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Redefining Fashion: Innovations for a more Sustainable Future

The Fashion Industry's Environmental Impact

“Our mission is to drive the innovation and technology adoption for a more sustainable and environmentally-responsible future,” (Ryan Wong, Business Manager, HKRITA, personal interview, November 22, 2023). While annual global fashion emissions have now surpassed those of international flights and maritime shipping combined, little is being done to address the issue of fast fashion and the waste it creates. In fact, the fashion industry accounts for 20% of global water waste and 10 percent of total global emissions. From water waste to plastic waste to toxic methane emissions from clothing in landfills, the entire production and lifecycle of clothing in the modern age is an endless cycle of harvesting new materials for clothes, wearing the clothes until they rip, tear, or do not fit anymore, then simply discarding them. In fact, according to the Australian Circular Textile Association, 30 percent of clothes made are never sold.

HKRITA and Garment-2-Garment: Pioneering Sustainable Solutions

In the midst of microplastics layering up and covering the ocean floor, years-long droughts followed by torrential rainstorms, and the bulldozing of forests around the world, there stands a company that is working to fight all these issues by tackling one of the main causes of these problems. A leading research and development center in China, Hong Kong RITA (HKRITA), whose company, Garment-2-Garment, is working to create innovative solutions that work to mitigate the negative impacts of the fast fashion industry. Specifically, Garment-2-Garment recycles discarded garments into new, wearable articles of clothing. This process diverts fabric from landfills, effectively reducing the fashion industry's environmental impact. Their cutting-edge use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enhance their development process to create client-specific products to cater to their customers is helping to expand the horizons for AI as a tool for combatting climate change, along with providing significant aid in their goal to create a 100 percent recycled-clothing world.

Revolutionizing Recycling: Garment-2-Garment's Process

Recognizing the extreme environmental impact of microplastics, Hong Kong RITA (HKRITA), is actively partnering with textile companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the clothing production industry. Their partnership involves helping large apparel companies transition away from fast fashion clothing and disposal practices detrimental to the environment by utilizing Artificial Intelligence and an 8-step hardware process to recycle, clean, and reknit discarded clothing into new pieces of apparel. The following steps are utilized in the hardware process for recycling the clothes:

  1. Sanitization – Sanitize the Collected Garment

  2. Opening Process – Open the fabric pieces into small tufts and remove dust

  3. Cleaning – Divide small tufts into fiber clumps and remove trash

  4. Carding – Separate fiber clumps into individual fibers and orient them into slivers

  5. Drawing – Elongate several slivers into one to straighten fibers and improve evenness

  6. Spinning – Feed sliver into spinning machine and twist fibers into a single yarn

  7. Doubling & Twisting – Twist single yarns into ply yarn, to enhance strength and balance torque

  8. Knitting – Knitting process with the options of knitted panels or 3D fully fashioned sweaters and dress utilizing their AI

HKRITA’s Business Manager, Mr. Wong, explained how this process is crucial to reducing not only microplastic production, but also methane emissions, water waste, and the spread of hazardous chemicals that are normally used to dye and treat clothing.

The Negative Impact of Microplastics

Scientists discovered the highest level of microplastics on the seafloor in 2023 since being recorded and projected that clothing production will release 22 million metric tons of microplastics into the ocean between 2015 and 2050. Microplastics, which are pieces of plastic that are smaller than 5mm long, negatively affect the environment by harming sea life that ingests the small particles by blocking up their digestive systems, harming larger creatures that consume smaller species that have ingested microplastics, increasing the spread of toxic chemicals into the food chain, contaminating soil and thus, potentially disrupting terrestrial ecosystems, as well as posing a threat to human health due to the presence of microplastics in water and food sources. In addition to the negative impacts of microplastics on the environment, the disposal process of discarded clothing has additional harmful effects, including incinerating garments creating harmful air pollution, and decomposing clothing releasing methane in landfills.

AI Technology for Environmental Restoration:

Utilizing their AI technology to more efficiently clean and reweave discarded fabrics into new pieces of clothing significantly reduces the environmental impact of clothing waste that ends up in landfills. This technology, paired with their customer-specific product development, makes Garment-2-Garment a pioneer in reshaping the modern fashion industry.

Tracking Emissions: Lifecycle Assessment Reports

Garment-2-Garment tracks its emissions and impact on a project-by-project basis, creating Lifecycle Assessment Reports for each of their projects. These Lifecycle Assessment Reports, which track the company’s total carbon emissions, water use, creation of toxic chemicals, and other discharge, are then analyzed by a team of experts who then advise the company on how they can best improve their process to minimize their emissions and maximize their output.

HKRITA's Environmental Vision and Industry Influence

HKRITA aims to reach a point where all new clothing is made using 100 percent recycled material rather than having to harvest new material for clothes. This thrust away from fast fashion to a more sustainable, reuse-based approach for clothing, if adopted on a larger scale, could have significant positive impacts on reducing methane, carbon, and other toxic chemical emissions, as well as decreasing the production of microplastics. It is only through Garment-2-Garment’s partnerships with large apparel companies, like H&M, EASI Zhuhai Co. Ltd., Aspiring Technologies Ltd., and Fung Fat Knitting Mft. Ltd., that can significantly influence the market and push for the large-scale adoption and implementation of recycled clothing. The clear interest these companies have in reducing the environmental impact of their products points to a shift in the textile industry to support more sustainable products. The success of Garment-2-Garment’s partnership with these larger apparel companies points to the possibility of a larger-scale adoption and implementation of recycled clothing, which would greatly help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and microplastic production.

Toward a Sustainable Fashion Future

In the face of an ever-changing world, HKRITA and Garment-2-Garment are looking to provide a guiding light for what clothes look like and how consumption works. Their reweave-recycle-repeat methodology has sparked a new idea of how the fashion industry should function. Now more than ever, with 92 million tonnes of textile waste ending up in landfills from the 100 billion garments that are produced every year that end up in landfills, and the projected 22 million metric tons of microplastics projected to poison the ocean in the next 26 years, companies like Garment-2-Garment that are working to redirect and repurpose discarded clothing are now even more valuable and important than ever before if humanity wishes to preserve some semblance of the world we have now.

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