Fast fashion is in bloom today, as our fashion choices are largely influenced by the fashion that we see around us, on the TV, in films and the social media. Technological advancement allows the latest fashion to reach the masses easily. Thus, the fashion industry is one of the largest industries in the market. It is among the key factors regulating the global economy. When it comes to fashion, textile production is at the centre of all.
The early textile industries were established in the latter half of 1700 after the invention of the first cotton spinning machine by British entrepreneur Richard Arkwright in 1783. And the revolution spread to the rest of the world. Indian economy majorly depends on the textile industry and it is said to be the second leading contributor to our economy after agriculture. The first ever textile mill was established in India at Calcutta in 1818 followed by another in Bombay in 1850. And the industry has flourished, grown, and reached heights ever since. Today, it generates huge employment options for unskilled labours and we are the second leading exporter of textiles in the world. This trade has been going on for centuries as per the archaeological evidence. Various international fashion labels are working with the Indian textile industry. The textile industry is the big boss of our economy, so we need technologies that can make our fashion industry sustainable for the environment as well as the economy. Moreover, we need a labour-friendly textile industry which can provide job security and desired wages to the workers.
Fabric/ yarn manufacturing, dyeing, and production of the finished cloth come under the purview of the textile industry. The process of manufacturing and dyeing a piece of fabric is very complex and requires a high- tech machinery. Thus, it is highly energy demanding. Moreover, the entire process consumes a huge amount of water. It is stated that the production of 1 Kg of fabric requires 200 litres of water. The report by United Nations Organisation revealed that making a pair of jeans requires 3,781 litres of water! Seems unnatural right? To add to the list, the water waste generated in the textile industry is released into our pristine water bodies. These effluents contain harmful chemicals such as solvents, oils, waste fabrics, micro fibres, dyestuff and pigments that are detrimental to our environment.
The fashion industry has significant environmental footprints. It accounts for almost 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Waste management is yet another grave problem faced by the fashion industry. The waste material coming from the fashion industry is of two types; wastes generated during production and waste generated from old, used clothes. Today’s fast fashion, how much ever dear to us, is negatively affecting our environment, ecosystems and health.
Natural fibres and dyes offer an eco-friendly solution to the environmental issues posed by the textile industry, but they would not be sufficient to meet the ever-increasing demand for textiles by our growing population.
The innovative technologies of the 21st century are changing the world of fashion. The fashion labels/ startups, working on the concept of conscious fashion, are opening doors to new possibilities of sustainable fashion. They are offering a plethora of fashion choices that are environment-friendly as well as sustainable.
Let’s have a look at some of the technologies that are helping us transform our fashion industry.
Sustainable dyeing choices:
DyeCoo: This technique was patented by FyeCon and Stork prints, Amsterdam. It uses supercritical CO2 (scCO2), which is highly soluble, to dissolve the dye material. As a result, the dye is easily transferred to the fabric without any chemical assistance. Moreover, the technique is completely waterless. It also avoids the wastage of excess dye. It makes the processes shorter by avoiding an additional step of evaporation. The technology has been commercialised for its application on polyester fibre. The method to dye cotton fibre using this technique is in the experimentation stages.
Colorfix: An innovative technique which uses genetically engineered microorganisms to fix dye onto a piece of fabric. It omits all the steps involved in the classical dyeing process. It was developed by a research group working at the University of California.
Hybrid dyes: The technique gives us a range of reactive dyes that require less water and chemicals for dyeing. Such dyes are manufactured by companies like Huntsman textiles, Ecofoot etc.
Recycled Dye: In this unique technology, dyes from old or waste fabrics (textile scraps) are extracted and transferred onto a new fabric. The pioneers of this technique are DyeRecycle and Officinia+39.
Digital textile printing: The method consumes less raw material and water, and generates no effluents. Therefore the environmental footprints of the process are relatively less than the traditional dyeing industry.
Textile recycling and regeneration: With the increase in the production of textiles, the waste generated every year is at the top of the scale. Sadly, most of the old fabric waste is dumped in landfills and incarcerated. To deal with this problem, some tech giants and startups have taken an initiative to develop methods to recycle fabric waste and used plastic bottles. The old fabric is treated and broken down into constituent ingredients, these become the raw material for the synthesis of new fabric. The major players here are Eco-spun (Wellspun Inc.), Eco-fi, Lukaduar ECO, Seaqual fibre, K-sorb, Patagonia, Larroch S.A.,
Non-woven fabrics: This technique is manufacturing non-woven fabrics, that is the fibres are not woven but bonded together by either physical or chemical forces. The main advantage is the ease of recycling the fabric. A few Indian textile entrepreneurs are now expanding their product range to include non-woven fabrics. These fabrics have applications in making recyclable bags, filter paper, napkins, surgical gauges etc.
Innovative waste management techniques: Recycling fabric waste requires an efficient mechanism to segregate the textile waste based on its chemical composition. Tech companies have now developed a technique that allows the sorting of textile waste for recycling using NIR spectroscopy. Fibresort, Ecopack and Ecopick etc. are examples of state-of-the-art machinery using this technology to sort out textile waste.
Innovative waste treatment methods: Effluent treatment is a major issue in the textile industry, and unfortunately most of these effluents are simply released into the environment without proper treatment procedures. A few textile industries are now combining advanced oxidation processes (AOPs) with the other methods as an efficient option to treat effluents. Microbial vermistabillisation of the sludge waste is another innovative technique that converts sludge into probiotics solving the problem of waste disposal. The technique was developed by Dr Senthil Kumar, Geobiotechnology laboratory, National college in collaboration with Perundurai common effluent treatment plant.
Some of these technologies are still in their pilot form while some have been commercialised to a certain extent. However, most of these technologies are still foreign to the Indian fashion industry. Although efforts are being made to make our fashion industry sustainable, it will become a reality only when policy-makers and fashion entrepreneurs work side-by-side. And our role in all of this is to be aware and responsible consumers, adopting ‘conscious fashion’ rather than ‘fast fashion’.