Fast fashion is no longer a problem that only hardcore environmentalists are aware of. In 2013, the media extensively covered the devastating Rana Plaza collapse – an incident in which 1,134 garment workers in Bangladesh were killed. And with documentaries like The True Cost and Stacey Dooley Investigates: Fashion’s Dirty Secrets, we’re becoming more aware of the ethical issues surrounding the industry. More consumers and businesses are beginning to wise up. One of those businesses is Lyfcycle, who are working to reduce textile waste and improve the traceability of fashion…
The statistics are scary. The fashion industry is ranked the second largest polluter in the world after oil, and it’s estimated that it’s responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions. But it’s not just manufacturers and retailers that are to blame for the desolation – we are too. 85% of all the UK’s unwanted clothing is being chucked away, attributing to 5.2% of the waste that’s currently sitting in our landfills, ready to be incinerated. They reckon that 235 million items of clothing were thrown out in the UK in spring alone.
“We’ve got a limited amount of resources on the planet, and any sort of waste going into landfill has used natural resources to make a valuable product that we’ve just decided isn’t valuable anymore,” says Adriana Batty, co-founder and creative head of Lyfcycle. “We don’t have an open end of resources, so how can we keep creating things just to destroy them?” But the damage caused by clothing waste is much more than just a drain on resources – the decomposing textiles release methane, dyes, microplastics and other nasties into the environment.
Lyfcycle are a circular fashion solution company based in Cropwell Bishop, just a twenty minute drive out of the city centre. The idea for the company stemmed from the work both Adriana and her father have done in the clothing manufacturing field in Bangladesh, and was inspired by the first-hand experience they gained dealing with the staggering amount of textile waste. “We’ve had ideas floating around for a couple of years, but it was only in February this year that we started piling our energy into designing a concept and finding a scalable solution or useful output for this waste – waste that most people aren’t even aware exists,” says Adriana.
Their main desire is to reduce textile waste and improve both the transparency and traceability of the industry. With over seventy-plus combined years of experience, the team of three have worked to create a fully-functioning clothing loop, which moves fashion away from its current disposable mentality and works towards a zero-waste production model. To do this, Lyfcycle have partnered with high street retailers to responsibly manage and recycle the waste they are generating in factories in Bangladesh. They recycle anything they can in house, and everything else goes to third-party partner factories, before the fibres are then spun into new material and eventually used in the manufacturing of new garments. They’re also looking for ways to collect post-consumer goods too, taking unwanted clothing from buyers and beginning the process all over again. “There’s a huge drive from consumers, especially the younger generations, to recycle clothes, but it’s down to innovators and businesses to make it easy,” says Adriana.
We don’t have an open end of resources, so how can we keep creating things just to destroy them?
The amount of clothing bought in the EU per person has increased by 40% in a few decades, and now accounts for between 2-10% of all environmental impact made in the EU. Adriana believes that it’s not necessarily the product itself that’s damaging, it’s more to do with how consumers are disposing of the product once they are finished that is the issue. “The challenge for these brands that are built solely on fast fashion is that they’re not intending to do bad. The most humbling experience of my journey so far has been the spirit of collaboration that exists in the industry to do things better. We’re at a time where we’ve got the biggest brands and retailers in the world looking to smaller start-ups to bring those innovative solutions to the table.”
Thanks to advancements in technology, we have the ability to purchase on-trend clothing 24 hours a day, so our addiction to fast fashion may not be going anywhere soon. Lyfcycle are fighting the fire by turning to tech to educate consumers. They’re gearing up for the release of their mobile app at the end of November, which allows you to follow the “lyfcycle” of any garment you purchase from their partner brands. By scanning the QR code that appears on either the tag or label, and using an interactive map, users can see the source of the raw materials, the garment factory the item was produced in, and ultimately the store of purchase. But they’re not just focusing on consumers. Their online platform also allows their partner brands, retailers and suppliers to share certificates of accreditation and information relating to the standards of their fabrics, to ensure everyone involved in the process is actively working towards the same goal. Their first collaboration, with a brand named Skopes, will hit shelves early next year.
Adriana is confident that they’re not fighting a losing battle – the industry is seeing increasing pressure from consumers, especially millennials and gen-z, to change their behaviour and the way they source garments. “We were brought up in a society where we accept that cars are bad for the environment, and you can almost see the visible impact of them. But when you buy a pair of jeans, you don’t see it. In the UK, there are policies that dictate the necessity to recycle cardboard, or dispose of plastics in a responsible way, but there’s no system in place which looks at the way waste is generated from the product itself. We need to take positive action now; businesses need to be engaging in issues that relate to climate change, and I want my work to be going towards something that benefits the many and not the few.
“We almost want to replicate what’s happening in the food industry – you can follow your burger right back to the farm, and that’s what we want to do with Lyfcycle. We don’t need everything to come back through us; ultimately our mission is just to spread the spirit of recycling, and if you can do that in another way from the advice that we’re spreading, we’re achieving what we set out to do.”
Whether or not we as consumers are ready for it, fashion is changing. Thanks to the growing noise from Extinction Rebellion and other climate protesters, the industry can’t ignore the shouts any longer. And according to Adriana, they’re ready to listen. “We’re a very small start-up – we started with this little idea in a tiny office, and now we find ourselves sitting at the table with some of the biggest brands in retail. It really does fill you with hope that before long, we’ll have solutions to make the whole industry more sustainable.”