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Words: Ellie Pagano (She/Her)

‘Let’s close the loop’, a quote taken from the cover of H&M’s new : “Sustainability” section on their website, closely followed by the cringe-inducing statement: ‘The only trends worth following? Recycling and repairing.’ Hollow, disingenuous, and remarkably unmemorable in its tag line – the brand’s bid to promote their ecological aspirations seem to be as half-hearted and artificial as their actions to achieve this new sustainability.  

In recent years, consumers have become increasingly aware of how the fashion industry are leading perpetrators of the damaging effects inflicted on the environment. With mass production methods, excessive water consumption, and record emission rates all factors woven into the infrastructure of production in the fashion industry, it’s unsurprising that these unsustainable means of production are beginning to be unpicked.  The UN Fashion Alliance revealed that the fashion and textile industry are responsible for 2-8% of greenhouse gas emissions produced in the world and consumes over 200 trillion litres of water per year.  Not to mention the increasing problem of microplastics in the ocean, of which 9% are the product of textile shedding.  

However, these statistics have not gone unnoticed by brands.  Quite the opposite; in an era where consumers value ethically reputable brands and sustainability, it seems that many labels have seen this as an opportunity to capitalise on the newfound ecological sensibilities of the 21st century consumer. The perversion of ecological sensibilities for profit has become so prevalent that it has earned its own title: “Greenwashing” – a practice which obscures all the negative impacts of the company or enterprise on the environment by foregrounding a minute, ecologically conscious practice that the company adopts.  

This “Greenwashing” by brands to create a rip-off reality of their sustainable practices is most apparent when boasting their recycling of plastic bottles into new clothes, unabashedly emblazoning green revolving arrows onto tags. But what’s the problem with recycling plastic into clothes? Surely we should make as many uses for these pesky polymers as we can? Is this not the solution to our world-wide war against plastic? 

Unfortunately, no. 

While of course the recycling of plastic bottles is the preferable outcome, over their eventual dumping into landfill, the process of converting these plastic bottles into textiles doesn’t tie this issue up with a satin bow. Plastic bottles are made from the highly durable and malleable polymer, polyethylene terephthalate or PET, and in the process of plastic bottles production, PET can be recycled almost infinitely, continuously completing the recycling cycle. PET’s durable nature and its ability, when heated, to be stretched into a fibre like material, also means that it can be used as a fibre for synthetic clothing. The ability of PET to be used in the production of synthetic clothing seems to posit another solution in aiding the reduction of plastic reaching landfills, and unsurprisingly allows brands to smugly stamp their clothing as recycled.   

It is not just H&M that seem to have a new found affinity for this malleable material, many mainstream brands can be seen to have adopted this hot new polymer into their clothing lines. Brands such as Veja, whose ‘B Mesh Trainers’ proudly state that they recycle 3 plastic bottles per pair of shoes, and Patagonia’ s ‘Responsibility Tee’ which, you guessed it, is made from 4.8 recycled plastic bottles.  

All these bottles being recycled sounds great and looks even better for these brands, who can now appeal to an even greater environmentally conscious sector of society. However, the recycling of the PET polymer into clothing, and therefore its removal from the cycle of plastic bottle recycling, means that the clothing produced cannot be recycled further and therefore ultimately ends up discarded, only delaying its inevitable journey to landfill.  

It seems therefore, that attempts made by fashion giants in the market to be more ‘sustainable’, are concerned more with the longevity of their companies than the longevity of the planet.  The “Greenwashing” by brands to appeal to our blooming ecological awareness, seems to be another attempt to pull the wool over our eyes, disguising malpractice behind buzzwords and quick, aesthetic fixes.   

Regardless, the fusion of recycled fibres into the making of new clothes is certainly a step in the right direction towards fashion and textile giants adopting a more sustainable mindset. However, it seems that without brands pumping the brakes on mass-overproduction, the down-cycling of a couple plastic bottles is a drop in the ocean in the plight of plastic. That said, in recent years, with growing ecological awareness has come a new surge of consumers searching for more sustainable fashion sources; a surge which has seen an increase in thrifting, second hand shopping and even making your own clothes. The rise in popularity of these new sustainable shopping sprees suggests that second-hand shopping isn’t just the latest trend to be followed, but is indicative of a shift in the mindset of consumers of fashion, recognising vintage as the next in vogue.   


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