Continuing with last post’s environmental theme, Fashionista is now taking a closer look at the retail industry’s relationship with plastic. Whilst cleaning up the world’s oceans may not seem high on the fashion industry’s agenda, many eco brands have taken to using recycled plastics, collected from the ocean, as a source of materials for clothes. In 2015, the Designs of the Year award went to The Ocean Clean Up, an initiative set up to passively collect floating plastic. Ocean Clean Up rely on ocean currents pushing any plastic into floating barriers, from which the plastic is then extracted and sold to B2C companies. Initiatives, such as this, offer a solution for ocean pollution and a seemingly endless supply of environmentally friendly sources of clothing fabric.

a beautiful and powerful blue wave breaking over shallow coral reef on the coast of Indonesia

In 2014, Pharell Williams joined forces with G-Star RAW to launch a line of ocean plastic clothing, which included denim products made using plastic extracted from the oceans. Also riding the crest of the environmental wave is Adidas, who have partnered with Parley for Oceans, an environmental group, to launch a line of trainers made from recycled ocean waste. Adidas’ recycled footwear is created using the brand’s existing manufacturing processes, but replaces synthetic fibres with recycled ocean plastic. The fibre used is recycled from gill nets, a net commonly used in commercial fishing. The recycled gill nets are used on the outside of the trainers, sewn into rhythmic wave-like patterns, emulating the material’s former residence.

adidas trainers

Brand endorsed waste recycling initiatives are heralded for promoting ocean clean up enterprises. However, retailers hoping to do their bit for the environment should be careful; new research suggests that recycled plastic clothing may actually be causing more harm than good. Researchers have found that when the recycled products are washed, microfibers (tiny synthetic threads less than 1mm) are shed and enter our waste water system, ultimately ending up in the oceans. It has been proposed that this may be the biggest source of plastic in the ocean. Such micro fibres have the ability to absorb toxins, such as pesticides, which are then consumed by marine wildlife. The toxins that are absorbed also have the potential to enter human bodies through the consumption of seafood.

Whilst the commercialisation of plastic fashion and its role in the ocean clean up progress is rightly talked about in the press, retailers should also consider if the recycling processes themselves are environmentally friendly. Fashionista will be keeping a keen eye on the use of recycled ocean plastics in the fashion industry and hopes to see more eco-brands successfully embracing pollution prevention methods in the future.

By: Susannah Parry
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