Cotton is used in 50% of the fabrics and clothes worldwide.
Unfortunately, it’s a fiber that is highly polluting in its long production and processing chain. It is also a prime example of a linear economy model, where companies fabricate as much product as possible, without consideration for the resources necessary, to then sell to consumers and who dispose of it when no longer needed. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), 86% of clothing is either landfilled or burned; 13% is down cycled and less than 1% is recycled into new clothes. The amount of waste, annually, is in the billions of tonnes.
Silvio Albini, head of the Albini Group, founded in 1876 in northern Italy, took reducing the environmental impact of his industry to heart and during a recent interview gave proof of how he put his actions where his words were, sadly the last one he gave before his sudden passing.
“It’s a long process,” he said, “reminding us that the textile industry, in all its complexity, is the second highest polluter in the world, after the coal and oil industry. The efforts we made are starting to reward us. Our company strives to be transparent in the process, step by step, and in recent years we’ve saved 8 million kwh, which equals the electricity consumed by 2,700 families in a year. Through large investments, we built a new dyeing facility, which has allowed us to save 46,000 m3 of water a year, equaling that of 10 Olympic swimming pools.”
Albini Group has also started a long process of continuous improvement in use of heavy chemicals which allows them to use less water, but also to replace toxic chemicals with more bio compatible ones.
Many are leading by example in the textile and fashion industry, from well established brands like Stella McCartney, to small start-ups like AHLMA, a fashion brand based in Brazil who sources over 80% of the raw materials from leftover fabric resulting from other textile companies’ mismanagement.
We do have an intimate contact with what we wear and more people seem to care. Silvio Albini cared too. I admired his willingness to acknowlege the problems in his industry and his determination to do something about it, a step at a time.