Photo: Tierney Gearon
Even if you’ve committed to ensuring your wardrobe is as eco-friendly as possible, navigating the world of sustainability can be overwhelming, with new buzzwords and scientific jargon popping up all the time. But what do these terms actually mean, and why does it matter?
Being an informed customer means you can avoid greenwashing and ensure that brands you choose are actually taking the action needed to help save our planet and support the people making our clothes. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources out there to guide you, including The Sustainable Fashion Glossary, created by Condé Nast in partnership with the London College of Fashion’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF). “It is vital that we have clarity and understanding in fashion’s language to talk about the connected environmental, cultural and health crises of our times,” Professor Dilys Williams, director of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, tells Vogue. “What we [wear] should reflect what we stand up for and this glossary can help in making decisions about what awe-inspiring fashion really consists of.”
Want to know what transparency actually means, or the difference between biodegradable and compostable? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered — here are the essential terms you need to know for Earth Day (22 April) and beyond.
1. Carbon offsetting
Fashion needs to cut down its CO2 emissions and fast, with the industry responsible for between four to 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions every year. That’s why an increasing number of brands have started carbon offsetting: investing in projects that are focused on reducing emissions, such as forest restoration. However, carbon offsetting (which often takes place in developing countries) is by no means a perfect solution, and shouldn’t distract from the real need for companies to tackle their own carbon footprint directly.
Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that are increasingly polluting our planet, with synthetic clothing being a major culprit. In fact, estimates suggest that as much as 20 to 35 per cent of microplastics being released into our oceans come from textiles, posing a huge threat to the marine life that ingests them. Luckily, there are everyday things we can do to help tackle the issue, including avoiding synthetics where possible and using a microplastics filter, such as a Guppyfriend bag or a Cora Ball, when you do your laundry.
3. Natural fibres
Natural fibres — which come from plants or animals — are generally considered more sustainable than synthetics (which are derived from fossil fuels), and include cotton, linen and wool. But natural fibres still have varying degrees of impact, with organic cotton less harmful to the environment than conventional cotton and leather having a larger carbon footprint in comparison to polyester, for instance. While natural fibres themselves are biodegradable, the chemicals used to treat them in the manufacturing process may not be (see below).
4. Biodegradable materials
You’ve probably seen an increasing number of products branded as biodegradable, whether that’s the garments themselves or the packaging they come in. And while biodegradable materials do break down naturally via microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, there are no guarantees: conditions such as temperature and nutrients will affect biodegradability, as will dyes and washes used to treat materials. It’s also worth noting that biodegradable is different to compostable, with the latter usually requiring a managed process.
As customers become increasingly conscious about their purchases, greenwashing — when brands make false or misleading claims about their environmental policies — is also on the rise. This includes descriptions of products as being sustainable, just because they contain a small amount of recycled content. To avoid greenwashing, look for facts and figures that back up a brand’s claims, rather than taking them at face value.
As brands become more conscious of the impact of raw materials, upcycling has become a growing trend in the industry, with the likes of Balenciaga, Miu Miu and Marni all making use of pre-existing materials in recent seasons. Upcycling means turning discarded materials and products into items that have a higher value, whereas recycling usually means turning a discarded product into a like-for-like item.
Biodiversity is the variability of species on our planet and is crucially important — considering how connected our ecosystems are. A shocking one million species are now at risk of extinction, with the rate of biodiversity loss estimated to be happening at 1,000 times the natural rate. Considering the vast majority of materials used in fashion come from nature (whether that’s cotton grown in fields or viscose from trees), the industry is slowly waking up to its role in this, with both Kering and LVMH announcing new initiatives aimed at restoring biodiversity this year.
With an astonishing 100bn garments produced globally each year, overconsumption is a real problem. Put simply, we are getting through more garments than we actually need and making more clothes than our planet can take. In fact, it’s estimated that the number of times a garment is worn has decreased by 36 per cent within the past two decades, often ending up in landfill. That’s why the mantra ‘buy less and buy better’ is more important than ever.
Greater transparency from brands is required for us to know if they are following through on their sustainability commitments. This means companies disclosing information across entire supply chains, including social and environmental policies. While campaign group Fashion Revolution produces an annual Fashion Transparency Index, it’s important to remember that brands that are more transparent aren’t necessarily more sustainable.
10. Ethical trade
While the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ are sometimes used interchangeably, ethical trade refers specifically to the way the people across the fashion supply chain are treated — from those growing the raw materials to those working directly for a fashion company. For a brand to be operating ethically, workers’ rights — such as maximum working hours, health and safety, freedom of association and fair wages — must be adhered to.
