The fashion industry is world's second polluter and cause of many horrible working conditions. The problem with polluting fashion lies with traditional producers that have legacy systems and old ways of working. Change is expensive and therefore sustainability comes with a price. Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious and demand social and sustainable fashion. But while becoming aware they do not want to pay anything extra for it.
Challenges in a Traditional Supply Chain
The traditional apparel manufacturing process is long and complex and faces many sustainability issues along the supply chain. We have visualised the traditional approach below. In visualisation we show the supply chain of a cotton seed to a t-shirt as an example.
Extensive water use of cotton
Cotton should not consume that much water, but in most cotton producing countries the water use is very inefficient and the water that is used is highly polluted. Take for example India, where 50% of all pesticides are being used only for cotton. Lack of knowledge and expertise and wrong economic incentives make cotton one of the most polluting crops in the world.
Logistics in the traditional supply chain are inefficient
The fashion industry has a footprint of almost 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gasses annually. Estimates say that this will rise 60 percent in the next decade. Production hubs in Asia will further increase the footprint. More than 60 per cent of fabrics are used in the clothing industry and a large proportion of clothing manufacturing occurs in Asia, countries which rely on coal-fuelled power plants, increasing the footprint of each garment.
Synthetic fibres result in high CO2 emissions
Next to cotton, polyester is most commonly used for fabrics and their production has a large impact on the environment. The production of synthetic fibres is resulting is high emissions since it is produced from fossil fuels like oil. According to estimates almost 250 percent more CO2 is emitted to produce a synthetic t-shirt. Next to that, synthetic fibers are not biodegradable and lasts more than hundreds of years to decompose.
The enormous waste is a major problem in fashion
Even if we make the fashion industry more sustainable, there is one problem that rules them all; waste. Estimated are that the US delivers an estimated 12.7 million tons of textile waste to landfills a year; China even more, close to 26 million ton per year. Low margins and fast fashion is resulting in massive overproduction and liquidation of overstock.
Water and chemicals of dyeing pollute nature
Dyeing of fabrics is one of the most polluting steps in the fashion supply chain. The world bank estimates that at least 20% of water pollution comes from textile dyeing. The chemical used in dyeing are often not recycled and dumped in the water without any treatment. This is leading to big dead zones in rivers and river deltas. Besides that it is harmful for the environment, millions of people that rely on river water and life are affected by the pollution of the fashion industry.
Re-desiging the supply chain.
The fashion industry is changing fast and in many areas innovations are taking place rapidly. We believe in seeing the bigger picture of the problem. We believe that only a holistic approach, a redesign of the system can impact the fashion in a positive and sustainable matter.
Organic cotton and other innovative fabrics
We will start at the source by using organic cotton that is sourced locally. Organic cotton drastically reduces the pesticides being used and with that it reduces the negative impact on water pollution. We work together with local farmers to create jobs, fair prices and a secure working environment.
Closed value chain
We want to create a closed value chain, from seed to garment, all locally. Not only to reduce the transportation costs and footprint but also to increase economic welfare in local communities. By creating a closed value chain system we can enable reliable partnerships for the long term. If local communities have long term economic security we can, together, invest in production technologies that will reduce that footprint drastically.
Dual use of natural fibres
Besides organic cotton there are more sustainable natural fibers that use less pesticides, water and are biodegradable. Plants like bamboo or hemp grow fast and need less pesticides and water.
The traditional fast fashion supply chain creates a lot of waste. Traditional manufacturers can only get margins off high order quantities and have long lead times and that leads to overstock and liquidation. This negative spiral leads to more waste. We want to turn it around and make fashion more customisable for the customer. We help fashion brands with very low order quantities and quick lead times. If the customer like it we’ll produce more and if the customers don’t we can easily stop production or adjust the garments. In this way we aim to have zero waste. A win-win for customers, fashion brands, producers and ultimately the environment.
Natural dying and digital printing
We aim to use natural and organic dyes for our fabrics that do not use much water or pollute water. With digital printing technologies we can even skip most of the polluting dying process while making our production more efficient. Traditional dying is not only polluting, it also costs a lot of time. With digital printing technologies we can drastically increase the lead times for our customers while reducing the environmental footprint.
While designers traditionally are the starting point, we will treat them as the end point as well. Circular starts at design and ends (or ultimately, never ends) at the design. Because all our garments are traceable until the very last seed we can track the materials in each garment. This makes it easy for the upcycling of materials into new fabrics or garments.
At Labl every piece of clothing is 100% traceable
Radical transparency that leads to a more social and sustainable fashion industry
By connecting the supply chain and adding a QR code in the label in your fashion garment we make the end-2-end supply chain of your fashion fully visible. You can see who made your clothes, which farm produced the cotton and which spinner produced the garment. Besides just checking the ‘sustainable’ certificates you are more than welcome in our facilities and be part of our community.