Cradle to cradle – the future of sustainable fashion?

[Ad: This blog post is a collaboration with Wolford]

I recently got asked the question what the future of sustainable fashion is and it got me thinking. Trends I’ve noticed are innovative materials like vegan apple leather or improved finish of cork leather. Sustainable fashion labels are also shifting away from synthetic fibres such as Polyester since the polarisation of plastic in media. However, I’ve been reading more and more about the shift away from a linear economy to a circular one. A circular economy is aiming to:

  • Design out waste and pollution
  • Keep products and materials in use
  • Regenerate natural systems

(Ellen MacArthur Foundation)

Imagine: an economy where products manufactured do not end up in a landfill along with 2.12 billion tons of waste globally. A circular economy is not utopia anymore. In January 2018, the EU adopted measures such as making all plastic packaging recyclable by 2030 as well as a monitoring framework to achieve a circular economy. The UN has been aware of the benefits of a circular economy and has been working towards it through a variety of their programs such as UN Environment. Fashion is a huge industry with major impacts on the environment. This has been recognised by the UN Environment as well which lead to the announcement that they will launch the UN Alliance on Sustainable Fashion to encourage the private sector, governments and non-governmental organizations to create an industry-wide push for action to reduce fashion’s negative environmental impact and turn it into a driver for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
So, how can fashion be more sustainable and how is it possible to apply the circular economy approach to the fashion industry?  The answer: Cradle to Cradle.

Wolford has been manufacturing bodywear, lingerie and legwear since 1950 and is known for their stockings and tights that last a lifetime. Now, they’ve decided to make their products and brand more sustainable and become pioneers while doing so. They’ve created the Cradle to Cradle ® system for over 4 years where each product design is developed with the intention to bring the ingredients back to the cycle. After the life cycle of a product comes to an end, Wolford returns it to an industrial composting station and those smart ingredients will close the loop and begin a new life as nutrients for our planet, such as humus and bio gas. This ensures that the garments of the Cradle to Cradle ® collection don’t end up in a landfill – as long as the consumers return them to a Wolford store where they get a 10% discount on the next Cradle to Cradle collection.

I have been testing their newest Aurora collection which is made up of the fibres Modal, a biodegradable polymer called infinito by Lauffenmühle and ROICA which is a fibre that degrades without releasing harmful substances. All of these components comply with safe standards for biological cycles so that the collection could receive the Cradle to Cradle certification by EPEA Switzerland which is a third party authority. This differentiates the Wolford Cradle to Cradle collection from recycling programs by e.g. H&M where they put up garment recycling boxes in their store without having the technology and ability to actually recycle the clothing pieces. The Wolford Cradle to Cradle pieces are designed and engineered to fulfil specific requirements in order to turn them into nutrients.

Wearing the Aurora Leggings and Aurora Pullover

Wearing the Aurora Leggings and Aurora turtleneck top (available from the 15th of February)

“We are working to change our economic and production system for generations to come, not to build up a nice façade. ” – Andreas Röhrich (Director Product Development & Textile Sourcing)

Wearing the Aurora tank top (available from the 15th of February)

Transparency is key in order to distinguish green washing from true sustainable fashion. If you are curious about Wolford’s Cradle to Cradle collection and want to know more about it, feel free to read the Q&A with Andreas Röhrich (Director Product Development & Textile Sourcing) answering questions on details of their new sustainable system:

How long does the degradation processes take? Meaning how long does it take to the product to disappear and become a nutrient ? 

We are still running tests, at the moment it takes roughly 12 months but we are working to reduce the time to make it economically feasible. Signals show we are on track. This is revolutionary. 

Is any external, additional energy necessary for the biological cycle? 

The Cradle to Cradle® Principles consist of 3 elements. 1 waste=food, 2 use solar income, 3 diversity. For the biological cycles no additional energy will be necessary. 

Where is the recycling / composting process going to take place? 

The locations will be in Europe, but global integrated systems will be developed within the circular economy concept.

Can I compost the product myself/in my garden? 

Not really, as the polymers demand a industrial composting system with > 60º C. A normal garden compost heap at home reaches only approximately 40º C 

Will the different components end as topsoil? 

The raw materials, chemicals and dyes have been designed to be safe for biological cycles. Soil erosion is terrifying and threatens our fundamentals for living. We need to support biological systems with biodegradable industrial products. 

How long is the products expected to last? 

We will not compromise on durability, a pair of Wolford`s tights can last on average forever, we are aiming for the same time frame, with the exception that when disposed it will not be harmful. 

Will the design be affected in any way because of the material? 

Not by the raw material characteristics per se, rethinking the way we design and produce is at the very core of the circular economy. We are redesigning our products so we can guarantee that they will never create excessive waste or pollution, but will maintain the raw material values over multiple lifecycles. 

What happens to the garments when you return them in the store? 

We will make sure to return it to the right facility able to process them, either into a biological or technical cycle. 

Find out more about Wolford’s Cradle to Cradle collection here.

Ad: This blog post is a collaboration with Wolford

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