The fashion industry represents an undeniable driving force behind the growth and development of the global economy. According to 2018 forecasts, it is a market worth three thousand billion dollars, providing employment for tens of thousands of people. It is also a constantly expanding industry and it is estimated that by 2030 the global production of clothes will grow by 63%, rising from the current 62 million tonnes to 102 million. This is confirmed by EU data: every year member countries purchase 9.5 tonnes of fabrics (19 kg per person), of which 70% is clothes (13 kg per person). This level of consumption increased by 34% between 1996 and 2012.
However, these very high figures go hand in hand with equally high costs to the environment, as this kind of production uses a large amount of resources. In terms of raw materials, to produce a kilo of fabrics, 10,000 litres of water are used on average. 2,700 litres are needed to produce a cotton t-shirt and 8,000 for a pair of jeans. This is without taking into account the environmental costs of transporting the end product.
As well as the huge quantity of water and energy used and the pollution caused during production, there is a high level of waste in the fashion industry. The very competitive prices of fast fashion and the relative low quality of its products encourage consumers to buy beyond what they need. Consumers also get rid of garments within a short period of time, after they have only been worn a few times. In Australia, a consumer buys on average 27 kg of new clothes a year and throws away 23 kg. In Europe more than half (5.8 million kg) of the textile waste produced each year by EU member countries (12.2 million kg) ends up in landfill or incinerators.
Incinerating material contributes to air pollution. The accumulation of tonnes of textiles in landfill does not address this problem as landfill space will eventually come to an end. Synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester are not biodegradable and even for natural fibres, the lack of oxygen and light greatly slows down the process of decomposition. Materials such as paper, plastic or aluminium are now widely recycled. We are less used to thinking that clothes and accessories can also have a second life but recycling is the most sustainable option for clothing.
According to University of Copenhagen data, for every kilo of clothes “recirculated” thanks to recycling, we save 3.6 kg of CO2 which is not emitted, as well as 6 thousand litres of water, 0.2 kg of pesticides and 0.3 kg of fertilisers which are not produced. Reusing old products to obtain new ones not only saves non-renewable resources but is also a way of giving things a new value. Given the forecasted rate of growth in the purchase of goods, it will take a toll on the environment if we do not recycle more.
Timberland has already launched projects to give new life to waste materials by converting them. Thanks to the partnership with the producer and distributor of Omni United tyres, old tyres have been recycled and transformed into soles for footwear. Through the work with Thread, tonnes of plastic bottles have been collected from the streets and dumps of Haiti and Honduras and re-used to produce fabrics. This scheme has led not only to a cleaner environment, but also to the creation of thousands of jobs in developing countries.
Timberland’s Second Chance programme, in partnership with TRAID in the UK and i-Co in the rest of Europe, aims at converting footwear that is no longer worn. Customers can now hand over unwanted pairs of shoes at 104 Timberland retail stores and outlets in Europe, whatever the brand, whatever the condition. The footwear is sent to special centres and sorted carefully according to the materials, on the basis of over 400 criteria. It then enters the cycle which will allow it to have a new life. For each pair of shoes handed in, the customer receives a voucher for a 10% discount on a later purchase, as well as the satisfaction of helping to reduce our impact on the environment.
The project, which started with a pilot in July 2016 in Germany, saw initial participation by 18 stores. On the basis of this success, it was extended to another 9 European countries in 2017. During that year 2,900 kilos of shoes were collected: over 5 thousand pairs. In early 2018, 960 kilos of shoes have already been collected, a total of approximately 1,700 pairs. The scheme has now been launched in the US too, in partnership with Community Recycling, and is dedicated to Timberland’s e-commerce customers. Customers who participate by sending an item of clothing to the address provided on the website can also benefit from a 10% discount on future online purchases from Timberland.