In our recent articles on textile sustainability, we’ve explored the detrimental impacts of fast fashion. Dyes, water usage in production and the plastics in many garments all mean fashion is a massive polluter across the globe. Toxic chemicals used in coating and dyeing to create vibrant, irresistible colours can be toxic to human health and the environment. 

But there are signs of hope. New technologies, eco-friendly attitudes and forward-thinking companies are actively tackling these issues, creating products and manufacturing processes that are kinder – and much less toxic.

Stain-resistant, wrinkle-free fabrics come at a price

Currently, chemicals used in fashion production are listed as some of the most toxic materials in the world. Chemicals in dyes and finishes include harmful substances such as formaldehyde, cyanide and petroleum. While these can boost fabric properties by making them vibrant and rich, or make a garment stain, wrinkle or water-resistant – all of these chemicals can be toxic for humans and for the planet. 

In addition to toxicity in due runoffs and coatings, water use is massively impacted too. Dyeing means garments need to be washed over and over again to remove any unfixed dye. This uses, and wastes, huge amounts of water.

So what’s the solution? Is there ever an eco-friendly solution to creating vibrant, beautiful clothes – without the environmental damage?

The future of fashion dyes can be safer 

There’s actually a lot to be positive about. As sustainability gains prominence, brands and manufacturers are seeking more eco-friendly alternatives seriously. 

One answer is in new, exciting and emerging textile technology. Many companies are creating safer, environmentally friendly procedures that limit, or eliminate the need for harmful dyes. Tincorium is genetically engineering bacteria to act in the way the Japanese Indigo plant holds colour – without the need for toxic chemicals to turn indigo into a liquid dye. New methods to reduce the dyeing processes needed, cutting down on the number of chemicals or water needed in the first place are also being developed by companies such as Colorifix and ColorZen.

To address impacts on water use, new processes that use pigments rather than dye are being developed. Digital printers instead of dye vats are more effective, with much less waste and resources needed.

Of course, these new technologies are expensive and that has its own set of challenges. But they are gaining ground, creating real sustainable solutions.

Brands must change consumer expectations

As with most things sustainable, consumers need to play their part too. If companies are to reduce, or cut out the use of chemicals such as formaldehyde for wrinkle-free fabrics and PFCs for stain-resistance; consumers need to alter their expectations when it comes to their garments while supporting alternatives that are likelier to be more expensive. 

While there are exciting developments in terms of chemical-alternatives for dyeing, many finishes can’t be achieved easily, if at all, without the need for toxic chemicals.

Fashion can become less toxic, but it needs a combined effort. 

Much of the outlook when it comes to fashion sustainability is gloomy, with no real signs of a reduction in consumer appetite, or genuinely eco-friendly production across the globe.

But there are real signs of celebration when it comes to reducing toxic chemicals used in production whether in dyes or finishing. Dye and process technology need support from manufacturers and consumers to make an active difference. But the potential is there for exciting, less toxic processes– and that’s great news for genuine sustainability. 

Textile Consult operates worldwide and in the UK, consulting on a variety of management, training and sustainability issues within the textile industry. Contact us today to find out how we’ll work with you to find effective, sustainable solutions for your company.