A new report from the Biomimicry Institute, with support from the Laudes Foundation (formerly C&A Foundation), offers analysis on how the fashion industry would look if it functioned like a natural ecosystem.
The Nature of Fashion: Moving Towards a Regenerative System offers steps and recommendations to investors, funders, and fashion brands that will enable a new fashion ecosystem to thrive and flourish within our planetary boundaries.
It proposes a dramatic yet entirely possible approach for global companies to operate in conjunction with local economies.
The Nature of Fashion argues there is no alternative to the phasing out of non-compostable materials like polyester, and new fibers, however “recyclable,” should not be developed if there is no natural decomposition for them. Man-made material loops always, inevitably, leak into the environment.
This is one of the chief reasons recycling has failed for decades and why we have a global microfiber problem. The good news is fashion companies already have all of the elements needed to transition fashion to 100% bio-compatible fibers, improving local economies and cleaning up the environment in the process.
The sources for these fibers are outlined in the new report. They include natural fibers, such as wool and cotton, produced through regenerative farm and fibers systems; cellulosic-based fibers from agricultural waste and sustainable rayon production; and fibers produced through fermentation, a process where microbes such as bacteria and yeast are cultured in a process similar to beer making in order to produce building blocks for textile production.
The report also points to two transition technologies that could provide new business opportunities: chemical recycling and gasification. All of these solutions can be implemented at regional scales, helping to mitigate risks in the supply chain.
“The new generation of buyers—millennials and teens—believe petroleum causes problems rather than solves them,” says Beth Rattner, Executive Director of the Biomimicry Institute. “It’s not going to take long for fashion brands to recognize this and shift toward regenerating the planet for their customers instead of participating in destroying it.”
Although infinitely recyclable plastic is often cited as a holy grail of the circular economy, and a material textile producers should embrace, nature shows us the folly of this thinking.
Materials cannot be separated into technical loops and biological loops: all materials, even the most durable plastics, eventually “leak” into the biosphere—the soil, water, and air that all life depends on.
Textiles made from recycled plastic still shed plastic microfibers into the world’s water supply at an alarming rate, and they contain toxic chemicals that were never meant to be next to human skin.
A key insight from the report is that the “leaky loops” observed in nature also present an opportunity. Decomposition is critical to how nature moves and shares materials and makes nutrients available for primary production. Decomposition is inevitable, and yet in designing our systems we’ve failed to consider its critical role.
Embracing decomposition will lead to new business models and opportunities and could help us clean up existing waste in the process.
The Biomimicry Institute, together with leading fashion collaboratives and circular economy consortia, will engage in pilot projects that enhance the resiliency of supply chains and regional economies while contributing to ecosystem restoration and green livelihoods. The pilots will focus on bio-compatible fibers, from sourcing through to decomposition.
“The fashion industry now more than ever needs to look at materials in the larger context of natural systems,” says Anita Chester, Head of Materials at Laudes Foundation. “We at Laudes Foundation are glad to have supported the Biomimicry Institute on this, and hope that the industry, along with investors and other key stakeholders, view this report and its recommendations as a launchpad to build on the existing momentum and tap into the opportunity that nature’s model presents to us.”
The Nature of Fashion offers an in-depth analysis of the material flows that underpin natural systems, compares them to the flawed industrial system that exists today, and explains how the fashion industry can work with existing technology and nature to jump-start the transition right now.
The analysis serves as a tool to direct industry partners to conduct further ecosystem research; define the criteria for net-positive investments in the new fashion economy; support existing sustainable (responsible and regenerative) fashion; and offers a beginning list of priorities and philanthropic support for grant and impact investment opportunities.
To support this transition and act on various intervention points, contact Megan Schuknecht at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read The Nature of Fashion: Moving Towards a Regenerative System and learn more about the Biomimicry Institute, visit biomimicry.org.
About the Biomimicry Institute
The Biomimicry Institute is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization founded in 2006 that empowers people to seek nature-inspired solutions for a healthy planet.
To advance the solution process, the Institute offers AskNature.org, a free online tool that contains strategies found in nature and examples of ways they are used in design.
It also hosts a Biomimicry Global Design Challenge and Youth Design Challenge to support project-based education; a Biomimicry Launchpad program and Ray of Hope Prize® for entrepreneurship to bring designs to market; and connects innovators through the Global Biomimicry Network.
About Laudes Foundation
Laudes Foundation is an independent foundation joining the growing movement to accelerate the transition to a just and regenerative economy. Responding to the dual crises of climate breakdown and inequality, Laudes supports brave action that will inspire and challenge industry to harness its power for good.
Part of the Brenninkmeijer family enterprise and learning from six generations of entrepreneurship and philanthropy, Laudes Foundation advances the work of C&A Foundation to work collaboratively and persistently to both influence capital and transform industry, starting with the built environment and fashion industries.
Read the Report
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