The fashion industry with its ever changing trends has had a big role to play in polluting the environment. But with growing awareness among the consumers, many apparel manufacturers have switched to employing eco-friendly methods of production. Saumya Chaturvedi discusses about the sustainable technologies and processes being used in the industry to make fashion green.


"Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, in the way we live and what is happening around us."- Coco Chanel


Fashion is a means to express one's ideas, culture and values, interests and personality. Fashion has been evolving since the 19th century when Charles Fredrick Worth had labels sewn into garments that he created.


Even though fashion has evolved through decades of constantly creating demands by being stylish and fascinating, its impact on the environment is becoming increasingly hazardous. Being one of the biggest players in the global economy, the fashion industry holds the responsibility to protect and save the environment and its precious resources. Insatiable and increasing demands are putting undue pressure on the environment. The culture of affordable shopping has led to increase in the number of shopaholics, thus increasing shopping.


Since Fashion cannot die by Norelle Rheingold it is the need of the hour to identify potential sources to lessen the pressure it exerts on the environment. The textile industry is one of the biggest culprits. The World Bank reveals that the textile industry single-handedly contributes to 18-20 per cent of global industrial water pollution from dyeing and pre-treatment of fabrics and textiles. A large amount of solid and liquid wastes are discharged into water bodies during the manufacture of textiles. Processes in textile mills lead to air emissions containing several harmful chemicals including chlorine and hydrogen sulphide. Consumers and clothing manufacturers are becoming aware of the harmful consequences and are trying for alternative technologies to protect the environment.


One such initiative is the launch of Liva, the new age fluid fabric by Birla Cellulose. It is a cellulosic high quality fabric which falls and drapes according to the body and moves with the body. Birla Cellulose has been creating superior and sustainable viscose staple fibre balancing the power of science and nature. With over 50 years' experience, Birla Cellulose has been making metal-free fibres with increased absorbency and softness accompanied by lustre, smoothness, and drapability. Their fibres are not only eco-friendly but also versatile and beautiful. Birla Cellulose is increasingly engaging with big brands.



When it comes to dyeing and other wet treatments, one of the major issues is the use of large quantities of water and the discharge of wastes into water bodies. To reduce usage of water and contamination, ColorZen, driven by the thought of "the power of less," recently introduced air dyeing. It uses 95 per cent less water and 86 per cent less energy compared to traditional processes. As the name suggests, this technology seeks to improve sustainability in textile industry by using air instead of water while dyeing and printing. Results are long-lasting, durable, rich colours using very little water and less discharged chemicals. The replacement of water with air as a dye liquor is a big step towards reducing chemical and water consumption. One drawback is that it has been developed to dye only cotton , but positive aspect says that it could cut out some 2.4 trillion gallons of water used in synthetic dyeing. This development has shown clear response to increasing concerns of industries towards the environment, but to succeed, it needs successful implementation.


Another recent and important development to reduce water usage in fashion industry is the water free stone washing of denim. Use of biotechnologically developed enzymes increases the efficiency of wastewater treatment systems, lowering treatment costs. The enhanced abrasion process by using these enzymes can save up to 50 per cent water, 50 per cent heat and 15 per cent electricity in comparison to traditional methods. This method is not only easy to implement but also meets environmental legislations as enzymes are biodegradable and do not interfere with nature's balance. Since enzymes make biological reactions happen at low temperature without chemicals, it cuts costs.


Concerned over the amount of water consumed, the Netherlands launched the world's first ever dyeing machines that use super carbon dioxide as a replacement to water. Researchers have considered developing a completely water-free dyeing process, reducing operational costs. The process involves heating carbon dioxide above 31 degree Celsius and subjected to pressure above 74 bar which makes it supercritical, providing properties of both gas and liquid. This enhances dyeing methods and has helped increase the speed of dyeing. One of its main advantages is that many steps such as extraction of spinning oils, dyeing, and removal of excess dye can be combined into one. Finally, carbon dioxide escapes in gaseous state. About 90 per cent of the used carbon dioxide can be easily recycled. Since viscosity of the dyeing solution is lower, it circulates and penetrates easily, providinwg effective colouration. The only limitation is that the process can be applied to scoured polyester fabrics. Technologies to dye cellulosics are also being developed for the revolutionary change.


As consumers grow aware of the harmful consequences posed by industries on the environment, more efficient methods are being developed. These techniques need to be studied further and should be developed for all types of fabrics so that the pressure on resources is lessened.