Dr. Alan Hudd (Source: Alchemie)
The fashion industry is the second largest cause of industrial water pollution in the world and is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, more than international flights and shipping combined. Textile production uses huge quantities of water; 1.5 trillion liters annually. It takes 30 tons of water to dye one ton of fabric, and many textile factories dump untreated, dye-contaminated wastewater directly into rivers.
How can Alchemie contribute to reduce the fashion industry’s impact on the environment?
I’m proud to say that Alchemie is a leader in clean technology for the textile industry, transforming the sustainability of textile dyeing and finishing to address fashion’s damaging impact on climate change.
Our mission is to dramatically cut the CO2 emissions produced by the fashion industry and eliminate the huge amounts of water, and dye contaminated wastewater created in the process of dyeing our clothes. Ultimately, our goal is to stop the fashion industry producing 500 million tons of CO2 by 2030, which is the equivalent to 50,000 times the weight of the Eiffel Tower.
Unbeknown to many, textile dyeing and finishing are some of the most polluting manufacturing processes on the planet, responsible for 3% of global CO2
emissions (predicted to rise to 10% by 2050) and over 20% of global industrial water pollution.
Alchemie has developed a breakthrough textile dyeing technology, Endeavour, that dramatically reduces energy consumption (85%) and water used (95%) compared to traditional dyeing. Alchemie’s proprietary jetting technology penetrates micro-droplets of dye deep into fabric fibers, crucially applying the right amount of dye so that there is no excess dye to be washed out. Infra-red energy is used to activate dye fixation, eliminating the water requirement and high-energy fabric washing used by conventional dyeing.
Our precision digital finishing technology, Novara, also uses 85% less energy, up to 95% less water, and up to 50% less chemistry than conventional chemical bath systems. This is used to apply technical and fabric enhancing properties such as water repellent, anti-odor, anti-bacterial and insect repellent to fabrics, such as for outerwear, workwear, and sportswear.
Both of our technologies drastically reduce polluting impacts on the environment, which in turn will reduce the fashion industry’s overall impact on global warming and climate change.
These new digital dyeing and finishing technologies you’ve developed, are they already completely sustainable and climate-neutral?
As dyeing and finishing is the worst contributor to climate change within the fashion and textile sectors, achieving complete neutrality for these processes is a big challenge. However, where Alchemie helps to address this issue is by creating a completely new way of dyeing textiles that requires just 15% of the energy and 5% of the water normally used in the dyeing process. This a seismic change from a horrendously polluting process to one that will enable fashion brands to dramatically reduce the carbon footprint and water dependency of their apparel supply chains. We hope moving forward our technologies will be well on the way to achieving further sustainable strides in the industry with an overall aim of achieving climate neutral status.
Your mission is to reduce the fashion industry’s impact on the environment by transformation. What are the biggest challenges on the way to transform the textile industry to a green industry?
The biggest challenge is raising awareness among brands, manufacturers, consumers, and governments of the fact that dyeing and finishing is one of the most polluting industries on the planet – and is also the most polluting and energy-intensive process involved in clothing manufacture. While more are aware of the fashion industry’s impact on the environment, many only associate this issue with fast fashion as it is increasing in media awareness. However, there are other numerous stages within the production process that are equally important but aren’t as widely covered. The fashion industry needs to adapt and move away from traditional processes if it is to see any real environmental transformation, which is where the challenge lies.
How do you see the role of the industry here, and what is the role of the consumer?
The fashion industry uses around 1.5 trillion liters of water annually. But while textile dyeing is the most polluting part of garment manufacturing, it can be cleaned up the fastest, making an immediate cut in carbon emissions. Textile manufacturers and governments all need to play their role by switching to more sustainable solutions if they are to survive and remain profitable.
It is crucial to ensure that we as an industry sensitize brands and manufacturers to the water-intensive nature of the fabric dyeing and finishing process. It is also vital to draw attention to the amount of water pollution that is caused through these processes. Recent research showed that 96% of a fashion brand’s footprint derives from the manufacturing supply chain. Brands should be leading the charge to make the industry more sustainable.
In the UK, the emphasis is on consumer and brands to insist on sustainable manufacturing. In the UK we make very few clothes anymore. We offshore our emissions and wastewater to other parts of the world where textiles are produced. However, we need consumers to be aware of this and pressure government to promote the work we do, which makes fashion and textiles more sustainable.
The amount of clothes purchased by the global population, 14 kg per person, per year on average, creates around 1 billion tons of global CO2
emissions and 8,295 billion liters of dye contaminated wastewater from dyeing the fabric, each year: the equivalent of 3,318,000 Olympic swimming pools by volume.
It’s then up to consumers to invest in brands that are ethically sourced, even if this initially means an increase in cost. We’re starting to see awareness of shopping sustainably amongst consumers, but there is still a long way to go. Brands are also making some great strides, and some are passionate and genuine defenders of sustainability. However, the pace needs to increase.What influence have European regulations for sustainable textiles on the competitiveness of European textile and apparel companies?
New European regulations mean that manufacturers will have to ensure their clothes are eco-friendly and long-lasting so that by 2030 textile products placed on the EU market are long-lived and recyclable, made as much as possible of recycled fibers, free of hazardous substances and produced in respect of social rights and the environment.
Due to this, the sustainable textile manufacturers and brands will undoubtedly become more competitive and saturate the existing market, as sustainability becomes the new competitive advantage for manufacturers attracting brands, and for brands to attract and maintain customer loyalty. That being said, brands and manufacturers working towards a united goal of a more sustainable future, is always a positive influence in my opinion.
Endeavour, Novara = trademarks
The interview was conducted by Mechthild Maas, editor of TextileTechnology, with Dr. Alan Hudd, Founder and Director of Alchemie Technology Ltd., Cambridge/UK.