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Thread Lightly: T-Shirt Sustainability Unravelled

Explore your fashion footprint. Look, feel and learn how your choices impact the planet.

Fast fashion is booming. While that’s great news for your wardrobe, it’s bad news for the planet; from material production to garment disposal, Earth is choking under its weight.

Fast fashion facts:

  • Today’s average consumer buys 60% more items of clothing and keeps them for half as long compared to 15 years ago.1
  • 150 billion garments are produced each year, with 92 million tonnes ending up in landfills.
  • The fashion industry produces 8-10% of global CO2 emissions, and if no action is taken, its emissions are expected to double by 2030.

 

T-shirt sustainability unravelled

As part of the Melbourne Fashion Festival Independent Programme, Deloitte’s Sustainability and Climate team curated a transformative experience highlighting the power of conscious consumerism.

Our pop-up installation showcases ten white t-shirts made from either ‘Threads of Today’ or ‘Threads of Tomorrow’. Discover how your clothing choices impact the planet and the sustainable and innovative fabrics shaping the future of fashion.

LOCATION 

Olderfleet, 477 Collins Street, Melbourne 3000

Open from 8am daily from 26th February – 8th March 2024.

 

Threads of Today 

The fashion industry today uses diverse natural and synthetic fibres, each with unique traits. While each has benefits, they also have an environmental impact.  

One of the oldest and most commonly used fibres in the apparel and textile industry. It’s the second most produced fibre globally. Depending on the location, it takes on average 10,000-20,000 litres of water to cultivate just one kilogram of raw cotton. Chemical pesticides are used which are harmful to both biodiversity and the environment and pose a serious threat to the health of cotton farmers.2

Fashion footprint facts:

  • Producing one cotton shirt requires around 2,500 litres of water.3
  • Cotton uses 4.7% of the world’s pesticides and 10% of the world’s insecticides.

Alternatives:

  • Organic cotton: free of chemical pesticides and genetically modified seeds.
  • Recycled cotton: uses less water, requires no pesticides or GM and reduces textile waste.

This synthetic fibre uses less water than cotton but sheds microplastics when washed, contributes to high energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions during production and is non-biodegradable staying in landfills for centuries.

The polyester-cotton blend is breathable, durable, affordable and comfortable, but recycling is challenging due to the intricate separation of fibres, however, recent technological advancements have improved feasibility and accessibility.

Fashion footprint facts:

  • 125 megajoules of energy is needed to produce one kilogram of polyester.
  • 14.2 kg of carbon dioxide is emitted when producing one kilogram of polyester.

Alternatives:

  • Recycled and bio polyester.4

Global demand for this renewable, natural, biodegradable and recyclable fabric has led to extensive growth in sheep farming, raising concerns about animal welfare and methane emissions.5 This has motivated the wool industry, particularly in Australia, to actively research methods to address these concerns, focusing on mitigating methane emissions and improving farming standards.6

Fashion footprint facts:

  • Australia produces 90% of the world’s fine apparel wool.

Alternatives:

  • Certified organic wool: guarantees no pesticides and parasiticides and good livestock management are used.

Made from cellulose – typically sourced from wood pulp – viscose production contributes to deforestation of ancient and endangered forests. The manufacturing process uses large amounts of air- and water-polluting chemicals. While viscose is seldom recycled, some companies are adopting sustainable materials and practices, offering hope for reduced environmental impact.7

Fashion footprint facts:

  • 150 million trees are logged annually in viscose production.

This strong and naturally biodegradable fibre made from flax plants is more eco-friendly than cotton, using less water and pesticides, but its retting process can be chemical-heavy. This process can be avoided by using water retting which is a common feature of certified organic linen.

Fashion footprint facts:

  • Overall, linen is one of the least environmentally damaging fibres used today.8

Threads of Tomorrow

The fashion industry is shifting towards an era of eco-conscious fashion sustainability via fabric innovation, recycling and the second-hand market. 

Made from sustainable raw materials such as wood and untreated seaweed, when harvested responsibly only the renewable parts of the seaweed are used. With minimal water usage and a closed-loop system for chemicals, the production process saves both energy and resources.9

This program is a globally recognised standard for products that are safe, sustainable, and designed for circularity – meaning items are created with their next use in mind and actively participate in closed-loop cycling pathways. The aim is to encourage manufacturers to design products with a positive environmental and social impact throughout their lifecycle, from raw material extraction to end-of-life disposal or reuse.10

Fashion footprint facts:

  • Certification requires products to be evaluated across five categories: material health, product circularity, clean air and climate protection, water and soil stewardship and social fairness.

Pineapple leaves and orange or banana peel are some of the organic byproducts used to create different types of fabrics that are already being used in the fashion industry. The byproducts are considered waste and production uses minimal water and contains no animal products.11 There is also a social benefit, giving farmers extra income from waste products that
are normally thrown away.

Fashion footprint facts:

  • Pineapple leaves are used to make a vegan leather alternative. Large global fashion brands are already using it to make products like belts, shoes, jackets and handbags.

Extending the life of clothes has significant environmental benefits. Adding just nine months to the average lifespan of clothing can lead to substantial reductions in carbon, water, and waste footprints by about 20-30%. Younger generations are increasingly drawn to shopping for second hand items, not only due to financial reasons but also because of environmental benefits.12

Fashion footprint facts:

  • The global second-hand and resale market was estimated to be worth US $96 million in 2021.

This natural bast fibre comes from plant stems and has long been used in textiles. It’s a renewable, fast-growing fibre that thrives in diverse climates without chemical pesticides or fertilisers. Its minimal water requirement often negates the need for additional irrigation. It’s worth noting that while its sustainability benefits are notable, hemp processing methods can impact the environment. Hemp’s popularity is increasing as fashion and textile brands pivot towards sustainability.13

Fashion footprint facts:

  • Organic hemp is rated as one of the most sustainable fibres.
Find out more about Deloitte’s Climate & Sustainability Practice:

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