The New Natural: Wearing Ocean Plastics

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As we evolve over time, so does our knowledge about everyday materials which are endangering the natural environment. We now know that plastic is far from perfect, and is rapidly causing devastation across the globe and polluting our natural spaces.

Our oceans are in a severe state with the Australian Marine Conservation Society reporting that 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into our oceans every year.

Reducing and potentially eliminating our use of single use plastics is therefore a fundamental step forward. Many retailers have already embraced this movement, with supermarkets banning plastic bagging and responsible cafes encouraging reusable coffee cups.

Outside of this, there is also an array of fashion manufacturers who are repurposing ocean plastics into textiles – a clever and economical way of constructing garments.

I’ve personally found that swimwear is one of the most popular categories being produced using ocean plastics. However this is now being extended into shoes by Adidas and even luxury carry items by GUCCI.

At a consumer level, there appears to be a growing awareness of the importance of purchasing more sustainable materials. Therefore, individuals need more information about the effects their actions around fashion and textiles are having.

Vehmas et al. (2018) exploring this notion, reporting that “consumers also expect more concrete information regarding how their behaviour has affected, for example, the decrease of waste or the use of poisonous chemicals and hoped to see the results that have been achieved.”

They also believe consumers are ready and “aware of the limited natural resources and climate change and concerned about the challenges they cause”.

Furthermore, a 2019 study led by Kamolchanok Thongpila surveyed 393 Thai millennial consumers and found that “that environmental concern, attitude, and perceived behavioural control have a significant relationship on purchase intention of green apparel, shoes, and accessories made from recycled plastic. Environmental concern also positively mediates the green attitude and has a stronger correlation toward attitude than purchase intention” (Author et al., 2019).

So let’s look at two textile manufacturers who are making notable progress starting with:-

ECONYL®

Created by Italian firm Aquafil, ECONYL® is a regenerated nylon that is entirely produced from “pre and post-consumer waste, such as abandoned fishing nets and carpets – including plastics.” It has a solid market across swimwear designers including allSisters and Bamba Swim.

Within the luxury market scene, Italian fashion house GUCCI has recently revealed a sustainable collection using ECONYL® called Gucci Off The Grid. Beyond the nylon, Gucci is also focused on using regenerative materials to minimise the use and production of new and unsustainable resources.

A great attribute of ECONYL® is that it has been found to be identical to virgin nylon and can be “recycled, recreated and remoulded” endlessly. The company also reveal that for every 10,000 tonnes of the material produced, it is saving 70,000 of crude oil and avoiding 57,100 tonnes of carbon emissions.

REPREVE®

Another apparel textile organisation is Unifi, producing a recycled performance fiber called REPREVE®. They proudly announced that through this initiative, they have recycled 20 billion bottles (and counting) and have avoided 517 million kgs of carbon dioxide (CO₂).

Fashion companies including Kathmandu and Prana represent their largest customers and in 2019 Under Armour was awarded the company’s “Champion of Sustainability Award” for utilising 69 million bottles for their products.

While the company derives ocean plastic pollution that has made into the material, one of their notable products called REPREVE® Our Ocean™ sources bottles that are labelled “high risk”. Unifi revealed that “the bottles are collected within 50K of coastlines in countries or areas that lack formal waste or recycling systems”. With the support of their customers they hope to help contribute to developing recycling programs in these areas.

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So next time you need to make a fashion or accessory purchase, perhaps you could consider an ocean-focused repurposed garment. As always, research your favourite brands and understand their materials, production processes and overall footprint of their operations.

And while the efforts of both these manufacturers are commendable, it’s important to still shop consciously. Buy less, buy higher quality and I think  Lisa Williams, Patagonia’s Chief Product Officer said it best: “The most environmentally sustainable jacket is the one that’s already in your closet.” 

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