22 April 2019

Futurecraft or Futurewaste? The Loop Dilemma

Futurecraft Loop

Climate change is a very real and dangerous prospect that requires action to be taken now if we want to secure a liveable future for generations to come. Most governments are unfortunately reluctant to spend the money required to make the changes necessary to offset the damage we have done to the planet. The simplest explanation I can think of for this is that it requires long term planning and expenditure, and a government here in the UK, or across in the USA, only holds power for around four or five years between elections. So it is easier to address short term issues that will win votes, and use what money you have within your budget to address problems here and now (the majority of which are indeed necessary to address). Governments are slowly coming around to the idea of securing our future past just the next election, but those changes come at a glacial pace. This will continue to be the case until the public appetite changes and acting on climate change becomes a vote winner.

For the public discourse on climate change to be transformed, there has to be greater awareness of the issue. London has seen major protests these past few days, with hundreds of arrests resulting from said protests, and so I suppose that the issue of climate change has been rather forcefully brought into the spotlight. However I do hope that moving forward there is a more positive engagement, because these protests have in my opinion been rather detrimental to winning over public opinion. I believe that for there to be major change, it is about making the option to be environmentally friendly as easy as possible. In order to do this it is about creating an understanding that the changes we can make to improve our future need not be detrimental to our current quality of life. Of course how those changes are implemented is the real question.

It is easy for a wealthier person to say that there should be an additional tax on plastic food packaging, for example, but it will be the poorest in society who suffer. You can already guess that companies will drag out the process of changing their packaging, if they do so at all, and so the result will simply be a price rise that impacts those who are barely able to make ends meet anyway. And that is not to even mention farming practices, the welfare of the workers, transport methods and the myriad of others issues in the journey from seed to table. I do not think of action on climate change as a top-down or bottom-up process, but something that requires effort on every level, from micro to macro, for there to be an effective shift and positive movement forward. I really do think that we are all able to make decisions and choices on a daily basis that can have a profound impact in the long run. Even the smallest of habit changes makes a difference.

My primary interest is of course fashion and dress, and I am happy to see things slowly changing. Then again the majority of those changes seem to be a way for companies to cash into the latest consumer trend and raise their "woke" value on social media. Getting an environmentally friendly option to exist and be easily accessible in the first place is a major move, but it is what we do after that really matters. Within the last two decades fashion has become so fast that it is now disposable, and it is difficult to see how it could get any faster than that. In the UK it is estimated that £140 million worth of clothing, around 300,000 tonnes (however total textile wastage is apparently closer to 1,000,000 tonnes), is sent to landfill each year, rather than being recycled or reused. At this point even MPs in the UK have criticised major companies for promoting a culture of throwaway fast fashion. Such criticism has usually been met with the most tepid of reactions, with fast fashion chains putting out recycling bins for a short while, or introducing a range of "eco-friendly" clothing for a few days.

There are reports of how common it is for people to hit up cheap retailers for socks and underwear to take on holiday, and then throw each piece away after wearing, instead of bringing them home and washing them. But it is not just holiday clothing. Indeed, it seems as if fast fashion has truly become single use. Even where clothing is not ending up incinerated or in landfill, charities are actually concerned with what they can do with the amount of cheaply made clothing coming in. The garments are too poorly constructed to be resold or reused, and there is even difficulty with regards to recycling due to the nature of the fabrics being used. So not only is the amount of clothing we buy and dispose of each year a concern, but that clothing is becoming cheaper and cheaper, to the point that it is not even worth salvaging in many instances.

I am reminded of one of my favourite Yohji Yamamoto quotes - "Faster, faster, cheaper, cheaper. People have started wasting fashion." We are now used to buying new clothing and going shopping as a form of weekly entertainment, a desire met and reinforced by the abundance of fast fashion chains and clothing stores. In such a climate it is perhaps unsurprising that clothing and fashion have become so cheap to the point of being disposable. But then I suppose fashion at its beating heart is hardly concerned about waste - it is the constant pursuit of the new, and that necessarily equates to everything old falling by the wayside (until of course it is cut and sewn back together with a variety of other discarded relics by a designer looking for inspiration for their newest collection). However there are changes being made towards sustainability and socially/ecologically conscious manufacturing practices. These remain primarily at the fringes, either with high priced high fashion, or else rather unfashionable looking clothing for eco warriors.

But the fringe is where everything starts, because once it enters the market and picks up some speed, then others see the potential to make money and jump aboard. The cynic in me thinks it is all about commerce, and so even with big players like Ralph Lauren recently announcing a polo shirt made from recycled plastic bottles (along with a commitment to use 100% sustainably-sourced cotton and recyclable packaging by 2025), it does seem like a publicity drive. As long as the consumer behaviour exists wherein clothing is treated as disposable, the amount of clothing and amount of waste will increase, even if that process is made more sustainable. Surely it would be better to change the behaviour and treat fashion and clothing as something to be considered for the long haul - to be bought and repaired and reused? After all the most ecologically friendly purchase we can make is no purchase at all, or, failing that, to buy used.

And thus we come to my concern with the recently announced Adidas Futurecraft Loop, the first fully recyclable TPU sneaker made by Adidas, which is set to launch in 2021. The sneaker is made from reclaimed ocean plastic waste, and the idea behind it is that instead of disposing of the sneaker after wearing it for however long, it can be broken down and recycled in a closed-loop system to create another pair of shoes. The tagline of the marketing video they released on Instagram featuring Willow Smith is "Made To Be Remade". There seems to be a huge emphasis on recycling after wear instead of the shoes going to landfill, but it seems curious to me to advertise a shoe on the basis of what happens at the end of its lifespan. I really do have mixed emotions about advertising future waste, because while the fact that they are fully recyclable and made from recycled content is fantastic to see, they are essentially just preying on a pre-existing behaviour for disposable fashion and saying that now you can carry on guilt-free. Buy more, throw it away whenever you please, but don't worry, it will be recycled.

However, as cynical as I am about the marketing of the sneakers, I do still find them an incredible feat. It is a shoe that is fully recycled and recyclable, and looks exactly like the majority of the Boost sneakers that Adidas is producing these days. The fact that it looks similar to an existing product, but is recyclable, is a clever move, because it makes the choice easier for the consumer. It is easy to pick the environmentally friendly option if it is on the shelf next to the standard option and looks the same. Anything we can do to make those choices easier and more easily accessible is well worth pursuing, because eventually it will gain in popularity and proliferate as a result. I expect to see more recycled and recyclable clothing and shoes moving forward, and that can only be a good thing. If we are going to continue to gorge on fashion, the easiest step is to perhaps make the objects we are consuming at such a rapid pace greener. After that maybe we can work on changing habits.


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