Image: Nina and Clare at the 8th Future Fabrics Expo
Is fashion contributing to the destruction of our soils? In this week’s podcast, Vogue Australia’s Sustainability Editor Clare Press discuss how new gen materials can help, with Nina Marenzi.
How often do you think about soil? Be honest now. Never? Unless you’re a gardener or a farmer, obviously. In which case, you no doubt think constantly about that precious dirt beneath your feet – because if you want to grow stuff, you need healthy soil.
All life on land depends on it. Ninety-five per cent of our food comes from soil. Guess the most widespread non-foodcrop in the world? It’s cotton. Yes, fashion relies on soil too. The sheep that give us wool need soil for grass to graze on. The trees we use for viscose grow in soil of course. Hemp, flax, plants like indigo we use for dyes.
But soil does other vital jobs too – it is a carbon sink that holds three times as much carbon as the atmosphere. Soils can also filter pollutants, but this capacity is finite. Thanks to over-grazing and deforestation, soils are literally blowing and washing away, while pollution from agrochemicals depletes what’s left.
According to the UN, one third of our global soils are already degraded. Generating 3cm of top soil takes about a thousand years. READ THAT AGAIN: 1,000 YEARS! If current rates of degradation continue, all of the world’s top soil could be gone within 60. What can we do?
Nina Marenzi runs The Sustainable Angle, the London-based not-for-profit behind the Future Fabrics Expo, which showcases commercially available textiles with a low environmental footprint. Marenzi believes that since fashion plays a part in the degradation of our soils, it can also play a part in the solutions.
She says we must “diversify the fibre basket” – or stop depending on virgin polyester and conventional cotton. Introducing more linen, for example, “which comes from the hardy flax plant and can grow on marginal land” and requires no pesticides. And hemp, which has similar properties and is less thirsty than cotton. According to a 2005 study by the Stockholm Environment Institute, “cotton uses more than four times as much water as hemp.”
There’s no one answer, but exciting new materials are cropping up all the time. “We just need to stop and think, are there alternatives?” says Marenzi. “Our mantra is about thinking of the raw material, then thinking about the processing and finishing, then thinking about what happens at the end of the life of the material: where is this going to go [after I’m done with it]. And that goes right down to Cradle to Cradle. This kind of thinking is crucial and it should be mandatory for any designer.”
Read our takeaways from this year’s Future Fabrics Expo, organised by The Sustainable Angle.
Discover some of the pioneering fabrics of the future.