or even immediately. It is often a progression, and as the supermarket Tesco like to tell us in the UK, “every little helps”.
What do you think the readers could do to make the world a little bit better this month? What actions can we all take regarding what you are studying?
Follow at least one of the examples I have given above, consider where your clothes are coming from and where they will go once you are done. I think people forget how far they have travelled, and how many hands have touched them before they even reach the store. Buy a reusable coffee cup (if you drink a lot of coffee) and think about where you get your groceries from, maybe you could try the market instead, or start growing your own if you are able? There are many alternatives out there, some are more difficult to adopt than others, so start with one that is easy for you, and see where it takes you.
I’m personally sure about the fact that yoga is all about respecting ourselves and others, and that also englobes taking care of our environment. Do you feel that connection too?
All objects and beings contain energy, energy is neither created nor destroyed only transferred (something I learnt studying physics a-level), therefore everything is linked and nothing is separate. Yoga for me envelopes this, and the importance of balance within us and outside of us. Teaching us that even when things are tough, we can face challenges, and learn from them. It is through facing these challenges we grow, whether on a personal level or a global level.
We are facing global challenges now, but when we come through them, we will be stronger because of them – which reminds me of the famous quote supposedly by John Lennon “everything will be okay in the end, if it is not okay, it is not the end” … and if it’s not the end you keep going right?
Do you have some books you’d like to share with us so we can learn more about your subject?
To be honest, it is never easy to get through whole books on this stuff – ones I have finished and enjoyed are ‘Cradle to Cradle’ and ‘The Upcycle’ by William McDonough and Micheal Braungart – these are all about the circular economy and the importance of material value.
Fashion Revolution are a great place to start regarding issues within the fashion industry as a whole, and they have some great fanzines that contain information that is easily digestible (check out #2 Loved Clothes Last page 11, and you will find a poem of mine).
The True Cost, and River Blue are also popular documentaries on the fashion industry, and its water pollution – enjoy!
Thanks so much for sharing Rosanna! And you what did you think of this interview? Does this topic resonates with you? If you liked it, don’t hesitate to share it!