Where the runway meets the street

It’s no secret that we’re staring down the barrel of an environmental crisis. A rapidly-growing human population, consumer habits and corporate malpractice are putting immense strain on Mother Nature, and the fashion industry is a huge part of the problem.

Clothing production has a massive carbon footprint — it’s not uncommon for garments to travel round the globe twice before they end up in stores — and requires immense amounts of water and electricity, with pollution, waste and abuse of workers’ rights all adding to the industry’s many sins.

However, every crisis is also an opportunity. Many innovators are finding increasingly resourceful ways to side-step — or at least reduce — fashion’s environmental impact. Of course, making something “less bad” isn’t going to fix our planet’s many woes, but at least it’s a start.

See below for some next-level tech innovations that are helping to push the industry in the right direction.

For further reading, read our piece questioning if adidas can make sustainable clothing cool. Oh, and here are four foolproof ways you can make your wardrobe more sustainable and ethical.

Making Stuff out of Orange Peel

There are more than 700,000 tons of waste product created by the citrus industry in Italy alone. Adriana Santanocito and Enrica Arena, a pair of free-thinking Italians, chose to harness the power of citrus by turning that waste into actual fabric.  The duo’s patented technology extracts cellulose from waste orange peel, and turns it into a polymer fiber that can then be turned into fabric.

What’s more, the peel is given to their company free of charge, as citrus manufacturers save money by not having to dispose of the waste themselves. The pair has already created a capsule collection with Italian luxury house Salvatore Ferragamo. Proof that sustainability can be smart business, too.

Curious? Head over to for more info.

Growing Leather

Do you love the feel and look of leather, but can’t bring yourself to wear animal hides? Modern Meadow is a company that’s growing collagen, a protein that’s found in animal skin, which can then be turned into biofabricated leather that’s completely animal-free.

What’s more, last year a Central Saint Martins graduate announced that they were planning to link with a DNA lab to grow leather based on Alexander McQueen’s actual skin. The skin would be cloned from a hair found on an old garment the sorely-missed designer made, and would, in theory, be so life-like that it could actually get sunburnt when left outside. Eww.

They might sound grisly, but lab-growing leather would potentially remove the environmental impact of leather production by reducing global demand for livestock, which has an absolutely colossal carbon footprint. Not only does livestock contribute to global emissions by pumping harmful methane into the atmosphere, but it makes the problem much worse by requiring huge amounts of space — which is often created by chopping down valuable forests.

Turning Plastic Into Fashion


Plastic is extremely wasteful — we all know that. One shocking way of disposing of the material is by dumping it into the ocean, which is obviously really, really bad for the environment — it ends up creating things like the Pacific Trash Vortex.

In a bid to turn that waste into something useful, Parley For The Oceans has linked with G-Star RAW, adidas and Pharrell Williams to create fashion out of recovered ocean waste. Launched in 2014, the RAW for the Oceans project was a collection of denim woven from upcycled ocean plastic.

That same year, adidas created a Futurecraft concept sneaker using the same principles. The 3D-printed shoe has an upper made from ocean plastic, and a midsole which is 3D printed using recycled polyester and gill net content. adidas has even stopped using plastic bottles for meetings at its global HQ in Germany, while the Three Stripes has also phased out the use of plastic bags in its retail stores.

Peppermint Tees (and Silver)

For all of the fashion industry’s issues with garment manufacturing, what’s often overlooked is the environmental damage that’s done at home. Just doing the laundry uses vast amounts of water and electricity, while detergents are believed by some to cause harmful side-effects on a region’s water supply.

So, what if you didn’t need to wash your clothes so often? If the very fabrics you wore resisted smells, you could only wash your clothes when they were actually stained.

New technologies are allowing manufacturers to embed odor-beating fibers, like peppermint and silver, into fabrics. Silver is, believe it or not, useful for combating odors and smells, but due to its extractive nature (i.e., you need to mine it), peppermint is the more environmentally-responsible option.

Laser-Faded Jeans

Denim Experts Ltd

People love faded jeans — worn-in denim is one of the reasons the fabric is so popular. However, people probably wouldn’t be so hyped on faded jeans if they knew how the fabric was given that pre-aged look. In the past, denim was typically faded by sand-blasting, a dangerous production method that puts workers at risk by exposing them to dangerous levels of silica.

In fact, Levi’s and H&M linked up in 2010 to announce they’d be ditching sand-blasting altogether, in favor of new techniques. One of those new methods involves using lasers to pre-age denim.

As well as avoiding silica exposure, laser engraving uses way less water than conventional washing methods. Many apparel manufacturing countries — particularly those in Africa and Asia — are already under intense water stress, and at risk of drought, so any technique that uses less water is a welcome step forward.

Check out this video of some lasers fading a pair of jeans. Sick.

For further reading, here’s 21 sustainable and ethical fashion brands that are actually worth buying.

Also, can adidas make sustainable clothing cool? Oh, and here’s four foolproof ways you can make your wardrobe more sustainable and ethical.

  • Lead image: adidas
Words by Alec Leach
Digital Fashion Editor

Alec Leach grew up in Brighton, England, but now lives in Berlin, where he leads Highsnobiety's digital fashion content.

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