podcast

Fashioning a sustainable future

In 2015, the production of clothing contributed more greenhouse gases to the environment than all international flights and shipping combined. We discover the Italian denim company working to high green standards and hear about the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s commitment to helping the fashion industry clean up its act

28/11/2019

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It takes 23,000 litres of water to make a single T-shirt and a pair of jeans. But it doesn’t have to be that way. “Not many people are aware of what is behind the production, how much it takes to make a pair of jeans,” says Alberto Candiani, chief executive of Candiani Denim. “But I am perfectly aware that we can make it way more efficient.”

The fashion industry has a reputation for being environmentally unfriendly, but Candiani Denim – an Intesa Sanpaolo customer that supplies the popular material for numerous high-end brands – describes itself as the “greenest company in the blue world”. Candiani works to make its denim kinder to the environment in part by using eco-friendly threads such as Lyocell, which is a fibre made from wood pulp. Lyocell is more expensive than traditional cotton, but for Alberto Candiani, it helps his company provide the right product both for the customer and the environment.

“Circularity is the only way to keep going. I’m afraid capitalism will fail without circularity”
Alberto Candiani, CEO of Candiani Denim

“Denim is such a specific, original fabric that you want to update it, but you don’t want to change the look or aesthetic. You want to stick to what denim represents,” he says. “We consider ourselves to be purists of innovation, rather than denim purists, and I believe that’s why we still exist.”

But denim is only part of this story of waste. That’s why the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has made the wider fashion industry a target for putting circular economy methods into action with its Make Fashion Circular initiative. Fibre producers, materials makers, retailers, brands and clothing recyclers are all key stakeholders that will help fashion clean up its act.

“In 2015, the production of clothing contributed 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions to the environment. That’s more than all international flights and shipping combined, so there is a huge challenge in where to start,” says Laura Balmond, project manager of Make Fashion Circular. Balmond explains the three core principles of the initiative: making sure items of clothing remain in use; ensuring clothes are made from safe and renewable materials; and designing clothes so they can easily be recycled into new ones.

“In 2015, the production of clothing contributed 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions to the environment.
That’s more than all international flights and shipping combined, so there is a huge challenge in where to start”
Laura Balmond, project manager of Make Fashion Circular

But what about customers? Over the past 15 years the production of clothing has doubled, meanwhile how much we wear each item has decreased by 40 per cent. Smart thinking on the part of the Foundation and other organisations has switched from lambasting customers to designing a system that works better for them, for businesses and for the environment. “The circular economy presents an opportunity for the different actors across the industry to meet the customer’s needs better,” says Balmond.

She suggests, for example, that the desire to wear new clothes every weekend lends itself quite well to a rental model, where high-end clothes are in effect shared, making the most of the materials used and also creating business where it didn’t previously exist.

“We see that by 2023 the rental model for clothes and accessories will double.
We think that this will be a real opportunity for companies, both simple rental and rental with subscription.
We see many start-ups in this area that can offer open innovation in the fashion industry”
Anna Monticelli, circular economy desk lead at Intesa Sanpaolo’s Innovation Center

Anna Monticelli, circular economy desk lead at Intesa Sanpaolo’s Innovation Center, spearheads the running of the bank’s €5 billion circular economy credit facility. She believes the fashion industry is one of the most interesting sectors to support in its transformation. “We see that by 2023 the rental model for clothes and accessories will double. We think that this will be a real opportunity for companies, both simple rental and rental with subscription. We see many start-ups in this area that can offer open innovation in the fashion industry,” she says, noting that while many companies understand the paradigm of the circular economy, not many are ready to start investing and changing their business models. “It’s a journey,” adds Monticelli.

For Alberto Candiani, moving to circular economic methods is a no-brainer. “Circularity is the only way to keep going. I’m afraid capitalism will fail without circularity.”

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