The fashion industry is well known for its problems with enormous waste, huge use of natural materials and negative impact on the environment. My experiences in building Kusaga Athletic have really opened my eyes to how operating a linear supply chain contributes to the issues of the fashion industry and why it simply makes no sense. A circular economy really is the only blueprint to connect up the global ecosystem of this industry. One that thrives on connectivity, transparency, social purpose and sustainability. It’s the ideal approach to solve problems as big as those we face in fashion and there is growing global support for the accountability it offers.And technology is the tool that can unlock the circular economy.I’m not talking about the technology we call wearables - those clever materials and garments that can monitor our body’s activity - heart rate, breath, sweat rate and sleep or even those odd shirts that use ‘Color Change Technology’ to tell you how much you are sweating at the gym. (Some things do seem like a good idea at the time, don't they?)The time has come for industry and consumers alike to recognise and support the ‘moonshot’ innovations, ideas and products that spring from free thinking and harness technology that will give rise to the fashion industry 2.0 and beyond. The kind of innovation where future products have minimal impact on the environment; where an industry operates with reuse and recycle; and where materials return to the earth. A lot of this work is happening right now and we all need to support it.There are many individuals and companies leading industry change, unlocking new approaches to old methods, combining our current day and future technologies with nature. And for many, the nature part is about using materials that are causing harm to the planet and which have utility as a source of material.Footwear company Vivobarefoot, who already turn plastic bottles into shoes (about 17 plastic bottles to make a pair of runners), wanted to tackle the harmful synthetic & petrochemical foams that form part of many shoes, so they teamed up with US company Bloom to create a shoe that’s made from algae biomass. Algal blooms threaten marine environments around the world. The uncontrollable growth of algae is fed by chemical waste, mostly things like fertilisers containing phosphorus and nitrates, that are tossed out and seep into our waterways.German company Algalife also saw the opportunity in algae and realised its innovative and sustainable applications through biotechnology to develop pigments and fibres from the tiny microorganisms. Kusaga Athletic created ECODRY® which is sustainable and 100% planet friendly. As an athlete, I was motivated to develop ECODRY™ because of mountains of dreadful tee shirts that are passed out like confetti at all marathon events. Most are never worn because they are poorly made and simply aren't suitable for wearing in the kinds of events from which they are given away. ECODRY® proves fashion can effectively serve its purpose and also be planet friendly. The fabric is athlete focused to support maximum performance as it is a high-stretch, breathable and hard wearing material. It is also designed to minimise impact on the environment, even at the end of its life when it is made to leave no trace - it is biodegradable and recyclable. It was the development of our products within the circular economy business model that led me to now focus on the opportunity to recycle existing fabrics. Textile waste is one of the biggest problems facing our planet. At Kusaga Athletic, we know that while our actions to directly reduce our industry's impact on the planet and provide products for consumers to play their part in mitigating climate change, we know we can do a lot more.Companies like Infinited Fiber Company are already making new cotton-like fibres from recovered cotton cellulose and other biomaterials. Australian company Life Cykel is tackling textile waste using fungi. Their current trials are delivering success by using mycelium (mushroom roots) to efficiently consume textile waste to grow mushrooms. Through BlockTexx, we are advancing the traditional manufacturing model by using blockchain technology and Internet of Things (IoT) to unlock value from pre and post consumer textile waste along the traditional supply chain. The aim is to identify future product streams that will close the product life cycle loop and divert textile waste away from landfill.
Like many industries, the fashion industry must re-imagine the way it does business. The way it’s structured today is not set up to solve the problems we have created for ourselves as a society. We can no longer afford to be passive bystanders.There’s no easy solution and we can’t expect a quick fix from individual governments or rich philanthropists. Brands, manufacturers and consumers, all need to collaborate together and solve this together. Graham Ross is founder and CEO of Kusaga Athletic and BlockTexx.