Sustainable Fashion Roundup - June

Sustainable Fashion Roundup - June

Here’s a round-up of some of the finest sustainable fashion stories that hit the news in June… 

A GOTS x Space Agency x AI partnership for… organic cotton farming

AI is truly having its moment, this time in sustainable fashion. But it’s not acting alone.

The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), the European Space Agency (ESA) and AI company Marple have banded together for a new demonstrator project. Its mission? To reveal the possibilities of remote satellite monitoring for organic cotton production.

The initiative goes beyond detecting and classifying fields. It’s about predicting yield more accurately, developing risk assessment technology for certification, and preventing fraud at the very beginning. It also hopes to benefit small-scale farmers and their local communities that have the possibility to transition to organic cotton farming. And it all starts with data collected from space. Impressive, isn’t it?

The project holds huge potential for the world’s second largest country, where about 60 million people depend on cotton for their livelihoods. That’s almost the entire population of the UK!

First results are expected for the end of this year.

Amongst all the challengers, can Hong Kong become a sustainability hub?

As interest in sustainability ramps up, various players will stake a claim to be the foremost sustainability hub. A little bit like how Silicon Valley’s branding has helped it to continue to attract tech talent and investors. As some of these start-ups succeed, it further burnishes the reputation of the area and thus a virtuous circle is formed. It’s natural that countries will seek to emulate the model and sustainability is sufficiently nascent for there to be no early frontrunner. One major driver for countries to do this is that if the manufacturing can be co-located with innovative material breakthroughs then that means jobs.

The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA), which is government-funded, undertook some research that has allowed it to produce a sustainable regenerated fibre from bacterial cellulose. The cellulose is an unwanted by-product from the production of a fermented sweetened black tea made by Hong Kong drink maker Kuppa Kombucha. This technique is currently being scaled up from a lab-based approach to a pilot production line and should hopefully show greater energy and water efficiency than cotton production techniques.

It is this kind of innovation that leads Edwin Keh, CEO of HKRITA, to assert that Hong Kong can become a sustainable fashion, next-generation materials hub.

The textile recycling project of the future in the UK?

In the UK alone, over a million tons of used textiles are generated annually, and shamefully, a third of them end up in landfills, incinerated, or shipped-off for other countries to deal with.

The UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) is spearheading a groundbreaking project to tackle this mounting textile waste crisis, with a budget of £4 million from an assortment of industry investors. The project, called the Autosort for Circular Textiles Demonstrator (ACT UK), will develop and pilot an automated sorting and pre-processing system. Over two years, the project aims to transition from the inefficient and limiting manual sorting of textiles to a fully integrated, advanced technology that can sort non-rewearable textiles (NRT) and prepare them for recycling. By combining optical scanning, robotics, AI pre-processing, and size reduction equipment, ACT UK hopes to create a blueprint for the future of textile recycling. 

Supported by a long list of industry leaders, including IBM, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, and Pangaia, this project is predicted to divert thousands of tons of textiles from landfills annually and contribute to a sustainable circular economy.

Sustainability the focus at IFCO 2023

Are you ready for one of Europe’s biggest fashion fairs?

Istanbul Fashion Connection (IFCO) is getting ready for the highly-anticipated fourth edition of its annual fashion exhibition. The exhibition is set to take place from 9-11 August 2023 in Istanbul itself. There will be 400 exhibitors with top national and international brands such as İpekyol, Climber, Damat, Kiğılı, B&G Store, Lufian, Jakamen, NaraMaxx, Giovane Gentile, and Lee Cooper in attendance.

This year, sustainability is a designated focus, with companies presenting their latest innovations. Not only that, Ekoteks, the association’s sustainability laboratory, will present developments in sustainable production. 

As Turkey has a well-established textile manufacturing infrastructure, it will be revealing to learn about the pioneering innovations that the sustainability lab is cooking up, some of which will surely be taken advantage of by sustainable fashion brands in the future. As is to be expected, Hong Kong is not the only one vying to be sustainable fashion hub.

A UN sustainable fashion playbook for marketers

The UN is now targeting consumers. Indirectly, of course.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Climate Change-convened Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action have released “The Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook”. 

It talks about encouraging people to make better-informed purchases, to support ethical and eco-friendly brands, to shop secondhand, etc. While the contents aren’t all that novel, it does acknowledge that buyers have an equally important role to play if the fashion industry is going to try to adhere to the 1.5°C climate target.

Who is it for? Everyday folk are the real focus, but the document also acts as a messaging guide for brands, the media, and any fashion communicator or marketer.

A global campaign - covering social media, education -  to effectively market (and hopefully implement) the playbook is currently in the works.

It’s no longer just up to the brands to do the work. 

“They weren’t even sweating”

As the Earth gets warmer each year on average (backed by data as the warming stripes show), it should be no surprise that we might find the weather hot at certain points each year. The @extremetemps Twitter account even keeps us updated on each heatwave as they happen. Such hot weather naturally makes people sweat, as does hard work. But if people aren’t sweating, does that mean they are not working hard enough (or that they’re not being exploited or that there’s no global warming)?

We ask because the “They weren’t even sweating” quote that titles this story was uttered by an influencer when visiting a Shein factory on a tour paid for by Shein (i.e. a PR trip). The influencers all gave rather simplistic (and needless to say, positive) interpretations of working conditions at the factory they visited. The backlash from social media users was such that some of the influencers deleted their videos. It seems that the stunt has backfired for Shein with most media outlets seeing through the puff PR.

It might not seem obvious but the implication of the quote was supposedly that this proved the workers weren’t operating under sweatshop labour conditions. The identity of the influencer here is irrelevant (we don’t like social media pile-ons so none of that please!) but what’s worth stating is that we really can’t expect influencers to act as supply chain auditors! 

This is a dedicated role that requires a combination of training and experience; it is consequently held by those that work for companies that specialise in auditing. Depending on the results of audits, firms are able to display accreditations that prove compliance with certain standards (e.g. sustainability). Maybe the influencer videos did enough to convince a sizeable part of the general public to convert to customers; hopefully the backlash convinces Shein to not try this tactic again.

So that was June. We hope that was enlightening and a little uplifting. We’ll be back in July - with another selection of the month’s key sustainable fashion moments.

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