The fashion industry produces over 100 billion garments each year for 7.5 billion humans. More than 50% of these garments are donated or discarded within one year.
A single second-hand clothing market in Accra, Ghana, receives 15 million used garments each WEEK.
About 40% of those clothes are unusable and are immediately burned, discarded in informal landfills, or tossed into the water.
Everything we do一all of our industry and economic activity一exists within the planetary natural system. The same laws of physics that disperse seeds far and wide ensure we can never prevent man made materials escaping into ecosystems. Entropy demands that everything scatters, and that’s why there are PFAS chemicals in the blood of polar bears and plastic in all of our bodies.
We are joining the effort to transform fashion, stopping millions of tonnes of textile waste escaping into the environment each year. We are starting with the existing and worn clothes that no one wants. By learning from nature, we are proving it’s possible to turn those neglected carbon molecules back into something useful for the biosphere.
We live in the biosphere, a physical network of complex interactions where all organic matter decomposes and returns to soil. Nature embraces this and uses a material recovery system that spans the entire globe. Ocean currents and fungal mycelium networks keep discarded carbon and nutrients circulating, ensuring they’re always available to be used again. Without this cadence, there would be no life.
Primary producers are photosynthetic plants and algae that combine free solar energy with disordered material building blocks from soil, air and water to create highly ordered, energy-dense structures.
Consumers include all herbivores and carnivores, which break down energy-dense structures and use the stored energy and materials to construct their own tissues, creating physical waste and dissipating energy.
Decomposers are fungi and bacteria that break down material to basic building blocks, using up remaining energy and making the physical building blocks available for use by primary producers.
Fashion today is made primarily from petrochemical-based synthetics. Consumers use these materials (and occasionally recycle them) but since they don’t decompose, those materials always end as macro- or micro-scale pollution.
Biocompatible fashion is possible today, with diverse fibercrops and biosynthetics replacing petroleum, reuse and recycling improving efficiency, and scaled decomposition systems returning nutrients to the soil.
We have four main objectives:
Decomposition technologies, for our purposes here, are biological or mechanical processes that can accelerate the break down of the rapidly growing mountain of synthetic textiles. Ultimately, synthetics must be replaced with biocompatible materials. Until then, we need transitional technologies to tackle the toxic soup of material additives and coatings that don’t break down naturally. We have identified some criteria to recognize the best candidate technologies:
The process should generate only benign or actively environmentally beneficial outputs.
Technologies should be low impact, with minimal water and energy requirements, and limited use of harmful solvents.
A single technology or group of technologies must be able to accommodate a wide variety of inputs, including functional chemicals.
The new decomposition ecosystem must be distributed, decentralized, and diverse, in order to be resilient and agile.
Fiber is one of the rare industries that can restore the planet to a state of health. In the future the fashion industry could generate materials as beneficial as leaves and flowers, always turning them into organic matter at the end of their useful lives. We need options beyond fiber-to-fiber reclamation. The Nature of Fashion report identified decomposition as a critical part of nature’s material cycles that is missing from current industrial thinking, and “design for decomposition and dispersal” as the quickest route to a regenerative and equitable fashion industry.Read the Report
– Megan Meiklejon, Sustainable Materials and Transparency Manager, Eileen Fisher
– Rebecca Burgess, Founder and Director of Fibershed
– Dr. Paul Anastas, Director of the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering at Yale
– Anita Chester, Head of Materials at Laudes Foundation
– Savanna Browne-Wilkinson of Metabolic Institute
– Liz Ricketts and Branson Skinner, The OR Foundation
Edwin Keh, CEO of Hong Kong Research Institute for Textiles and Apparel
Beth Rattner, Executive Director for the Biomimicry Institute
To be a force for good, fashion waste must decompose into something that supports the primary production of new materials. Instead of ending up unwanted in our water, soil, and bodies, old garments can become healthy soil and other nutrients for all species on this planet.
This is a bold initiative to realign the underlying principles of both the fashion and waste management industries with the laws of physics and biology to create cascading benefits for climate, biodiversity, and social equity.
Such an ambitious aim requires partners who are courageous and have vision. Get in touch with us if you are ready for change!
Designers & innovators who understand nature and want to inspire the rest of the world.Get in Touch
Funding partners who believe fashion can be a force for good if redesigned.Get in Touch
Brands that embrace true circularity and are willing to challenge the status quo.Get in Touch
People who care.Get in Touch
New decomposition solutions.Get in Touch
The Laudes Foundation has provided catalytic funding for this ambitious project.