The previous articles were a little doom and gloom, because it was necessary to show the gravity of the situation. Fashion really was neck-deep in water pollution and hefty water consumption. But today’s post is a little more positive! We’re going to look at the strides being made in the textile industry to reduce fashion’s water footprint. Water saving efforts can be made through a combined force of water saving equipment, behavioural change and the increase of internal water recycling. And there’s already technologies in the market with this in mind:
Cotton is one of the trickiest fibres to add a splash of colour to, and thus, is heavily associated with water pollution. However, ColorZen made it their mission to reverse this notion. They’ve managed to make cotton more dye-receptive through a method that changes the molecular composition of cotton’s fibres. According to the company, finishing cotton would lead to zero toxic discharge, 75% less energy used, 90% less water and about 95% less chemicals used after their treatment process.
Unlike the traditional water and dye baths that fabrics are dipped into during the dying process, AirDye – a dyeing technique developed by Colorep in California, USA – takes a different approach. In order to use 95% less water, 84% less greenhouse gases (GHG) and use 86% less energy, pressure and heat are used by their printing machine to transfer specially formulated dyes from paper onto polyester fabric.
This specific technique is able to produce brilliant colour grades due to AirDye’s proprietary dyes which work by attaching its molecules directly to the fibre’s molecules; which also means longer lasting colour from the finished fabric. These printing machines are said to use at least 170 litres less than the conventional technique. In addition, the dyes and paper used in the process are inert; allowing them to be recycled and reused. The technique has been used by designers such as Gretchen Jones and the designing duo, Costello Tagliapietra – with their Fall 2012 AirDye pieces having become a signature element for the latter.
Developed by Dutch company DyeCoo, and adopted by brands such as Adidas and Nike, this dyeing technique colours polyester without chemical additives, water or drying. In fact, DyeCoo’s former CEO, Reinier Mommaal, explains that because there isn’t any water discharge, the only residue that is actually left after each batch is a handful of what is mainly oil and colour pigments. Instead, it uses carbon dioxide (CO2) to pressurise powder dye into polyester fabric. The CO2 is then vacuumed out after this process, with 95% being recovered for reuse. You can understand more about this process through the video below:
Because the DyeCoo machines can work on about 300kg of fabric daily, the technology could help save about 15 million litres of water and 6500 kg processing chemicals per machine annually. What’s more encouraging is that the DyeCoo team has gone further than just catering for polyester fabric and are now working on similar technology for cotton and nylon fabrics as well.
Sequencing batch biofilter granular reactor (SBBGR)
They really didn’t try to make this PR friendly, but that doesn’t take away from how innovative this bio-filtering wastewater technology is. This process first uses an ozone treatment to break down recalcitrant organic compounds, which are considered one of the most toxic dye components in the scheme of toxic dyes. After this, the wastewater bio-filtering technique comes in. It relies on microorganisms cultured in aggregates to process pollutants with 80% less sludge residue left over than conventional biological filters.
Apparel Made 4 You (AM4U)
This Californian based company has created a waterless technology known as Active Tunnel Infusion. Instead of the CO2 process used in AirDye, it utilises thermal energy and photons to transfer a template image onto fabric. It’s a waterless process that ensures coloured clothes that don’t fade easily. Apart from the ethical angle, this product has other attributes that are attractive to commercial enterprises. For starters, AM4U technology only takes half a minute to print a piece of fabric that can make one t-shirt. Its machinery is also compact in size and requires little manpower to operate the process, says AM4U.As a consumer, AM4U works on a demand system, which only prints once an order is made, giving the consumer the chance to alter their order to fit their measurements thereby creating less waste. You can learn more about the process here:
While these various technologies use different paths, the results are pretty much similar. They all aim to cut pollution from the textile industry by limiting the water used to almost or completely zero percent, drastically reducing the amount of chemicals used or released, and reducing energy utilised in dyeing cycles. However, this doesn’t change the fact that these new technologies aren’t being completely assimilated into the textile industry.
Take for example ColorZen. It has taken technology that has existed for over 20 years and found a new way to administer it to cotton, and still it’s not been fully accepted in the industry. Many experts argue this has largely to do with the price tag that comes with greener clothes. With consumers already used to inexpensive clothing, and the fact that the fashion industry is consumer driven – increasing the price of clothing doesn’t seem to be in most manufacturer’s agenda any time soon. Then there is the limitations of how widely the technology can be used. ColorZen only caters to cotton while AirDye and DyeCoo only work with polyester. It’s evident that it doesn’t cater to the variety of fabrics that exist and used in each season.
However, this is the beginning of great strides that the fashion industry is taking to be more responsible and sustainable. And as they make moves to reduce their environmental impact, it’s also becoming surprisingly clear that consumers need to be educated on why buying cheap is expensive in the long run. Which possess an interesting dilemma for local designers. How do you then source from cleaner textile manufacturers and effectively communicate to clients why your clothes need to cost a little more. Especially with a consumer base market that already finds local products too expensive? Can this technology be incorporated into our own industry as we build and revive our own textile industry? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.