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The modern, fast-paced fashion industry feeds a culture of waste that results in millions of tonnes of textiles burned or sent to landfill every year. Brands are acknowledging the problem, increasingly labelling products with buzzwords like “circular” and marketing bags made from recycled fishing nets or shoes crafted from plastic bottles. But the industry still needs to find scalable solutions to its waste problem.
This week on The BoF Podcast, chief correspondent Lauren Sherman speaks with chief executive of the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA), Edwin Keh, about ways fashion can tackle the waste challenge.
Recycling innovations that could turn old clothes back into new materials are on the horizon. But alongside investments to scale up new technologies, fashion must rethink its approach to design, Keh said. “We make stuff, we use it and we want it to go away, and we take new material and we repeat that process,” says Keh. “But not built into that process is circularity and the design intent for it to be recycled.”
New recycling technologies must also have a compelling business case to be able to compete with established ways of doing business, says Keh. “If you solve the science problem and you don’t make the business case for it or you don’t create the logistics for it, then you have sort of like a half-baked solution that makes you feel good, works well in the lab, but doesn’t have a real-world application.”
The fashion industry also needs to get smarter about data analytics to understand consumer trends and manage production accordingly, Keh says. “There’s a lot of opportunity to work on more intelligent ways to do analytics and… not to make [overproduction mistakes] in the first place,” he adds.