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Reducing the industry’s carbon footprint is not a single company effort, and Planet Textiles wants to be the conversation starter that initiates collaborative change.
The sustainable textiles summit, which made its debut in Hong Kong nine years back, serves as a place for textile industry members to work together on scaling sustainable innovations, reducing the negative impact of microfiber pollution and developing best practices for chemical management.
This year at the summit, which will take place in Vancouver, Canada on May 22nd, there will be breakout sessions and discussions focused on the sustainable goals above, and efforts to prep industry members to shift to a more circular model in coming years. Lenzing is a sponsor of the Planet Textiles Summit.
Denim makers will also have access to the latest information on dyeing, laundering and water saving techniques to make their supply chains more sustainable. Organizations set to attend the summit include Fashion For Good, a global initiative that aims to improve the industry’s carbon footprint, and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), an organization that provides the industry with uniform environmental progress tools.
The goal, for Planet Textiles, is to help the textile industry find more harmonized sustainable solutions, as now more than ever, the industry—and the consumer—are calling for transparency and what to buy products made more sustainably.
Carved in Blue caught up with Planet Textiles founder John Mowbray, to talk about environmental challenges for the textile industry, the importance of closing the loop, and why improving the planet will require the efforts of all key brands, producers, suppliers and stakeholders.
Carved in Blue: Can you tell us a little about the Planet Textiles event?
John: This year’s Planet Textiles takes place in Vancouver and will look at how small start-up companies can scale sustainable innovations in our industry from the lab to commercial reality. We will hold a special session on this in collaboration with Fashion For Good, as well as breakout sessions on financing innovation with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC).
Other themes include textile microfibers in relation to the growing problem of microplastics pollution. Here, we have world leading scientist Dr. Peter Ross from OceanWise Canada who will provide the latest science on textile microfibers and their release, fate and implications for marine eco-systems.
Deforestation in relation to the manmade cellulosic fiber sector will also be high on the agenda – along with the harmonization of textile chemical management and wastewater guidelines.
You can see the full agenda here.
Carved in Blue: Why did you start Planet Textiles?
John: MCL News & Media started Planet Textiles back in 2009 in Hong Kong—then in partnership with Messe Frankfurt, although Planet Textiles has always been an MCL brand.
At the time, I started it because there was no annual event on textile sustainability in Asia, where most of the world’s textile originate and I thought these manufacturers were a big missing part of the overall conversation on sustainability. Many of the other events at the time were mainly held for brands and retailers in developed regions and it seemed that the conversation was a bit of a closed shop.
We held the event exclusively in Hong Kong and Shanghai with Messe Frankfurt until we were invited to branch out in 2016 and held it at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, which at that point was a biannual event. Last year it was held in Bangalore together with the SAC and this year it’s Vancouver – again held alongside the SAC member meeting.
Carved in Blue: Why do you collaborate with SAC?
John: Great question. We started working with the SAC since we wanted Planet Textiles to live up to its name and become more of a global event given that we’d been successful in spreading the message in China with Messe Frankfurt, which is still carrying on some great work in the region through its Intertextile sourcing show.
We still have great links with Messe Frankfurt, but after a meeting with Jason Kibbey, SAC’s CEO, in February 2015 in London, we decided that because our organizations were pretty much aligned in terms of aims and objectives, we decided to partner on the production of a truly independent environmental event to run alongside their annual member meetings. So far, it’s been a huge success.
Carved in Blue: What do you think are the greatest challenges our industry faces with regards to sustainability?
John: The greatest challenge at the moment is the lack of implementation by brands of existing sustainability initiatives across their supply chains. This is happening too slowly in most instances or even not at all. Most alarmingly, some brands/retailers appear to be trying to control and ‘own’ the message of sustainability in our industry, with respect to news reporting. The last thing our industry needs is fake news and greenwash.
I won’t name names here, but I was recently invited to a press event by a leading clothing brand who wanted to provide a ‘masterclass’ on the complexities of sustainability reporting. Needless to say, we didn’t attend. It would rather be like MCL putting on a ‘masterclass’ for brands on how best to avoid greenwash? I wonder if they would show up?
Transnational corporations do this all the time in other industries – where NGO’s find it difficult to criticize the brands they are being funded by. Let’s hope our own industry does not go down this path.
Carved in Blue: What kind of impact do you hope the summit has on attendees? What do you want them to leave with?
John: A big impact. Delegates should leave Planet Textiles enthused to take meaningful and easily actionable steps to make a big difference to supply chains in the areas in which they operate. Above all, we are calling for more collaboration and industry harmonization to accelerate these efforts.
Too often, over the past 12 years, I’ve seen people trying to re-invent the wheel and try to carve out their own environmental niche within our industry when a solution already exists. It’s now time for the industry to come together behind a small number of key initiatives if we are to make more rapid progress to reducing the impact of textiles on our planet.
Carved in Blue: The denim industry is known as “a filthy business,” how do you think brands can reduce their environmental footprint?
John: I suppose one way for denim brands to do this is to invest in the latest available technology and implement best practice in denim production. However, brands need to recognize there is a price to pay for such innovation and they need to reward suppliers accordingly if we are to see widespread investment and upgrades.
Thankfully, that is happening in denim laundering for example, and in the indigo dyeing process where there have been very promising new advances this year in water saving techniques and the removal of key, hazardous impurities from indigo dyes. One of these will be unveiled at Planet Textiles.
Carved in Blue: Your title refers to you as, “Environmentalist and Founder.” What sparked your interest in sustainability?
John: As a small boy my local river in Yorkshire was often turned blue, red and green by the dye house effluent from a local shirt manufacturer, which decimated the freshwater eco-system and killed virtually all the fish in the river. Back then, I used to go fishing and the state of the river upset me since it was nearby, but I could never enjoy it. This really piqued by interest in environmental issues from an early age.
Later on, I enrolled to read Environmental Biology at the University of Manchester at a time when acid rain was a big problem in Europe during the 1980s. It was the first honors degree in environmental biology in the U.K. Since graduating, I’ve written on environmental issues since 1992, first at Elsevier Science in Oxford. I’ve been writing about textiles since 1999 and founded Ecotextile News in my spare room back in 2006.
Carved in Blue: What does Carved in Blue mean to you?
John: For me I suppose Carved in Blue is all about best practice in the denim sector. This is not just about fibers either, it’s about wet processing and flagging up the potential environmental impacts of the denim sector through new innovative solutions and real-world examples. It is a credit to Lenzing, as a fiber supplier, that it has chosen to highlight these important innovations and put them on record to widen the horizons of everyone involved in denim.
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