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On-Demand and Sustainable?


In today’s guest article, Goor Moshe, Creative Director of Twine Solutions Ltd discusses the sustainability issues we face on fashion, and pushes for a move towards circular production, with all digital systems working together. Twine is revolutionizing the textile industry by changing thread dyeing to a digital, clean, in-house, on-demand production.

The global population is currently estimated at 7.7 billion, with the poverty rate at an all-time low. Globalisation and technological breakthroughs allow more and more people to demand instant gratification from their purchases. This change in consumer culture has resulted in huge financial rewards for many in the textile and fashion industry, but it has come at a cost to us all.

The costs of the fashion industry’s supply chain – both economically and to the environment – are staggering. One prominent feature of the industry is its ecological footprint. An example is water consumption, with more than 100 trillion litres of water and 98 million tons of oil per year.

Overproduction and waste are causing retail fashion brands to report billions’ worth of unsold products every year, with over 70% of the clothes we buy ending up in landfills or incinerated. There is movement to solve the issues that have been created by this overwhelming demand. But are we moving fast enough, and in the right directions?

Current Processes for On-Demand Fashion are Unsustainable

Many would say that we no longer are driven by 4 fashion seasons, but numerous micro seasons. I would argue that fashion is no longer seasonal, but simply trend driven. Consumers have learned to constantly want a fresh new look. They want to be seen in new, trendy clothing that makes them ‘feel’ like they can express their individuality. And they can afford it, thanks to fast fashion and mass production processes.

The reality is that for every meter of fabric used for a single garment in your closet, more than 3 meters will end up in a landfill or incinerated. This is also true for the thread used to sew them all. For every kilo of thread needed for sewing our garments, at least 4 kilos are produced. It’s worth looking at your closet with all the clothes you own, and imagine throwing triple that amount into the garbage bin.

Considering current annual fiber production levels stand at almost 106 million tons, the ecological implications are tremendous. Let’s take into account the enormous amounts of water needed to dye just the thread in the clothes we wear right now (on average 70 liters for 1 Kg of thread); add all the toxic chemicals that end up discharged into the environment after use; energy used to pump and heat the water that goes in to the production process; large minimum order quantities due to traditional production methods; transportation of dyed thread around the world to manufacturers, and so on.

All of those resources, including finances, are just so that we can use, at best, 20% of the final product…

I will state it differently – in physics, the law of conservation of energy states that the total energy of a closed system remains constant. Meaning energy can neither be created nor destroyed, rather transformed or transferred from one form to another. So, we spend billions of dollars to convert enormous amounts of potentially useful energy, for 80% of it to sit in landfills, or discharge back into our water sources filled with toxins, or burn so that the previous fashion trend won’t be seen again.

This is the very definition of waste! Earth is a closed system. Its energy is finite, and we’re just locking it away or polluting it.

Investment in Innovation will Drive the Needed Change.

The knowledge and tools allowing for more efficient and less resource intensive on-demand production are growing. 3D apparel design and visualisation software reduces time to market, transport costs, and eliminates the need for multiple sample productions which alone contribute to the tons of waste. Automation and digital production machinery allow manufacturers to produce closer to consumers, or nearshoring, reducing transport costs and offering smaller minimum orders. New materials with lower environmental impact, including research into recyclable materials, are starting to provide more sustainable options. Such developments do allow for more efficient and sustainable ways of producing a piece of clothing. They also allow the industry to meet the demands from consumers for more personalisation and variety of designs, colours and sizes.

However, novel and wise management of the supply chain facilitated by new technologies that consume less of our precious natural resources, like water, are still needed.

Enter digital dyeing solutions. When we began developing our digital thread dyeing system at Twine Solutions, we developed it as an economically good idea in mind. Digital dyeing solutions could do for thread, or yarn, what digital printing did for paper; provide a fast and accurate solution to produce coloured thread quickly and help manufacturers reduce stock management.

A digital thread dyeing system dyes raw or white off-the-shelf polyester thread using a waterless process, on-demand and ready to use immediately.

During our first 4 years of development we confirmed the economic benefits such a technology will bring. In addition, and equally important, we grew more conscious of the sustainability advantages of our system. By digitally dyeing only the amount of thread needed per production, we can eliminate the waste associated with large minimum orders and time-consuming sampling process. It sharply reduces transport costs and large inventories that can hold up to 70% dead stock.

Most importantly a digital thread dyeing system eliminates the use of water in the dyeing process.

We consume the recommended amount of drinking water for every person on the planet just to produce our clothes every year.

Digital dyeing alone cannot solve the sustainability issues we face in the industry. 3D fashion design software, digital printing on fabric, automated sewing, direct recycling of garments and accessories, whole garment knitting machinery, artificial intelligence, digital dyeing, blockchain and PLM tools to manage it all, and more, can and should be combined to achieve more sustainable goals than stated by the industry today.

Each of these tools on its own cannot solve the issue. What difference does it make if we are more efficient in our production if we continue to produce substantially more than we use? In the current consumer culture, I would worry that it would simply make us overproduce even more.

We all need to be pulling in the same direction. The tools are there to require the industry to invest in these solutions to combine them to answer the issues at our doorstep. We need coherent sound regulations across the territories to guide the industry. And we need to build more dialogue with consumers to move away from this overproducing culture, while still provide them with quality product they can enjoy, knowing it was produced responsibly. We need to move toward a circular production process to remove the waste.

We cannot afford to do otherwise. It is encouraging to see all the new innovations being developed to help the industry achieve better goals. To reach them, though, we do have to define what being sustainable actually means. We could start by producing only what we need.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.