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Throughout history, women have played a pivotal role in fashion designing and manufacturing of garments. Like many aspects of society, fashion, or more specifically textile production, used to be gendered, with the majority of textile production falling to women. Historically, women have been relegated to this position, but in more recent times, women have dominated the textile industry.

During periods of antiquity such as the cottage industry in the 1800s, local economies were based upon bartering what couldn’t be consumed; textile production was small scale. Women would continually repurpose clothing into new items or make items from scratch.

In times of strife such as economic recession or during war, textiles become scarce leading to the creative upcycling of “alternative” fabrics. During the World Wars, clothing was rationed and textile production focused on military needs. To keep themselves and their families clothed, women used curtains, vegetable sacks, and other unconventional fabrics to make new clothing. Like the cottage industry, upcycling and manufacturing was out of pure necessity. While recycling has continued, practice and intention behind it has evolved.

Big name thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army have existed for over a century, but modern social media platforms like Youtube have popularized the commercialization of secondhand apparel aka “thrifting”. Female creators make the majority of online thrifting content. Youtube channels such as WithWendy and BestDressed have millions of views on their “thrift flipping” videos in which thrifted clothing is resewn into a more “trendy” garment. WithWendy and BestDressed are excellent examples of modern women using creativity to empower themselves and others via fashion.

Beyond secondhand consumption, women in all facets of the industry are promoting sustainable change. Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood has emphasized sustainable change from the inside-out. By focusing on four key areas; craft and heritage, people power, materials & processing and reimagining waste, Westwood aims to change consumption from the roots. These areas involve local manufacturing, fair wages, meeting standards such as Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Oeko-Tex 100 and FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council), and creating garments that blur gender lines.

Breaking down production a step further is Suzanne Lee, CEO of Biofabricate, a platform focused on synthesizing biomaterials in order to better integrate sustainability into fashion. The mechanical recycling of clothing is limited. Clothing can be sewn into new items only so many times. This is where Lee’s research begins. By changing the starting material of textiles altogether, chemical recycling can be used to recreate the virgin building blocks. A closed loop system is the only truly sustainable textile.

While only 12.5% of leadership positions in the fashion industry are occupied by women, Lee and others have created a space in which the future of the planet and of women is empowered. Visibility is a key component to the future of female leadership. Providing a platform to amplify the women already making waves in the fashion industry, and every industry shows young girls that success is possible. Just as we reimagine the building blocks of the textile industry, the building blocks of gender are being reshaped to be more equitable, sustainable, and empowering.

Within the fashion and textile industry, inspiration from nature is everywhere. From dyes to patterns to materials themselves, biological processes have been translated into every facet of the textile industry. Biomimetics-or biomimicry- is a field dedicated to the understanding and subsequent adoption of elements from the natural world. While the term biomimetics may seem advanced, its older counterparts are well known and are rooted in the idea of observing nature.

One of the first instances of biomimetics in fashion was Velcro. In 1941, Velcro was invented by George de Mestral after observing the tiny hook-like structures on burs, seeds designed to be spread by passersby. These burs would latch themselves to Mestral’s dog during the walks they took. Inspired, he invented the trademark hooks of Velcro.

Since then, everyday life has become steeped in biomimetic technology. Clothing items like a water repellent jacket may seem like a human invention, but flora and fauna are the real designers. Both sea mammals and lotus leaves have hydrophobic abilities. Companies like Nikwax and Fantini have translated this ability into textiles. Fantani utilizes silicon nanomaterials to coat their clothing in a “self cleaning” layer similar to the superhydrophobic properties of a lotus leaf. Similarly, Nikwax’s textiles are water repellent, but they take inspiration from the fur of ocean mammals like seals. Their Analogy® fabric is designed to repel water on the exterior, while also directing interior moisture out.

Beyond mimicking visual components of the natural world, complex naturally occurring systems have been adapted for closed loop textile production. Algaeing, a sustainable textile and dye producer, has used this model to literally grow their products. Established in 2016, Algaeing has developed “100% renewable” textiles. Their technology converts algae and cellulose into bio-fibers which are then used to produce a variety of textiles. Their innovative process allows for a closed loop system resulting in an environmentally and economically sustainable company.

The regeneration and recycling of polymers and other materials considered non biodegradable is on the horizon. Naturally occurring enzymes like PETase and MHETase have been found to digest polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the most common polymer in the textile industry. Currently, the enzymatic treatment of PET exists on a lab scale, making it difficult to process hundreds of tons of PET. Scaling up recycling and regeneration treatment such as this one is the next big step for the textile industry.

