Dutch design company G-Star RAW is leading fashion into more environmentally friendly manufacturing processes, that combat the damaging effects of ocean pollution. In a recently successful partnership with music legend Pharrell Williams, “RAW for the oceans,” G-Star became the first company to make denim from recycled ocean plastic.
In a new effort to support the Ocean Clean Watch scheme, which seeks to prevent clothing garments from polluting the ocean with plastic fibers, G-Star has pledged to replace the polyester in its products with recycled plastics and other materials. With G-Star aiming to substitute 100 percent of polyester with recycled plastic by 2020, other clothing companies will likely feel pressure to adopt similar approaches.
For G-Star’s new anti-polyester initiative, the company has partnered with the Plastic Soup Foundation, which “promotes and supports measures that prevent the break down and proliferation of plastic waste at sea”. To put the exigent issue into perspective, the director of the Plastic Soup Foundation Maria Westerbos used the example of fleece, which releases an astounding one-million microfibers every time it is washed. When you consider that nearly all clothing items contain some level of plastic and that billions of people are washing their clothes per day, the goal of partnerships like the one between G-Star and the Plastic Soup Foundation becomes central to combating the ever-growing problem of sea pollution.
The prevalent production of cotton demanded similar reforms when we started to comprehend just how environmentally damaging the chemicals used to grow it were. The production of organic cotton — cotton grown without some of the most harmful insecticides and fertilizers as classified by the Environmental Protection Agency — started taking off in 2007, with worldwide production growing at a rate of more than 50 percent per year. By 2011, 696,000 bales of organic cotton were produced on 802,047 acres in 20 countries, led by India, Syria, China, Turkey, and the United States.
While a devastating drought in the United States in 2011 forced farmers to abandon 65 percent of their organic cotton farms, there is still great opportunity for expansion of organic cotton farms. Organic cotton production comprises a minuscule fraction of the total cotton produced yearly in the world, but contained and small efforts like these create awareness and ideally affect pivotal change in the future.
The same goes for G-Star’s partnership with the Plastic Soup Foundation: it’s not as if joint effort is going to singlehandedly solve the problem of microfiber pollution in the ocean. It will, however, identify the problem at hand and put pressure on manufacturers to refine their methods and begin to address it. We may very well see more of our clothes made from recycled plastic and other materials, starting with denim and expanding to other fabrics and garments as technology develops. In regards to a large scale issue like microfiber pollution in oceans, the solution lies in small, proactive steps, simply because sweeping reforms are unfeasible.
As G-Star’s initiative gains more traction, other brands may start to see what’s really fashionable: clean oceans.