Sustainable Fashion and Accountability
Imagine a Fiber Testing Kit, that any consumer could purchase, bring home to their closet, and run a quick analysis on their favourite t-shirt. Anyone with the ability to test the fiber, theoretically, could hold companies accountable for their sourcing practices. An invention like this could be highly disruptive to the fashion industry, especially pertaining to the ongoing battle between ethical apparel and fast-fashion. Having the ability to know where a piece of clothing has been throughout its lifetime could be fascinating. Where were the fibers grown? Where was the product manufactured? Whose hands created the stitches? What if we could track the DNA of fabric?
Over 40 years ago, DNA profiling was developed by British-born Sir Alec Jeffreys, a geneticist and professor at the University of Leicester. Across the pond in California, biochemist Dr Kary Mullis, learned how to link and repeat DNA (polymerase chain reaction or PCR), while trying to find the point of genetic mutations for hereditary diseases. Both extraordinary minds made incredible breakthroughs for our knowledge and understanding of the human genome. DNA testing was implemented into law enforcement’s forensic teams within two years of the discoveries and has since been used worldwide to prove criminal acts, as well as exonerate innocent suspects.
Molecular Tagging to Reveal the Footprint
Although this gene tagging method may not be able to track individual fibers from anywhere in the world yet, many sustainable fashion organisations have mapped out the production process for consumers. MADE-BY, a non-profit organization dedicated to the fashion industry’s environmental and social conditions, has laid out a seed-to-shelf roadmap. MADE-BY works with sustainable brands to standardise the production process, highlight industry leaders, and mainstream sustainability advancements. Over 50 industry experts consulted on the typical methods, and six large fashion brands have now joined, including G-Star and Ted Baker.
Imagine walking into your closet, picking a tiny thread from your favourite shirt, and learning exactly where in the world it came from. Maybe the test shows what dye was used and geographically defines where the colour came from too. Perhaps it shows specifics of which animals contributed to the process, like silkworms, sheep, goats, etc. Maybe it shows you what types of fertilisers were used in the growth process of cotton fibers. Maybe it shows that the water used in the dying process is from an entirely different part of the world than what’s found on the label.
This process could show us much more of our supply chains than we see today. If we could know where all our products were originally grown or developed, maybe the real question is, would we want to know? What if your favourite sustainable fashion brands are advertising their garments that were made in the last country the manufacturing took place in. All without accounting for the multiple countries that garment went through before reaching the final stage of the manufacturing process. If you could test the fibers at home, would you buy from this brand again? Suddenly, the power would be pushed back into the consumers’ hands, to make accurate decisions based on evidence and not just on marketing or advertising.