The natural world has already struck the balance of a sustainable existence. As the fashion industry becomes more sustainably oriented, new materials will go further than visually mimicking nature by harnessing physical and chemical interactions. If you also pursue the intersection between biomimetics and fashion, join us at to learn more about our mission and collaborate!

Created in the 1970s, World Environmental Day acts as a vehicle for the UN to shine a light on a chosen environmental theme for the year. This year, “ecosystem restoration” is the issue at hand. World Environmental Day presents an opportunity to reflect upon the influence th UN, and other global powers have on the environment. In this blog, we will explore the impact that International Policy has on the textile industry on both the macro and micro level.

Macro Level

Beginning in the 1960s, environmental incidents like Three Mile Island and Love Canal (the former being a partial nuclear meltdown and the later a working class neighborhood constructed on a 16-acre hazardous waste landfill) seriously alarmed consumers. In response, the US government, NGOs, and especially brands began to introduce reactionary legal protections for both consumers and the environment. Today, these reactionary measures exist within a complex microcosmos of laws, policies, and economies, making the relationship between macro and micro level sustainability difficult to understand.

Since industrialization, the textile--and by extension--fashion industry has become a complicated network of trade deals, policies, and international exchange. The UN consists of 193 sovereign states and has created the UN Environment Programme, Alliance for Sustainable Fashion to better tackle a broad range of environmental issues. The textile and fashion policies agreed upon by the UN impact how individuals reconcile their relationship to the climate crisis.

Quotas” serve as a good starting point to gain a clearer picture of how international, macro-level decisions trickle down. The Multifiber Agrrangement’s quotas allowed “developed countries” control over the amount of textile and clothing imports allowed into their countries from other “developing countries''. Determining what makes a country “developed” is rather arbitrary, but that’s a different rabbit hole. The Multifibre Agreement was put into effect in 1974 and lasted for 30 years. Its successor, the WTO’s Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC), took over in 1995 and no longer enforces quotas.

So, what does not having quotas mean for textile manufacturing and fashion? The short answer is fast fashion, which results in unethical working conditions and millions of tons of material waste annually. China had been extremely limited by quotas, so once they were lifted, it was more than ready to utilize its giant and cheap labor force. Today, China makes up 39% of global textile production and is ranked 120th on the Environmental Performance Index (EPI). Acting as a perfect case study, China’s current policy and energy constraints are encouraging new sustainable solutions. Among other goals, China is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2060.

The Kyoto Protocol is another example of macro level influence, extending the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change into the present. The protocol aims to reduce 5% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions via “individually agreed upon goals”. The textile industry is reportedly responsible for 2.1 billion metric tons of GHG emissions annually. To meet the Kyoto Protocol’s goals, an estimated 1.1 billion metric tons of CO2 will need to be reduced.

So where will this decarbonizing happen and how does it affect fashion on a smaller scale? GHG can be reduced at many points throughout production. Research shows that manufacturers, brands, and consumers can all take steps towards waste and carbon emission mitigation. On the consumer end of things, conscious fashion consumption has been on the rise, with brands reacting to more sustainable demands.

Micro Level

Various studies conducted in both the US and UK have found that more than half of consumers under the age of 35 require a higher standard of ethicality, transparency, and sustainability in brands. In response, brands have begun to change the way they produce and market their products.

A great example of this is Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy this Jacket” campaign. In response to demand for more sustainably and ethically produced products, Patagonia urged consumers to consider the effect of consumerism on the environment and purchase only what they need. This bold campaign was well received by media and consumers alike, with sales exceeding company expectations. Companies like Patagonia prove that the simple act of choosing to buy a new shirt has ramifications that extend to decades old international climate policies.

Beyond simply reducing the amount of material consumption, changing the methods of production is the next step in international textile manufacturing. “Cradle to cradle” design is the cornerstone of micro level sustainability. Inspired by the natural world, products and processes follow circular design methods to be safe and have a potentially infinite circulation of materials and nutrients in cycles. The textile industry has begun to embrace this system in several ways.

Napapijri, an Italian premium casual-wear brand, released a Cradle to Cradle Gold certified “Circular Series” as a part of their Spring/Summer 2021 jacket collection. Two jackets were featured in the collection, the Napapijri signature rainforest jacket and a classic Windbreaker. The collection is made from ECONYL, a sustainably recycled and regenerated nylon. Napapijri went a step further, encouraging consumers to return their jackets after two years in order to reuse the material and complete the Cradle to Cradle process.

World Environmental Day is a reminder of how complicated the path to sustainability is, but as abstract as sustainability may feel, even individual actions can create big change. If you share the same vision for a sustainable future, join us at to learn more about our mission and collaborate!

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