RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — It’s flaunted on social media, down runways, and in our everyday lives.
Fashion can be eye-catching but also practical. However, it sometimes has a negative environmental impact.
“In general, the global textile industry is not a great player in the environment,” explained Dr. Karen Leonas, professor of Textile Sciences at N.C. State.
She explains our glamorous fashion industry can be very wasteful. Particularly “fast fashion” which is a business model that produces more clothes, more often, but usually at lower quality, meaning the clothes don’t last as long.
“The overproduction, overconsumption, and the fast fashion has really promoted the overconsumption which people are producing to meet that need,” she said.
Compared to the turn of the century, people buy 60% more fashion products but only keep them for half as long. So how can we enjoy the latest styles, but keep our used clothes out of landfills?
“Anything that they’re doing to extend the life of it, whether it’s a fashion swap, thrifting, just extending that life,” Dr. Leonas explained.
It really can be as simple as buying clothes second-hand, renting the latest fashions, or reselling what you no longer wear. It’s not just better for the environment, it’s better for your wallet too.
But we can also recycle clothes if we know the makeup of the fabric.
N.C. State is doing research with a Sortile machine, showing how clothes can be broken back down into raw materials which are then re-spun or reused. Technology isn’t just driving the recycling of fabric, it’s changing the way fashion is designed.
“I do think in the future there will be a lot more 3-D designing,” Sarah Do said. Do is a Junior at the Wilson College of Textiles at N.C. State. She focuses on designing clothes without adding waste to landfills.
“The fact that the program is all 3-D you’re not really creating physical waste, so just being able to visually see what you would be prototyping as a muslin version of your dress,” she explained.
Here’s how it works: Sarah designs the article of clothing in a program that will give her the exact dimensions of each piece of fabric. The computers then figure out how to get the most clothing material out of each piece of fabric, helping eliminate waste.
“You can plan where you want to place your pieces on the rectangle of fabric before you actually cut it out in person,” she said. “So it helps you visualize the amount of waste that you’re actually producing.”
And once the design is finalized there are now ways to produce the fabric with the exact dimensions, also reducing waste.
“You can start making clothing fit to size, you can start expanding upon removing the cut and sew process,” explained Shayleigh Larsen, who is also a Junior in the Wilson College of Textiles.
In the knitting lab, she is also learning the importance of dying a single spool of thread with multiple colors, which uses less thread and saves gallons of water normally wasted in the dying process.
“It’s a startling amount that’s just for dying and to be able to eliminate that and still have an accurate color fastness and an accurate final color you have is really remarkable,” she said.
So the next time you see the latest fashion, think of these future leaders at NC State learning not only how to create memorable designs, but also creating fashion that’s environmentally friendly.
“I’m able to do cool things like this and really express myself in a sustainable and exuberant fashion!” Larsen added.
There’s a lot more to the Wilson College of Textiles than just fashion. To learn more about what they do, click here.