The word plastic conjures up a divided opinion in today's society, many seeing it as a necessary evil, while others foresee it as the world ender. At the root of the word however, is the notion of a material that can be easily shaped or moulded. It can be turned from one form to another. Fashion is an ever changing medium with collections that bring the ebb and flow of trends, allowing each of us to highlight our own individuality, yet this comes with a consequence.
The textile industry is one of the leading proponents of carbon emissions, supplying around 4% of the world's emissions. Therefore for fashion to continue at its current pace, it has to take a lead from the definition of plastic and become a remouldable substance, but one that does not impact upon the environment.
"The global apparel and footwear industry produced more greenhouse gases than France, Germany and the UK combined in 2018, totalling 2.1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions." Bella Webb - Vogue Business
Can the circular economy flow like fashion?
The circular economy has been heralded as a way to reduce the impact of materials on the environment. Once a product has been created, it is sold to the consumer who can then use it up until they no longer need it. Typically, within the circular economy these products can be repaired, recycled or reused, in order for it to be ready for use again.
In recent years brands, such as Patagonia, are creating repair programs in order to expand the lifespan of their products. This works effectively for activewear, which does not change style in line with the typical spring summer or autumn winter yearly trends. Therefore, buying a jacket and having it repaired years later doesn’t suit the continuous change in style of many of the major fashion brands. Thus repair cannot be considered as plastic, which leaves the other two methods; recycling and reuse.
Recycling allows for the material to be returned back to the pre-manufactured state, meaning that it can be used in a similar manner as it previously was. Consequently allowing the recycled textile to suit the changing styles of fashion and be considered plastic. While this certainly reduces emissions, there is still a large amount of material processing that needs to take place in order to return the material to a usable state.
For instance, recycling PET plastic bottles for use in polyester textile needs 24% of the energy needed to create the plastic bottle in the first place. Not only this, but it can often be unsustainable to recycle polyester for use again in garments as the recycled material isn't strong enough. To put this into context if the textile industry was solely run on recycled material it would still produce around 1% of the world's CO2 emissions. This only leaves the reuse option to allow the circular economy to be truly sustainable.
Don’t recycle, reuse
Rather than recycling the materials for use in new garments, existing items can be reused as new ones. This means that after the initial production of material there would be no more CO2 emissions. A great example of this is the work of Nicole McLaughlin. The designer creates new garments from everyday items that have been used to the point where they might be considered for recycling or to be thrown away, yet they are saved and form something new. This completely adopts the idea of being plastic and mouldable, the initial object changing form from one thing to another.
Some of Nicole’s items have included a jacket formed from used goalkeeper gloves in collaboration with Puma and a tongue in cheek bra created from lemon squeezers. It is this sort of thinking that will help the fashion industry to keep the consistency with its pace of change and reduce emissions from the field to an absolute minimum.
"This unexpected translation of materials allows her to uniquely highlight the message of sustainability - a key element to her success in changing the perception around waste and sustainable design." From Nicole's Website
But that’s just weird looking
While a jacket formed from goalkeeper gloves may sound odd, this is because as humans, we have a preconceived notion and prejudice of what the jacket should be and what goalkeeper gloves are for. This way of thinking is known as Subject-Oriented Ontology and is behind many of the prejudices between people in today's society as it creates a hierarchy between ourselves, others and the objects that surround us.
Yet in recent years there has been a new philosophy, Object-Oriented Ontology, which aims to create objectivity between ourselves and the objects in our lives because we are both made of the same material, atoms. This removal of prejudice between us and the objects in our lives would make items that Nicole and her contemporaries create the norm within our life, as a goalkeeper glove is as much a jacket as it is a glove.
In society we strive to reduce the prejudice, subjectivity and preconceptions between each other. If we were able to do the same with the fashion and objects around us, it would open up greater opportunities to create fashion from everything that surrounds us rather than using what we currently know. Nicole’s mind-frame sits within this philosophy and demonstrates how the reuse of objects into creating new garments can be truly plastic while benefiting the planet and our changing fashion trends.