Increasing the Textile Lifecycle for a Better Environment

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 317 , Published on 01 June 2016

You must have heard it a million times “Save planet” or “Protect environment”. These phrases have been overused so many times and in so many contexts that instead of doing something about it, we now have become immune to these words. But the conditions are only worsening, the environment is still not protected, planet earth is still not saved. Because, it never needed saving. Planet earth has been there million years before us and will remain there million years after we have perished. The only thing in danger here are us humans. We are the vulnerable ones who require this feeble balance of atmosphere to survive. Which can be easily disrupted.

And yet, we are not cautious. Look at the amount of waste we generate in covering our bodies. Every year we consume and dispose 1.1 million tons of clothes. And for manufacturing per kg of textile the direct carbon footprint of is 12.5 kg. For a simple cotton shirt petrol consumed is 1.9 litre, and an astounding 2650 litre of water is used. Recently Prime Minister of India dispatched water to Latur by train to tackle the water paucity in the region. There is an acute nationwide water shortage and people are not getting enough drinking water. And still we Indians being the manufacturing hub of textiles spend 2650 litres on every single cotton shirt produced.

Image: pixabay

These are only the wastage part of textile manufacturing, the pollution to the environment is cherry on the top. The waste associated with dying, washing, bleaching cannot be treated economically and hence is discharged directly into water bodies. We manufacture clothes far more than what is our requirement. Most of the clothing are underutilised, we discard them discarded because of change in fashion trends or to make space in the wardrobe (which got cluttered due to excessive buying). Of the clothes we buy 31% ends in landfills and 7% in incinerated. Think of all this when you buy new clothes just to change in your wardrobe. Just because you can buy it doesn’t mean you can afford the environmental costs.

Circular economy could be a practical solution to the planet's emerging resource problems. Clothing and textiles are nearly 100% recyclable. So if we incorporate circular economy principles in textile industry, we can wipe out all these environmental costs. It is not just recycling, but it’s much different. Recycling in energy intensive process and generally downgrades the quality of materials creating a constant need of virgin materials. Circular economy is rather keeping the resources inside the economic system thereby creating no waste. Alas the efforts done in this regard are very less and mostly limited to recycling.

There are many examples of projects which are trying to reduce textile consumption either by promoting textile usage to its full potential or by reusing the discarded clothing. There is GOONJ project for example working in New Delhi which collects unused donated clothes and provides them to the needy. This essentially ensures the usage of clothes to its full extent. Also, there are industries like Dharam Pal Woolen Industries in Panipat who collect various kinds of discarded clothing from western countries. They shred these clothes and extract fibres from them. Thus a wool like material is obtained which can be used to make rugs, shawls and other products. These recycled products are then exported to African countries where there is a huge demand for them. This is not very efficient circular economy wise but still it reduces load off environment.

Companies like US Clothing India Pvt. Ltd, Kandla, Gujrat follow a different approach. This company imports clothes from foreign countries, sorts them into various grades based on their quality, and then exports them to African countries to be sold again at cheaper prices. This has become a very profitable business and as a by-product does two good things. One is to provide good quality clothing for deprived people at affordable prices and the other is that it reduces need of manufacturing new textiles for that market.

A different breed of textile recycling business is the one where they take industrial textile manufacturing waste and convert them into useful products. There are various clusters of small artisans in Bijnor and MP are who perform this activity. They manufacture various items like Chords, ropes, rugs, diaries, prayer mats from these industrial wastes.

There are factories in Agra and adjacent areas which manufacture handmade papers from cotton textile wastes. These papers are premium products, you can see them in expensive greeting cards and decorations. However, these small business are declining due to excessive competition from Chinese manufacturers which possess superior manufacturing technology.

The industries discussed so far are working to soften the blow of a bigger problem. The textile wastage which we do is the main issue. It is our unreasonable shopping habits which compel the manufacturers to produce more textiles.

There are many reasons to buy new clothes, trying a new fashion in market, going to a friend’s wedding, a good deal on Myntra, or for getting out of a breakup. Reasons may vary, but ask yourself, how many clothes are there in your closet which you haven’t worn in a while. In that clutter, how many clothes are there which you are wore only once and then hid because you didn’t like it. For every occasion we have buy a new cloth, social norms dictate not to wear same apparel at two events. We desire expensive branded apparels and hide them in closets for either being out of fashion or because we buy a new item to replace them.

There is a need to change the way we buy clothes. A solution is needed to satisfy our need for variety of clothing, big brands and social approval, with minimum textile production. A library like model can satisfy this need. A System where clothes are issues like books and returned after use. This will ensure maximum variety of clothing with most premium brands to the user. With the scale such a service will be able to reduce cost and effectively reuse the fabric at the end of their lifecycle. Such a model might be able to pull off this circular economy theory in the realm of textile. Believe it or not, there are a lot of companies both nationally and internationally working on this exact same idea. Well not exactly but in a manner they have versions of this model. There is Rent the Runway, Le Tote, Gwynnie Bee etc. from US. There are Sonas, Kuyichi, G-Star Raw, Nudie Jeans, Mud Jeans etcc from Europe. And a lot more. In India we have Swishlist which provides expensive rental dresses for multiple occasions. For daily usage there is Flyrobe from Mumbai which provides branded clothes for college students on subscription basis. For a niche segment there is which provides madly expensive rarely used apparels at half of their price for buying. There is also a section of celebrity owned items where you can find apparels from Aliya Bhat to Jackie Bhagnani. These are the new disruptors in the clothing industry. An evolved model of these might be what we need for saving the environment.

As the mind-set of consumer changes, these models will replace the present clothing system while promoting clean & safe air, water and environment. Meeting the need of consumer to be stylish and human to live in a healthy environment.

This article has been authored by Nitish Tripathi from IIM Kashipur 


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