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Sustainable Design - Young Professionals Workshop - Part 1

The design process in the textile industry has traditionally been focused on creating fashionable and trendy clothing and accessories with little consideration for the environmental impact of the materials and manufacturing methods used. However, there is growing awareness of the need to make the textile industry more sustainable in order to protect the environment and conserve resources for future generations.

At our Sympathy Lab workshops at ISPO Munich 2022, industry experts and young professionals got together to converse, discuss, and learn from each other. The young participants worked on identifying issues with the current design process and finding innovative and creative solutions to be recorded in a charter to their industry. 

The Problem with the Current Design Process

The textile industry is responsible for around 10% of global carbon emissions, and it is the second-largest industrial polluter of freshwater resources.

It is estimated that over 60 million tons of textile waste is generated globally each year, and only a small percentage of this is recycled or repurposed, as well as that around 20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile dying and treatment.

Especially performance apparel, such as outdoor clothing designed to keep people warm and be waterproof, poses additional challenges for sustainable textile production. These types of clothing often rely on synthetic materials, such as polyester, that are made from non-renewable resources and can take decades to break down in the environment. Additionally, the waterproofing and insulation treatments used on these garments can contain harmful chemicals that can leach into the environment.

Pesticides and fertilizers used to grow conventional cotton and other crops can have negative impacts on human health and the environment. Many textile dyes and pigments contain heavy metals and other harmful chemicals that can leach into water sources and harm aquatic life. Formaldehyde, Phthalates and perfluorinated compounds and are used to give function to clothes, like being flame-resistant, flexible and durable, waterproof and stain-resistant. These chemicals can not only be harmful to the environment but also human health.

The Power of Circularity & Using Sustainable Materials

One way to make the textile industry more sustainable is to focus on using natural and renewable materials, such as organic cotton, bamboo, and hemp, which are grown without the use of harmful pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Additionally, using low-impact dyes and printing methods can also reduce the environmental impact of textile production. Organic cotton, for example, is grown without the use of harmful pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and it can reduce the environmental impact of textile production by up to 91% compared to conventional cotton.

Another important aspect of sustainable textile design is to consider the entire lifecycle of a product, from the sourcing of raw materials to the disposal of the final product. This includes reducing waste and pollution during the manufacturing process, and designing products that are easy to repair, recycle, or compost at the end of their useful life.

On top of this, designers should consider reducing the carbon footprint of textile production, by looking at the distance materials have to travel, and the energy used in production and transportation.

It's worth noting that sustainable performance apparel may come at a higher cost, but more and more consumers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products. And, in the long run, investing in sustainable production can also be beneficial for companies as it can increase brand loyalty and customer satisfaction.

What Designers Can Do

Designers play a crucial role in creating more sustainable products, as they are responsible for determining the materials, colors, and patterns used in a product, as well as its overall design.

1: Research and Development

By researching sustainable materials and considering the entire product lifecycle designers can incorporate circular design principles: These focus on designing products that can be easily disassembled and repurposed, reducing waste and extending the life of a product.

2: Communication and Collaboration

Designers can also collaborate with other industry professionals and organizations, such as textile scientists, sustainability experts, non-profits, and conversational platforms like the Sympathy Lab to learn more about sustainable textile production, keep each other updated on the latest sustainable practices, and develop new solutions together.

3: Create an efficiently sustainable process

Designers and product developers can not only create sustainable products, but also help drive an efficient, circular and environmentally friendly manufacturing process. By moving the production process closer to where products are ultimately sold, companies can reduce transportation emissions and lower transportation costs.

4: Education

Educating the public about the challenges facing the industry and building public support through transparency and credibility will create lasting and growing awareness. Achieving change on a larger scale, such as convincing higher-ups and politicians, and innovating at a faster pace will be easier with public support.

Making the textile industry more sustainable requires a holistic approach that takes into account the entire lifecycle of a product, from sourcing raw materials to disposal. By using natural and renewable materials, implementing low-impact manufacturing methods, and prioritizing fair labor practices, the textile industry can move towards a more sustainable future.


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