How the fashion industry is turning to forests for the fibres of the future

A Financial Times video shows that the transformation of wood into bio-based textile fibres has the potential to make the fashion industry more sustainable.

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Photo: Extract from Financial Times video
Photo: Extract from Financial Times video

Fashion is an economically important but highly contaminating industry. The industry emits 5% of global greenhouse gasses, produces 20% of wastewater and is a major contributor to microplastics ending up in the ocean. Making the fashion industry more sustainable is a massive and important challenge.

Cotton, a frequently used material in the fashion industry, consists mainly of cellulose. Trees also produce cellulose. Marc Palahí, director of the European Forest Institute, explains in the Financial Times video that “wood is the only significant alternative for the textile industry”. By replacing cotton with bio-based textile fibres coming from sustainably managed forests, consumer hunger for fashion could support forests’ biodiversity conservation and carbon sink properties.

Several companies have started to commercialise such textiles; examples include Lenzing, which commercialises under the name Tencel, and Spinnova, a Finnish start-up that achieved the production of wood-based textiles without using chemicals. As consumer interest in sustainable textiles is on the rise, the pressure is on the value chain to move ahead.

Dr Palahí believes that connecting technology and nature to rethink our economy will be the secret of the 21st century. “With emerging technologies, we can transform wood into a totally new range of innovative, bio-based solutions”. The key for the fashion industry, and indeed industry more widely, is to ensure that both the materials, and the processes used for their transformation, are sustainable.

Watch the Financial Times video here!