by John Bertolaso, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Materra
Has fashion gone out of control?
It’s safe to say that our relationship with the material world has gone out of whack. As a matter of fact, today is Earth Overshoot Day, which means that our demand for ecological resources and services in 2021 is 1.7 times what Earth can sustainably provide. This is worrying because the population is increasing, and so is our reliance on resources.
The fashion industry is certainly amongst the biggest culprits. It’s estimated that we produce garments in the tens of billions every year, which of course has a tremendous impact on both people and the planet.
We’ve entered the decade in which we need to reinvent materials, design, usage and end-of-life to not only reduce our carbon emissions, but also protect our natural resources and nurture biodiversity as well as everyone involved in the supply chain. Brands, with the support of innovators, have a huge role to play in the shift from a linear extractive model to one that can support and regenerate nature. As the climate emergency intensifies (have you seen the weather recently?!?), Fashion is now at a turning point, and there are promising signals showing that the industry has begun to undergo a radical transformation.
The elephant in the room
Often overlooked in favour of more seductive interventions, addressing overconsumption is an essential step in drastically reducing our GHG emissions, resource depletion and ecosystem destruction while also fighting workforce exploitation.
Now consider this: Not buying that cool ‘sustainable’ t-shirt is more sustainable than buying it, and your most sustainable outfit is probably the one you already own.
We need LESS: We need to redefine fashion business models as well as consumer behaviour to ensure that we produce and consume less clothes, and that we make them live longer. Part of that paradigm shift requires brands and people to start paying a price that truly reflects the social and environmental cost of the garments.
And we need BETTER: As the global population grows, we need to offer circular materials, technologies and business solutions to meet a booming demand; solutions that can not only safely address our most basic needs but also sustainably fulfil our desires to self-actualise and express our identities through fashion.
At Materra, we have made it our mission to accelerate the transition to a net-positive fashion industry. We’re starting with the building blocks of our garments: higher quality and more sustainable raw materials. So what do we mean by net-positive fashion?
A net-positive fashion industry is an industry that gives back more than it takes, that uses better materials which nurture ecosystems rather than depleting them, and that designs better products with zero waste in mind. It’s an industry that also promotes better working conditions for all stakeholders, and that provides visibility throughout its supply chains.
So let’s take a closer look at how it works for us in practice.
- At an environmental level, we’re talking about using much less resources and much less land, bringing productivity back to desertifying areas, and partnering with other initiatives to rebuild biodiversity. In addition, we work in closed-loop environments and use no toxic pesticides to prevent farmer and ecosystem damage.
- At farm level, we’re working on reliably providing increased yields of quality fibre that ensure stable incomes. Ultimately, our technology is enabling more resilient farming approaches that future-proof production in the face of climate change.
- At a garment manufacturing level, we are empowering mills and fashion brands to better understand their impact from the raw materials they use. Net-positive also requires addressing the impact of textile processing practices, but that’s a whole other can of worms.
- At a fashion brand level, our materials enable better quality products with a minimal footprint, and products that are traceable to the source to better reflect the true cost of production.
- Finally, at a consumer level, better products with a genuine story promote emotional durability and help consumers understand the need to invest in net-positive products.
Attacking the problem from all sides
When it comes to transforming the fashion industry (and doing it fast), we are fervent believers that there are no silver bullets out there. A successful transition to net-positive requires collaboration between stakeholders, experimentation with innovators, and solid support from industry and governments. Indeed, wicked problems can’t be solved in isolation.
There’s no waiting around for the industry to change. At Materra, our holistic yet contextual approach enables both climate change mitigation and adaptation. We look at being resource-efficient and minimizing damage to the environment, but also fighting the growing inequalities in the industry (exacerbated by climate change).
And because you can’t improve what you can’t measure, data is at the core of our development. We believe it is time to go beyond the labels and to take on a metric-driven approach to assessing impact. With trusted farm-level data, we can not only grow better cotton, but assure the environmental footprint of our fibre in a contextual manner. In the production of Materra cotton fibre, we track all resources coming in and out of our system, thereby bridging the information gap that exists in raw material production (tier 4).
- Paradigm shift in how business is done today to promote circularity and transparency, by paying the true cost (social and environmental) of our garments. 💸
- Materials and designs that are made to last forever or made to be transformed forever. 🔄
- Collective action to rapidly reduce our reliance on natural resources by buying less, buying better and investing in the solutions of tomorrow. 🤝
The fashion industry can act as a catalyst for human creativity and expression. With global supply chains involving millions, it has the power and responsibility to positively address inequity and the climate crisis. It is time for fashion to enter a new chapter.