Sustainable Dyeing & Printing Innovations
Sustainability is a big issue facing the fashion industry today. Printing and dyeing are some of the biggest factors contributing to fashion's dirty record due to their heavy use of chemicals and water for textile treatment and dyeing. Luckily, there are people and businesses hard at work experimenting, innovating, and implementing change to help ensure a brighter future.
For years now people outside the industry as well as those within have been sounding the alarm that current practices in fashion and textiles cannot continue. Even the average consumer is now aware that the textile industry is the world’s top polluter after the oil industry - and, honestly, that's where real hope begins. Because once the market starts to demand change and reject companies who won't clean up their act, that's when big industry will really commit themselves to sustainability.
Another deciding factor as to how quickly practices will change is how much legislation is passed (and upheld) to protect our planet. Even countries that in the past have turned a blind eye to the environmental hazards posed by textile production have been cracking down on polluters.
2017-2018 have turned out to be a period of unprecedented change for China's environmental policy. Not only has China decided they will no longer accept the world's recycling , but they have also cracked down on a significant portion of manufacturing facilities including many synthetic dyes factories after a tougher inspections - as many as 80,000 factories have been shuttered as a result. Many of the sanctions for textiles facilities come from wastewater issues and chemical processing techniques. This has had an immediate impact on fashion brands worldwide. Many of you may have been affected by these changes in one way or another, whether it was finding out that your own printing supplier was among those who were penalized, or perhaps that the mill you work with that does adhere to guidelines is now overwhelmed and can't keep up with excess work orders. Either way, sourcing for many has become problematic and that will continue until more sustainable manufacturing becomes the norm.
As integral players in the manufacturing process, designers will need to stay better informed and cooperate with their sourcing partners to start implementing more sustainable practices for both our industry and, more importantly, our planet. Below are a some innovations that can help us to design greener product.
Enzymes as a Green Chemical
image via KG Denim
Denim in particular is regarded as one of the worst culprits for environmental and ethical issues within fashion. It takes a wasteful amount of water produce jeans. Our beloved blue fabric is typically made from 100% cotton, a water intensive agricultural crop - so even your organic cotton jeans are not absolved of sin. The countless combinations of colors, washes, and finishing effects in demand in today's denim market are most often created with water as well as harmful chemicals and gases.
Garmon, an Italian company specializing in denim finishing formulas, is among the leaders developing safer methods to reduce chemical waste in denim processing. Garmon claims its new methods of finishing denim using green chemicals can save water usage by as much as 80%. One method eliminates the use of pumice stones and multiple rinses to create distressed denim. Some other new solutions include the development of safe enzymes to spray on denim garments instead of adding them in water inside the washing machines to minimize toxic wastewater in the washing off stage. Also laser technology, which has been growing in popularity, is growing more popular to create distressed and 'whiskering' effects on finished denim product.
“We are part of nature. We are not doing this because we are great. We are doing this because we want to survive.”
- Stefano Aldighieri, head of denim Indian manufacturer Arvind Limited
New strides are being made all the time to improve the track record of denim mills. If some of these are a bit more expensive than traditional methods, it is up to us to educate end consumers so they can understand the benefit of paying a few dollars more for their favorite style of jeans at the register.
Ultrasonic Fiber Dyeing Process
Expert Fibres, a Norwegian textile company which also operates in Shanghai, has offered an innovative solution called "IndiDye" which uses ultrasonic pressure waves to push color pigments into fiber cores and help achieve new level of color fastness. This process doesn't require harmful components to bleach fibers before dyeing. The dyes themselves are 100% natural plant dyes and are biodegradable as well. The use of ultrasound technology will also help save thermal energy by using electricity instead, and significantly reduces the amount of water needed for the dyeing process. Less water used means less toxic wastewater potentially dumped in rivers or having to be treated by further chemical processes.
The technology to make significant positive impact is being developed and implemented right now. While it will require a lot of effort to transform our production processes into sustainable ones and will most likely result higher production costs, the long-term benefits of taking these steps will be worthwhile.
"It's surprising how many companies and manufacturing facilities around the world aren't even measuring how much water they use”.
Traditional large-scale printing practices have been proven to be damaging to the environment largely because of the end waste they create. Wastewater is the most visible problem, but other things such as leaching of chemicals, screens and rollers that are no longer needed, and non-efficient energy use are also concerns. Digital printing is an environmental friendly alternative and is considered a positive step towards sustainability. On average digital printing uses 27% less water than traditional printing processes and no wastewater is produced. Other positive aspects are significantly reduced set up time, quicker production speeds, lower minimums, and potential for less waste due to errors. Although it is still more expensive than most traditional methods, the savings of greater efficiency in production may outweigh the cost differences for many and the cost gap is quickly closing.
Currently digital printing is approximately 5 - 7% of the global textile marketplace, but we are only at the beginning of this journey. Although it has some limitations to overcome, digital printing is unquestionably the future and will continue to expand. Pointcarre, a leading provider of CAD software for the apparel and textiles industries, issued this statement: “Digital is the printing system of the future. Its very rapid growth has already begun to change the practices of the designers in fashion and home, but also the creation itself. It is enough to see the podiums of the fashion shows as well as the shop windows, to realize that the revolution is in progress.”
For an industry built on chasing the most current trend, fashion is notoriously slow to change processes and practices; changing manufacturing practices may prove to be the most difficult upgrade our industry needs.
We would love to hear what are some of the biggest challenges YOU are facing when trying to implement more sustainable practices at your company. Let us know!
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