In the last decade, a global trend has emerged to purchase organic products, eat non-GMO food and use sustainable energy. The fashion industry does not escape from it, because, although it might seem very attractive, it is causing an important environmental impact to consider, since the textile industry is the most polluting in the world, after the oil sector, not only because of the large amount of waste it generates each year, but also because of the carbon emissions, dyes and wastewater it produces.
One of the first changes that textile companies seek when starting a sustainability route is the implementation of machinery to reuse water in manufacturing. Water is the resource that suffers the most pollution in this industry due to the need for its use that traditional processes have always had.
Today eco-friendly lifestyles are the driving force behind designs and in the textile industry. Every day, more consumers are looking for products and brands that promote sustainability, as well as being better for the environment is good business. Companies with sustainable actions have a higher percentage of annual growth compared to those without sustainability. Although for some companies, investing in sustainable processes may be a marketing strategy, but for most, it is a matter of awareness, profitability and social/environmental stewardship.
The textile industry can be sustainable from its creation, that is to say, we can start from the seeds from which the fabrics are born. For some time now, technology and the textile industry have been joining forces to research and develop new fibres that are innovative and that improve production processes from a sustainable point of view, both socially and environmentally.
Insects, fruits, wine, cow dung and coffee, seem like a strange list, but each of these materials can be used to produce ecological fibres that have a low carbon footprint. They are potential solutions for a more circular and sustainable fashion industry, which helps to achieve a better future. In this context, innovative fabrics such as coffee fibre, leather from pineapple leaves or fabrics made from milk, seaweed or recycled bottles are just a few examples of the growing union between technology and fashion to become the basis of an industry struggling to evolve towards a greener future.
In Taiwan coffee is not only drunk, it is also used to dress people. This is precisely what the Taiwanese company SINGTEX has achieved with its S.Café brand, creating from coffee grounds a fibre with excellent natural anti-odour qualities, protection against UV rays and fast drying.
The idea was born in 2005. Singtex and third-generation textile manufacturer Jason Chen and his wife Amy were sitting at Starbucks. While drinking coffee, Amy observed a group of elderly women picking up the remains of the ground coffee at the counter. “Hey, honey, that’s a good idea,” Amy joked. “Ground coffee removes body odors.” Jason took the suggestion very seriously. Shortly after that conversation, he launched the S.Cafe brand, investing four years of research and $1.7 million dollars.
“The developed technology combines the coffee grounds in the natural fiber modifying the characteristics of the filament in a process at low temperature and that saves energy offering a drying capacity 200% faster compared to cotton” they expose in their web.
The company has a strict recycling system, uses natural gas instead of coal and the cafeteria becomes vegetarian once a week. In 2014, it launched Sepia, a textile line that combines wood pulp and ground coffee to make biodegradable fabric. Over the years, Singtex has become a model of sustainability in Taiwan. Currently, it has more than 110 clients of popular brands such as Patagonia, North Face, Timberland, REI, Adidas, American Eagle and Victoria’s Secret. But Singtex hasn’t stopped there, the company is still looking for different ways to use ground coffee.
The concept of the coffee cloth is a business model that can be replicated in the rest of the world and can be used as a source of extra income with large profits. Since ground coffee eliminates odors, dries quickly and can also protect pigments from ultraviolet rays and is great for waterproofing.
However, sustainability does not end with the production and sale of the product; it is necessary to follow up on the textiles when they become waste. There are brands that have initiatives to recover garments once they will no longer be used and give them a second life. Not only must the textile industry be sustainable, for the cycle to be fulfilled there must also be responsible consumers.