As buzzy as sustainability may seem today, the term still conjures up (for the most part) images of grass-fed beef, off-the-grid yurts, and thick-buckled Birkenstocks. Small wonder, then, that fashion brands—those peddlers of dreams and artificers of cool—might be loathe to embrace something that might make them appear gauche by association. “Sustainability is a lot of things but it’s not seen as very stylish, especially with fashion,” Giusy Bettoni, CEO of C.L.A.S.S. (Creativity Lifestyle and Sustainable Synergy), an eco-textile consultancy based in Milan, told a rapt assembly at Council of Fashion Designers of America in New York City last week. “When I talk about sustainability, the value decreases by 50 percent.” We can blame the messaging for this—no self-respecting maison wants to come out smelling like patchouli, after all. “Communication hasn’t succeeded in delivering a clear message around sustainability and responsible innovation,” she added
THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE
Bettoni’s audience included several finalists from the CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative, among them Erin Isakov of Erin Snow, Britt Cosgrove and Marina Polo of apparel label Svilu, Christopher Kunz from Nicholas K, and Nepalese-American designer Prabal Gurung.
She stood ready with sample cards and fabric swatches. Textiles are not an abstract notion; they demand to be seen and touched.
As the group turned into a small petting zoo—”You have to feel it,” Gurung purred at one reporter—Bettoni explained that the problem with “sustainable fashion” is one that spans the supply chain. Suppliers largely remain uncertain about the commercial viability of sustainable materials. Compounding the issue, designers have trouble identifying and obtaining the premium fabrics they desire.
Then there’s us.
“The average consumer still believes ‘sustainable’ doesn’t equate with quality,” Bettoni said.
But if sustainability is poised to save the world, innovation has to first save sustainability.
“I’m not going to buy something just because it’s sustainable,” she said. “Emotion is the king; we cannot do fashion without fashion. Products have to be beautiful, inspire creativity, and perform. No sacrifice—just something more and better.”
It’s only recently that technology has begun to catch up with our values, Bettoni said.
Beyond organic cotton, linen, and—dare we say it—hemp, here are seven fabrics that she’s most excited about.
Processed using mechanical rather than chemical means, it requires 94 percent less water and 60 percent less energy, while producing 32 percent fewer carbon emissions than virgin polyester.
“The outcome is amazing,” Bettoni said. “Recycled polyester is often considered very cheap, but it’s important not to talk about only the process but also the outcome.”
Livia Firth, creative director of Eco-Age and co-founder of the Green Carpet Challenge was one of Newlife’s early champions. She accompanied her husband, the Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth, to the 69th Golden Globe Awards in a bespoke gown that Giorgio Armani from the textile.
In 2015, Firth donned an Antonio Berardi gown, composed of Newlife, to the Metropolitan of Art’s Costume Institute Gala.
That striking trench coat above is by Weekend Max Mara, which used Newlife in its Spring/Summer 2014 collection.
“Creativity,” quoth Bettoni, “is about blending.” Bacx, manufactured in Italy by Centro Seta, is a line of fully traceable, “next generation” fabrics that includes a Global Organic Textile Standard–certified silk, a blended silk textile that incorporates Newlife fibers, and “GreenFiber,” a “new” silk yarn regenerated from spinning waste.
“It is important for a designer to understand how easy it is to incorporate sustainable materials and methods into a collection,” Canadian designer Erdem Moralioglu opined at the line’s London Fashion Week launch. “I enjoyed the process.”
Recovered from cotton linter (the ultrafine, silky fibers that stick to the seeds of the cotton plant after it’s been ginned), cupro by Japan’s Asahi Kasei handles like rayon but breathes and regulates body temperature like cotton.
It’s often used as a silk substitute because of its “coolness, moisture absorbency and release comfort functionality,” Bettoni said.
Derived from upcycled wool and cashmere manufacturing offcuts, Re.Verso is the fruit of a collaborative “textile platform” midwifed by C.L.A.S.S. and established by a group of three Italian mills: Green Line, which sources waste yarn across Italy and selected European countries; Nuova Fratelli Boretti, which prepares the material for spinning; and Lanificio Stelloni, which converts the fiber into yarn and knitted and woven fabrics.
A third-party-conducted life-cycle assessment estimates that Re.Verso uses 89 percent less water, requires 76 percent less energy, and generates 96 percent fewer carbon emissions that its conventional counterparts.
Also by Asahi Kasei, Roica is a premium stretch fiber composed up to 50 percent reclaimed pre-industrial waste. It can be adapted to a host of applications, including sportswear, lingerie and underwear, and outerwear.
“We need stretch in fashion,” Bettoni quipped. “And it’s the first stretch yarn that is sustainable.”
At Première Vision, a textile trade show that took place in Paris last month’s, Wacoal Group’s Huit lingerie brand introduced a line of undergarments produced from Deep by Ripa, a new textile that incorporates yarns from Roica’s Bluesign-approved “Colour Perfect” family.
Asahi Kasei is also reportedly working with Marks & Spencer to create a high-impact sports bra made with Roica.
SMART MATERIALS BY OKINAWA
For Spring/Summer 2017, Smart Materials by Okinawa introduced five specialty products, all made in Italy: “Jacroki,” a “very versatile material almost totally of vegetable origin”; “Washoki,” a washable leather; “Hydroki,” a vegetable-dyed leather that is currently the only leather in the world to be Class 1 Oeko-Tex 100–certified; “Microki,” a high-performing vegan leather; and “Denim Leather,” which imbues leather with a faded jeans look.
Italian designer Elena Mistraro has used the paper-like Jacroki for some of her origami textile creations, as pictured above.
Ecotec, made in Italy by Marchi & Fildi, is the first—and so far only—cotton that uses a traceable and Oeko-Tex– and Global Recycle Standard–certified manufacturing process to turn 100 percent pre-dyed, pre-consumer recycled cotton scraps into yarn.
Because it uses existing resources, not to mention reduces landfill waste, a third-party-conducted life-cycle assessment estimates that Ecotec consumes up to 56.6 percent less energy, uses 77.9 percent less water, and generates 56.4 percent fewer greenhouse gases than comparable yarns.
Bettoni describes Ecotec as a high-performance and versatile yarn that can be used to produce everything from knitwear to hosiery.
“We are talking to retailers about reusing their own scraps,” she said.