They say the devil is in the details. And this is particularly true with fashion. Creating a sustainable garment is more than just sourcing the right fabric, it also requires careful consideration of all the little details that make a garment functional and unique - zippers, buttons, snaps, elastic, lace, ribbon and sequins. These seemingly small details add up, and as such they are worthy of careful scrutiny. Let’s take a look at where the industry is at with sustainable trims...
The Environmental Cost of Fashion Trims
Trims, just like fabric, come with their own supply chain and their own set of environmental and social problems. Their heavy reliance on virgin plastic (buttons, snaps & sequins), polyester (zipper tape), and lycra (stretch lace) means they come with heavy carbon footprint, are difficult (or in some cases impossible) to recycle, and shed microplastics as they degrade. In addition, dyeing and finishing processes such as electroplating (a finishing process applied to metal snaps, buttons and zippers to enhance their appearance and anti-corrosive properties) requires significant water, energy and chemical use which can be harmful to workers, wearers and the environment.
But the news isn’t all bad. As interest in sustainable fashion has grown, many manufacturers have risen to the demand and adapted their products and processes to offer 'sustainable' options. The industry has also seen the emergence of new players who are dedicated to finding new, less environmentally damaging ways of producing trims. All of this innovation is great news for brands who are committed to sustainability. Let's take a look at how the industry is adapting to meet the growing demand for sustainable trims and what this means for you.
1 | Re-purposing Trims
There are a number of companies capitalizing in industry waste and offering deadstock or gently used trims. New York based Queen of Raw is an online marketplace trading in deadstock fabric and trims. Local thrift shops, second hand fabric stores (like this one) and etsy are also avenues to source of deadstock or gently used trims. The major consideration for brands opting for second-hand trims to is ensure that they are in good working order as a malfunctioning zipper renders a garment unwearable which is no good for business or for circularity!
2 | Replacing Plastic
A number of manufacturers are reducing their plastic use by offering trims made from alternative materials. Large multinational trim manufacturers like YKK, Rudholm Group and Prym Fashion, offer a range of ‘eco-friendly’ zippers and snaps made from a variety of materials including bio-plastics (made from byproducts of the food industry), recycled PET bottles, recycled ocean plastics, organic cotton, and TENCEL Lyocell. Meanwhile global button supplier Bottonificio Piemontese now offers a 'Green Collection' of buttons made from hemp, jute, corozo powder, cotton and bio-plastic and Iingerie manufacturer Iluna Group has created a range of stretch lace from yarn made from pre-consumer waste.
A number of smaller companies specializing exclusively in sustainable trims have also started to spring up in response to the growing demand for sustainability. UK based Courtney & Co offers buttons made strictly from natural biodegradable fibers such as horn, coconut and codelite (a material sourced from milk protein). While innovative bioplastic company Chip[s] Board makes bio-plastic buttons sourced from potato offcuts through its partnership with McCain's (the frozen potato producer). And in a world's first, designer Elissa Brunato has developed natural and biodegradable sequins made entirely from tree-sourced cellulose.
3 | Improving Processes
In addition to switching out virgin plastic, some manufacturers are improving their production processes to minimize harm to workers, wearers and the environment. At the request of Levi Strauss & Co, Alpholos | Brand Identity developed a more efficient way of electroplating its buttons and metal zippers, and now boasts a process that yields an 80 percent water saving. Similarly, YKK has developed an alternative process to electroplating - coined AcroPlating - which consumes less water and energy and eliminates the use of harmful chemicals from the finishing process. YKK also offer a range of snaps and buttons made from stainless steel and aluminum - metals that are naturally anti-corrosive and don't require finishing. Both companies claim to use eco- friendly dyeing processes and YKK goes further to provide a range of No Dyestuff Zippers that, as the name suggests, are dye free. To authenticate their efforts, a number of manufacturers have sought out third party audits - such as REACh, GOTS, Oeko-Tex and Bluesign - which certify that their chemicals, processes, materials and products are safe and sustainable.
4 | Designing for Circularity
Some trim manufacturers are even starting to think and design for circularity. YKK claims that its VISLON zipper is the world’s first 100% recyclable zipper. Made entirely from nylon (zipper, tape and thread) - the whole zipper is able to be recycled without having to disassemble it into its component parts. Similarly, Italian manufacturer Riri Group offers a range of metal zippers made from only one material (a mono metal) to enable easier recyclability. Some manufacturers are even starting to embed Digital IDs into their trims to enable transparency and traceability throughout the supply chain, such as Rudholm Groups’ ShareLabel and YKK’s TouchLink Slider.
The Future of Sustainable Trims
The burgeoning sustainable trims industry is good news for brands committed to sustainability. Although some sustainable trims may be more cost prohibitive than their mainstream counterparts, one would expect that this may eventually be offset by the energy, water and chemical savings made through more efficient manufacturing processes. And as demand increases, we can only hope that manufacturers will be able to scale up production making sustainable trims the ‘norm’ rather than the exception.
Wanting to improve your brand's sustainability efforts but unsure how to move forward with maximum impact? We have the perfect course for you! Our Sustainable Summer Seminar Series has only one class left on 19 July 12pm EST. This one hour foundations webinar is designed to cover all the core tenants of sustainability and equip you with what you need to begin building your strategy. Brands of all size are welcome so RSVP now!