Read Next: The Words and Their Definitions to Know When Talking Sustainability in Fashion
Originally published on Vogue.co.uk
Photo: Tierney Gearon
Denim is one of the most environmentally destructive fabrics to produce, from its massive thirst for water to the pollution left in its wake. Livia Firth speaks to Alberto Candiani, owner of Italian manufacturer Candiani Denim, to find out if there’s a different way to go blue
Photography: Carla Guler
The first time I met Alberto Candiani, the fourth- generation owner of the family-run Candiani Denim, I was completely struck by his passion, knowledge, scientific research, and deep need to know every single part of his denim’s supply chain. What I did not expect was to also meet a heavy metal DJ and that we would end up talking about how to plant a denim garden.”
LIVIA FIRTH: Alberto, I love the story of Candiani’s sustainability journey starting from a garden… or better, from a nature reserve.
ALBERTO CANDIANI: Yes! Candiani was born in 1938 in the little town of Robecchetto, where Parco del Ticino nature reserve was founded in the 70s. This meant that for every decision, they had strict rules and restrictions. That forced us to become efficient and sustainable, long before the word “sustainability” was widely used. If you talk to my dad, he would say that efficiency is the grammar of sustainability. And I agree, because if you are efficient, it means you’re also sustainable, or at least that you have that type of proposition. As a consequence of that, we also had to become pure innovators.
LF: What has been the driving force behind your innovation, research, and development? Was it always about becoming more sustainable and more environmentally friendly, or were you also driven by design?
AC: We were driven by a vision, for sure. Innovation goes into the ingredients and the process. You want to use less water, less chemicals, less energy, and you don’t want to compromise the quality of what you do. And in order to do so, you have to invest in new technologies, you need to invest in the people, you have to have ideas, and you have to make those things real. We are driven by a need for improvement.
The Candiani Dyeing Department
LF: Tell me about the two technologies that you are the proudest of in terms of sustainability
AC: Number one is Coreva, our bio-stretch technology, which is the only bio-based and biodegradable stretch technology available in the market. We are basically replacing common synthetic elastomers with a plant-based elastomer. The circular idea is to use that fabric or that garment at the end of its lifecycle to bio-fertilize the cotton that it’s made of again. This is full circularity, which five years ago I was told by a scientific committee was not possible. And now it’s possible, it’s demonstrated, and it is scalable. We launched it in 2019 with selected R&D partners like Denham and Stella McCartney, and in January 2021 we’ll scale the production. Another technology I’m proud of is Kitotex, which we licenced exclusively for the denim world. It utilizes chitosan, which is a bio-based and biodegradable polymer, to replace the liquid plastic normally applied on the yarns in order to weave them when you create the fabric. So Candiani is going plastic free. I’m giving up on even recycled plastic right now. No nylons – they’re just not needed for what we do. I’m also looking more into microplastics and liquid plastics, which are just as bad. We are cleaning up both the process and product to become plastic and micro-plastic free.
The Denham x Candiani Collaboration Makes Use Of Coreva Bio-Stretch Technology
LF: So, in a few years’ time, you could literally fertilize a field of denim with all the old denim that has been produced in this way?
AC: This is the idea. This is why Coreva is so important. It is revolutionary. We’ve even bio-fertilized fields of cotton with our scraps.
LF: You not only know exactly where your cotton comes from, but you have strong opinions about organic cotton versus non-organic, and you look into the supply chain very carefully. Why is that so important?
AC: I like to go and visit those fields that I get the cotton from myself and I like to have a direct relationship with the farmers. I care about the quality, the provenance, how it’s made, how it’s grown. Cotton is a very intensive plant to grow, but it’s been demonized too much lately. It is water consuming, true, but more than 65% of cotton grows because it rains. Sometimes it grows in specific areas of the world where you cannot plant other stuff, and it becomes a fundamental crop for the local agricultural rotation.
LF: You supply denim to lots of different brands. But lately you have decided to explore another business model: producing Candiani’s own custom-made brand of jeans. What’s the idea behind this?
AC: Our store in Milan is going to be a made-to-measure store with wide customization opportunities. The idea is to satisfy a question I’ve been asked so many times: Where do I buy the perfect pair of jeans? When you come here, we take your measurements, and we produce your perfect pair of jeans in only four hours. We will tell you about the Italian origins of denim, which not many know – it was invented 500 years ago in the city of Genoa.
LF: Will you also put a little DJ booth in the new store? Because I know you’re passionate about music…
AC: It’s pretty much gone now! With two kids and one coming… But when I find time to write some music or to produce it, I still go to the studio and I’m still loving it, even though the DJ career is over, and my band is over.
LF: But this is what we can do in the new store! You get to go for a dance with your perfect pair of jeans.
AC: I like the idea. Apart from the fact that you may not like my music, Livia… It’s quite heavy metal.
LF: Oh no! OK, forget about the last part of us dancing then…
Photographs Carla Guler
Read Next: 12 Clever Ways to Wear Denim Now, According to the Street Style Set
Originally published in the December 2020 Issue of Vogue Arabia