Can you imagine a world with less waste? For some brands and professionals in the fashion market, the answer is “yes”. By seeing a precious raw material in waste fabric, Brazilian companies are working to mitigate the textile industry’s environmental impact.

Each year, 170,000 tons of textile waste are generated in Brazil, according to estimates from Associação Brasileira da Indústria Têxtil e de Confecção (ABIT, Brazilian Association of Textile and Clothing Industry). The good news is that at least 40 percent of this waste is reprocessed.

When new products are made from recovered materials, rather than virgin raw materials, carbon dioxide emissions are lower. Moreover, new business models have moved away from the predominant industrial approach of “take, do, discard,” instead assigning a brand-new importance to waste, making it a valuable resource, according to the book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, by American environmentalist Paul Hawken. On average, 50 percent of recyclable materials come from industry and commerce. If reuse rate reaches 65 percent industrial and commercial sectors can prevent the emission of 2.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2050.

Worried about the impact of the textile industry on the environment, fashion designers from São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, New York, and Los Angeles, among other cities, have been shifting the paradigm by betting on organic and non-polluting raw materials, multipurpose clothing and zero-waste design.

Uruguayan fashion designer Agustina Comas, based in São Paulo City, and founder of the eponymous brand, is one of them. Comas produces garments by means of upcycling, in which discarded products are recovered, processed and returned to the market, yet keeping some of its original features.

A woman is facing the camera, looking towards the left side of the photo, resting her left hand on her left thigh. She has white skin and straight dark brown hair, tied back. She is wearing a light jeans skirt, a black turtleneck shirt under light jeans overalls, colorful bracelets on her right wrist, and a gold string necklace with a beige pendant that hangs near her chest. In the back is a wall covered in foliage.

Agustina Comas, fashion designer, employs the upcycling technique to make her garments (Zé Gabriel​​/​ ​Believe.Earth)

While developing her label, Comas realized that 5 percent of all production from Brazilian factories were discarded – most often, this waste sits sheds for years. The solution is to use innovative design to solve this environmental challenge. The idea of upcycling is to add value to the garment using the raw material as it is, emphasizing its features.

Another approach to sustainability is demonstrated by the MyBasic brand, sold exclusively online, which makes some garments using fabrics made of zero-carbon raw materials, such as modal yarn. All the brand’s materials are traceable or sustainable from the source to the end production of the textile yarn. They can even be composted and used as fertilizer.

A black person’s hands are working with white fabric with a green and blue checkered pattern, running it through the needle of a white sewing machine, on top of a table that is also white.

Garments discarded by the men’s shirt industry become raw material for Comas (Zé Gabriel​​/​ ​Believe.Earth)

Other enterprises, such as Banco de Tecido, created two years ago by Lu Bueno – a set and costume designer – in São Paulo, aim to provide new destinations for fabric discard which are in good condition, including fabric flaps and pieces of clothing that have not been sold by clothing makers. This idea emerged when the founder realized that she had 800 kg of fabric of different colors, patterns, and sizes, which had accumulated over 20 years of work in cinema, theater and television.

Searching for a way to deal with this inventory, she found a solution. Today, Banco de Tecido sells up to 80,000 kg of fabric in a month. Fabric flaps that are defective or otherwise unfit for sale are donated to partner organizations, such as Projeto Arrastão NGO.

Her system is inclusive and circular. It is possible to make deposits of fabrics, take other fabrics in return, or simply buy the desired amount. Besides the affordable price (R$ 50 per kg), the collection has exclusive and antique materials, which cannot be found in conventional shops. Interconnected, all agents in this chain become part of a sustainable cycle, with positive social, economic and environmental returns.


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