Sustainability and responsibility in the textile industry


We are hearing more and more about sustainability and responsibility in the textile industry and so we decided to la  y out the facts with some help from our friends at Helly Hansen.  Why Helly Hansen?  Well because of all the brands who give us kit to test and review, they are the most active and the most vocal about the need for the textile industry to take action now to protect our planet for the future.


Helly Hansen 100% recyclable


Why do we need to take sustainability and responsibility so seriously?

It may come as a surprise to learn that the clothing industry is among the most polluting on the planet.  This was the shocking finding from the report “A New Textile Economy” published by the Ellen McArthur Foundation back in 2017.  The report labelled the current model “take-make-dispose” and puts a figure of approximately USD500 billion on the value lost every year as a result of clothing being barely worn and rarely recycled.  The report concluded that “if nothing changes, by 2050 the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.”


What does sustainability and responsibility mean for the textile industry?

To quote directly “Helly Hansen considers responsible business conduct to be a prerequisite for sustainable development, meaning that today’s generation get their needs covered without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sounds simple enough!  In practice this means paying attention to four main factors: raw material extraction, textile production, chemicals and end-of-life.


Raw material extraction looks at land and water use to grow natural fibres like cotton and wool, and fossil fuel use in producing synthetic fibres which are so popular in technical clothing.  Textile production requires water and energy, so considerations here include waste products and a social responsibility to the people involved at all stages of production.  Chemicals include dyes, technical finishes and coatings to fabrics, all of which can potentially impact the environment and the health of workers.  To give a feel for the scale of the problem it is worth noting that 25% of all chemicals produced worldwide are related to the textile industry.  And finally end of life considerations around the ability to recycle or biodegrade are critical to any conversation about sustainability.

It is one of those subjects that the more you know the more uncomfortable you are likely to feel and like many such dilemmas, you can choose to make conscious decisions to minimise your impact or you can try to pretend not to be aware.  The good news is that conscious decisions do not have to mean a compromise in the quality of the clothing you choose to buy. 


HH Odin


How can consumers support a drive towards sustainability and responsibility?

The great news is that some of the most high profile brands are leading the way in adopting practices that protect our beautiful planet for future generations.  Just look out for the use of recycled fabrics in new clothing.


Helly Hansen have gone much, much further than this, for example taking measures to reduce their water usage and consumption, by using dyeing technologies that don’t require water.  Working to reduce pollution by limiting or banning the use of certain chemicals, improved filtration and by supporting suppliers who use a circular water system that does not require new water, just rainwater is enough.


In addition, Helly Hansen is introducing more and more recycled materials, while also producing clothing that can be more readily recycled.  And of course this goes hand in hand with the ethos of making products that last beyond one season because “fast fashion” is not sustainable.


Helly Hansen Odin cuff


What do sustainable products look like in the real world?

We are guessing that you would never know that the Helly Hansen Odin 9 Worlds Infinity Shell Jacket is next generation sustainable.  This shell jacket uses ground breaking LIFA INFINITY PRO™ technology which is responsible but also waterproof and breathable to the level demanded by mountain professionals.


Producing such high performance fabrics without any added chemical treatments is a real achievement in the first place and the Odin collection actually boasts everlasting water repellent protection that never needs to be reproofed with chemical treatment after use.


Another option is the Odin Minimalist Infinity Shell Jacket which delivers optimal protection in a lightweight, minimalistic design that can be packed into a pocket.  It also features the revolutionary waterproof/breathable LIFA INFINITY™ membrane and in addition to that it is constructed with a recycled face fabric and a PFC*-free durable water repellent treatment.


Helly Hansen mono material range for ease of recycling


On the other hand if you want to focus on recyclability then the Helly Hansen Mono Material Insulator (which we reviewed here) is a beautifully tailored City Chic jacket that is super warm and 100% Recyclable.  Typically only 1% of the materials used to produce new clothing come from previously used clothing, but for this beautifully designed jacket, Helly Hansen have used a stunning 98% recycled materials, rising to 100% for the insulation.


We are currently testing the Helly Hansen Mono-material Rain Jacket and look forward to sharing our findings with you shortly.  In keeping with the Mono-Material Insulator, this jacket is made from 100% polyester and is easy to recycle.  When it is recycled, the quality of the fibres will be higher than those from garments using mixed fibres and of course the jacket is durable for long term usage and offers high level of protection from wind and rain.


Choosing to buy from companies who embrace sustainable production methods and standards are just a part of the story.  With 73% of clothing either ending up in a landfill or being incinerated at the end-of-life we, as consumers, need to play our part.  For now, we are just beginning our sustainability journey but knowledge is power and if you take nothing one thing from this article remember this - we can all make a difference by the choices we make, so make those choices count. 


With thanks to Helly Hansen for opening our eyes to the possibilities!



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