Here is a quote that I stumbled across when reading the news earlier this month. It is part of the column “pointed pen”, published in the “Salzburger Nachrichten” on 2nd May 2016.
“A breakfast with conscience”:
“Conversation between two friends at the breakfast table: “Are these free-range eggs?” -“Yes, they are.” “And what about the bread, is it biological?” – One nods in approval. “And what about the sausage? Did you buy it at the farmer’s market?” – One swallows. The one has to swallow both the sausage and the remaining question, where the 4€-jacket of the other friend comes from.”
About two weeks ago, I attended a fair on “cirkulära textilflöden, utmaningar och möjligheter” at the Waterfront Conference Center. As the title suggests, the talks were held in Swedish. I am not sure if I got everything right, yet I revitalized some motivations that drive my passion for conducting research in the area of sustainable fashion on the one hand and to find support for my decision to critically reflect on my consumption behavior on the other hand.
The room was crowded and I was amazed by the vast interest in the subject. The talks were formulated around the idea of positive long-term effects of circular economy models, rather than linear economy models and technical revolutions for reusing the fibers in the production process.
The Swedish Fashion Council interprets circular economy and linear economy models in the fashion industry as shown on the photo:
Paper is patient and the question remains how the circular idea can be scaled up, or in other words how to formulate a profitable business model around this. I think that one of the key issues in this context situates in the complexity of materials. While in the linear model, the assumption is that a mix of organic and technical materials is possible, the assumptions for the circular model, are different. Supposedly, in order to make a material circular, recyclable respectively, the material needs to be quite pure. Every button, every zip, and alike need to be separated from the fabric in order to make the fiber reusable. If the fabric comprises of mixed materials, to make it for instance softer, shinier or more stretchable, the fabric needs to be specially treated to make the fibers reusable, recyclable respectively. All of these processes take up a lot of resources, such as manual work, energy, water, and so forth.
Anyhow, even though the circular idea seems to be expensive and difficult to achieve, I truly believe that it is certainly meaningful to continue working on these issues. In the long run, only the circular model makes sense. Because: One has to consider that about 2720 liters of water are needed to produce a single t-shirt. That is about how much we normally drink over a 3-year period of time. Furthermore, the average Swede consumes textiles worth 75 t-shirts per year. Out of 13kg of textiles per person per year, 7,5kg are simply divested, 3kg are kept in the wardrobe and 2,5kg are passed to charity or second hand.
It seems to be a classic chicken-or-egg problem. Is it a problem of consumption or a problem of production? Personally, I have decided to think of it of a problem that is driven by both. Every participant has to take their share of responsibility to cure fundamental social and environmental problems in the fashion system.
Written by: Tina Sendlhofer, PhD student at Misum