‘The fashion industry is not an ethical one’

| Jennifer Cutinha

Sustainable clothing was the topic of the latest event of the ‘sustainability series’, hosted by DesignLab and the student association Sustain yesterday evening. ‘While you think you buy something sustainable, you’re not actually.’

Only one percent of used clothes can be recycled to products of the same value, said one of the speakers, Jurrie Barkel. He is founder of an online retail trade company called The Textile Factory and course manager for Fashion and Textile Technologies at Saxion. According to him, 75 percent of used clothing ends up in landfills. ‘The majority of the remaining is being subjected to cascaded recycling. For instance, a pair of jeans to be recycled will not end up being another pair of jeans but will be used as insulation material in the automotive industry.’

Hemp over polyester and bamboo

The second speaker was Eric de Groot. Coming from an athletic background, he co-founded the sports clothing brand Iron Roots, because he noticed a lot of odour issues associated with polyester sport clothing. That’s why he chose cellulose or natural materials over polyester. ‘Hemp for example. Its natural antibacterial properties make it suitable for creating sports clothing. Additionally, it uses much less water than another natural material like cotton, you need a lot less land for the production, and it can be used for other purposes.’

To De Groot, using hemp is much better than using bamboo for instance. ’The softening of bamboo to make clothing is a very chemical inducive process since it is naturally a hard plant. So, while you think you buy something sustainable, you’re not actually.’

Ethics and sustainability

When we talk about sustainability, ethics also comes into play and this can have many sides, said Barkel. ‘For instance, if we were to reduce the amount of clothing that we would buy, it could also mean that people on the other side of the world won’t have jobs anymore.’

‘The fashion industry is not an ethical one,’ he adds. ‘These companies are based on economies of scale where you have to produce in bulk in order to reduce the overall production costs. If it would be an ethical industry, it would be an industry that encourages people to not buy their products.’

De Groot adds: ‘All the big brands are listed on the stock exchange, which means shareholders are involved and they are generally only interested in profits. So, while companies may want to opt for a more sustainable route, they risk losing their profits and won’t be able to please their shareholders.’