Cañada fashion department student and staffer Shana McCracken attended the Planet Textiles conference in Vancouver, B.C. earlier this week. We sat down with her to find out what she learned.

CFD: So, you just got back from Planet Textiles. What was it all about?

SM: It was pretty incredible. There were attendees from all over the world—as far away as Germany, India and Australia. The overall theme was recent innovations in textiles and how we can scale them up so they have a greater positive impact.

Kate Heiny, Head of Global Sustainability for European fashion brand C&A spoke about what her company is doing to become ever-more environmentally friendly. Among other initiatives, 33% of the cotton they use is now organic, making them the largest buyer of this commodity.

CFD: How cool. What are some of those innovations?

SM: Gosh, there are so many. One really interesting group of innovations has to do with finding new, more sustainable sources of cellulose that we can make rayon from. According to presenter Valerie Langer from Stand.earth and CanopyStyle, the textile industry uses 120 million trees every year to make all the rayon that fashion demands. Some of these trees are sustainably harvested but many aren’t. Projects like CanopyStyle aim to make sure no wood from endangered forests is used to make fabrics.

Photo by Grewal, courtesy of CanopyStyle

Meanwhile there are companies producing rayon and similar fibers from things like leftover wheat straw and even microbes.

CFD: You mean bacteria?!

SM: Yep.

CFD: Wow, that’s amazing. What else were people talking about at the conference?

SM: A lot of the program dealt with so-called “microfiber” pollution. In this case, people mean tiny fragments of fibers, not filament fibers that are really small in diameter. These tiny fibers are finding their way from our washing machines into the ocean. Zooplankton eat them, and they make their way up the food chain—from salmon to Orcas and Grizzly Bears. Since we’re at the top of the food chain too, we humans are probably eating little bits of our clothing without realizing it!

CFD: That’s pretty scary. So what is being done about this problem?

Microfibers photographed under a microscope. A fleece pullover can release over one million fibers in just one washing, according to researcher and conference speaker Dr. Peter Ross.

SM: A number of different scientists, including Dr. Peter Ross, a toxicologist at OceanWise, presented the work they’re doing on microfiber pollution. They are trying to figure out where the fibers are coming from, what types they are (like polyester or cotton) and how they degrade in different kinds of environments. Cotton, Inc. a non-governmental organization (NGO) in North Carolina, is conducting tests on cotton, rayon and polyester and comparing the results. They are investigating what happens to these fibers when samples are placed at wastewater treatment plants as well as in fresh and salt water environments. They also look at what effects factors like temperature and detergents have on the shedding and break-down of these fibers.

The textile industry wants to figure all that out before they try to come up with solutions. They say they don’t want to inadvertently make things worse or trade one problem for another.

Different types of textiles are being tested at wastewater treatment plants like this one, where the water from our washing machines goes. Scientists want to see what happens to them under typical conditions.

CFD: Fascinating. What was your favorite part of the conference?

SM: As with just about any conference, the best part was the conversations I had with other attendees. I got to meet Kaya Dorey, the founder of Novel Supply Co., who recently received a grant from the United Nations to grown her sustainable fashion business. I also met somebody who works for a company called Asia Inspection that does sustainability audits at apparel factories in Asia and Latin America. Their clients are fashion brands that want to track what’s going on with their supply chains. They need a knowledgeable third party to make sure their contractors are doing what they promised when it comes to how they treat the environment and their workers.

Sure lectures and expert panels are great, but conversations had over lunch can be the best sources of information and inspiration.
Kaya Dorey is the founder and owner of Novel Supply Co. in Vancouver, B.C. Besides having all of her tees made from organic cotton, she also uses local talent to design and sew her garments.

CFD: It sounds like you really got a lot out of Planet Textiles!

SM: I sure did. And I have to give credit to the Cañada fashion department and Kathleen McCarney in particular. If I hadn’t taken professor McCarney’s Textiles class before going to this conference, I wouldn’t have been able to make heads of tails of a lot of it. I was able to keep up with most of the technical information that was presented because of what I learned in her class.

CFD: That’s great to hear!

To our readers: We highly recommend our Textiles course for anyone interested in fashion design and merchandising. Now is the time to sign up for fall!