By Jasmin Malik Chua
Who says fashion can’t change the world? At Ecouterre, we believe that clothing, like any good product design, can be accomplished in a better, smarter, more socially and environmentally sustainable way, and look amazing to boot. Here, we’ve rustled up seven cutting-edge, eco-savvy design innovations that are rocking the runways and shifting an entire industry. (Pictured above is Wearable Technology.)
1. Zero Waste
Roughly 15 percent of the fabric used to create a garment winds up on the cutting-room floor only to be consigned to the landfill or, if it’s lucky, reincarnated as mattress or couch stuffing. The burgeoning zero-waste design movement, spearheaded by such sustainable designers as Mark Liu and Caroline Priebe of Uluru, revolves around one simple premise: to leave no scrap unused. It’s a philosophy that requires no small amount of forethought during the pattern-making process, resulting in jigsaw-like pieces that are assembled into a seamless whole by turning negative space into something positive.
2. Cradle to Cradle
While most discussions on sustainable design center around the manufacturing aspect, it’s only just now that end-of-life issues are entering the equation. Patagonia is one such trailblazer that is recasting traditional cradle-to-grave apparel production through its Common Threads Garment Recycling program, which transforms discarded duds into new clothing rather than trashing them. An offshoot of that is Patagonia’s groundbreaking Sugar & Spice shoe, which uses minimal glues and can be pulled apart easily for potential recycling.
Seeking inspiration from the natural world is an oldie but goodie‚ who better than Ma Earth herself to teach us about waste-free, effortlessly self-sustaining design? From Cece Georgieva’s fresh-cut jewelry to Carmel Walsh’s succulent-sprouting shoes to Diana Eng’s deployable structures, eco-fashion is taking its green moniker to heart, conjuring avant-garde creations that mimic the environment in which we inhabit.
4. Wearable Technology
Fancy donning a solar-powered jacket? What about a cassette-tape necktie that plays music or a human-powered dress that generates power? Wearable technology never fails to give us a charge‚Äîboth figuratively and literally, especially if it offers the promise of clean energy to impoverished communities living without electricity. Admittedly, most high-tech clothing consists of concept pieces that have little real-world application (a solar-panel necklace, anyone?), but like great speculative fiction, it’s the possibilities that continue to excite and inspire us.
5. Experimental Fabrics
Cotton, wool, and linen seem positively quotidian compared with fabrics made from used coffee grounds, recycled soda bottles, pineapple, and seaweed. Playback Clothing is even launching a line of T-shirts made from recycled X-rays, which it’ll blend with recycled cotton fibers that give the clothes their multidimensional color‚ without the use of potentially hinky chemical dyes. How cool is that?
6. Multifunctional Clothing
If you want to stretch your dollar or streamline your closet, look no further than multifunctional clothing you can shape, drape, and finesse in myriad configurations. The Necklush, to throw out an example, is a scarf, cowl, and necklace in one, while the Fancy by Hayley Starr is a single dress that can be worn a hundred different ways. Ready to get your socks knocked off? Take a gander at Wearable Shelter, a collection of emergency-ready, waterproof coats that convert into sleeping bags and two-person tents.
7. Waterless Dyeing
When it comes to chemicals, waste, and water usage, the traditionally dyeing process is one of the most ecologically unsound aspects of textile manufacturing. Case in point: A whopping 17 to 20 percent of industrial pollution comes from textile coloring and treatment, according to The World Bank. A new dyeing technique by Colorep, however, could change all that. Its AirDye technology, which limits reliance on the wet stuff by applying dispersed, PVC-free inks to a paper carrier, then heat-transferring the dyes from the paper to the surface of the fibers, uses 90 percent less water than conventional printing. And because extreme heat isn’t required to dry the fabrics after their dye baths, AirDye also uses 85 percent less energy.
About the Author:
Jasmin Malik Chua is the managing editor of Ecouterre, a website about the future of eco-fashion. She has an M.S. in biomedical journalism from New York University and a B.S. in animal biology from the National University of Singapore. In addition to writing for online and print publications like Alive, Computer Shopper, Plenty, the Huffington Post, Inhabitat, TreeHugger, and Sprig, Jasmin has been quoted as a green expert by such publications as The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and People. Follow her on Twitter @jasminchua.