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Dirty Laundry: Water and the World of Fast Fashion

Call the fashion police! In this special holiday edition of What About Water? we dive into the apparel industry’s dirty secret: its water use. Behind oil and gas, fashion is the single most polluting industry on the planet. It accounts for 8 per cent of all carbon emissions and 20 per cent of global wastewater.

We start by catching up with shoppers at the Picker’s Hullabaloo Flea Market in Charleston, South Carolina. They tell us about the clothes on their wish lists this year and why they choose to shop second-hand.
Jay talks water overuse and about changes for garment designers and manufacturers with Andrea Kennedy, Vice-President of Sustainability for Material Exchange. From Shein to Patagonia, Jay and Andrea dive into the pollution “fast fashion” creates, as well as the certifications and brands you can look out for when you’re trying to shop more sustainably.

Charleston vendor Madeline of Gaia’s Hearth shares the secrets to her natural dyeing process: backyard plants, recycled water and a giant lobster pot. We also turn to two technologies that are paving the way for sustainable textile production at-scale.

Ernst Siewers, Chief Technology Officer of DyeCoo, tells us about his groundbreaking invention – the world’s first waterless textile dyeing machine. We also hear from Shahriare Mahmood, Chief Sustainability Officer for Spinnova. This Finnish company is harnessing the secrets of spiders to spin natural textile fibres out of wood pulp without using any harmful chemicals. This process uses minimal water and creates zero waste.

That’s it from us at What About Water? for 2022! We’re taking a holiday break, but we’ll be back January 18 with some exciting news and a brand new episode for you. Got ideas for the show? Something you’d like to ask Jay? Write to us or send a voice memo to [email protected].

Guest Bios

Andrea KennedyAndrea Kennedy

Andrea Kennedy is the VP of Sustainability for Material Exchange, where she works to drive measurable impact reduction and positive change in material sourcing for global fashion and footwear brands and material suppliers. She is a sustainable fashion strategist, designer, and educator with 30 years of experience in fashion design, sourcing, sustainability and education and has worked for Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Bob Mackie, Ann Taylor, Groovy on Grand and Fashiondex, a company she founded and more recently led sustainability consulting and worked with high-profile global fashion brands and retailers on implementing sustainable practices across all areas of responsible, sourcing, low-impact design, and production. Kennedy is also an Adjunct Professor at LIM College, where she teaches the courses “Storytelling for Sustainability” and “Advanced Sustainable Practices in Fashion.” She is also a board member at ESRAP- Educators for Socially-Responsible Apparel Practices, transparency strategic council member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and a Climate Reality Leader mentor and speaker. Kennedy holds a BA in Fashion Design from Parsons and an M.Ed in Sustainability from Manhattanville College. She was a Zankel fellow for Climate Change Education at Columbia University in 2021 and 2021.

Ernst SiewersErnst Siewers

Ernst Siewers is the Chief Technological Officer of DyeCoo Textile systems B.V. Siewers is a Chemical engineer with a degree from Delft University in the Netherlands. He is 58 years old and has 25 years of experience in CO2 technology and is leading the development of Carbon Dioxide for sustainable textile dyeing. What started as an idea at university has blossomed into piloting equipment and now pursuing avenues for commercialization to further scale up DyeCoo’s revolutionary tech – using zero water in its production.

Shahriare MahmoodShahriare Mahmood

Dr. Shahriare Mahmood is a sustainability enthusiast, researcher and professional in the fashion industry. He is the Chief Sustainability Officer for Spinnova, a Finnish company that has developed breakthrough technology for making textile fibre out of wood or waste, such as leather, textile or food waste, without harmful chemicals. Mahmood has become a sustainability leader in the textile-apparel industry through the relevant technical expertise and professional experience over two decades in almost all stages of textile-apparel value chain operations. Simultaneously, he was involved in research to contribute further to the academic arena with the intention to enrich the substantive sustainable aspects. He has a deep expertise in process optimization as a Chemical Engineer aiming on environmental sustainability. He is a proponent of product sustainability as a part of total sustainability. Circular economy is of his particular interest and he intends to encash his expertise for integrating the concept in the textile-apparel supply chain. Nevertheless, his enthusiasm towards total sustainability allows him to work beyond his area of responsibility. He has served voluntarily in several international organizations in advisory roles, e.g. Amfori. He is well acquainted with the growing concern on environmental pollution and social compliance, and the fashion industry remains in focus globally. And therefore, he has the vision to carry on the critical work both in industry and in academies.

Photo Credit

  • Andrea Kennedy – Submitted
  • Ernst Siewers – Submitted
  • Shahriare Mahmood – Submitted

Full Transcript

Andrea Kennedy
Our garments are made in China, India, Vietnam and Bangladesh, as well as Myanmar and Cambodia and Turkey and everywhere else. But a huge amount are in those countries and we are polluting their water, we’re polluting their soil, we’re polluting their air, and we’re harming those people. You know, pollutants in the water make it so that the people that live near those facilities can’t really swim in it, bathe in it drink it. I mean, it is a really wicked problem.

Jay Famiglietti
I’m Jay Famiglietti, and this is “What About Water?”

Abby Truitt
My name is Abby Truitt. And I’ve just come out to the shop at Picker’s Hullabaloo.

Lauren Williams
I’m Lauren Williams, and we came out here today to get some Christmas shopping done for our family.

Jack
My name’s Jack, and I just wanted to find some, like, Holy Grails and that stuff.

Grace
My name’s Grace, and I’m just here to have a good time and find some good things.

Second Lauren
My name’s Lauren, I’m here to support some local small brands.

Lauren Williams
I’m looking for anything that’s, like, pink and woven materials I really like a lot and lots of, like, poppy colours just because I am looking more at that, like springtime, like summertime look.

Jack
I was looking for some vintage rings and, like, a leather jacket, and I got successful with the leather jacket, so I’m happy about that. I can layer it, wear it alone, whatever.

Second Lauren
I found a t-shirt, a cute little t-shirt, so…happy about that.

Abby Truitt
I always love dresses. I’m also really big on pants, so any form of patterns, styles, love any of them.

Jay Famiglietti
Those are shoppers in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s clear from their wish list that clothes are top of mind this holiday season. But making new clothes is a dirty business. It is extremely water-intensive, and apparel production is one of the heaviest polluters of the world’s waterways.

Jack
I took a class on American pop culture, and we had a section about fast fashion and how much water really goes into making it. And so, if I’m not buying secondhand, I try to find sustainable brands.

Grace
To be honest, I didn’t really know about how much water it took until probably like last year. And, like I honestly try to stay clear of fast fashion for real, especially coming here from, I’m from, like, the small town in Long Island, and we don’t really have a lot of thrift stores. And so I’m used to like buying from big brands. And coming out here, I just jump at the opportunity to go to any flea market, thrift store.

Lauren Williams
When I get something that has kind of stood the test of time, I feel like I’m less likely to mess it up, frankly, and that it’s probably made a lot more sustainably than the clothing that we’re getting now.

Music by Yum Yum Boys Old Time Jazz

Lauren Williams
I also just am thinking a lot about people who are working and making these clothes, and buying from like sustainable ethical places is really great when you can, but also like using the clothes that are already in existence, that are already made instead of just letting them kind of end up, you know, trashed.

Abby Truitt
At least from a place like this, you know, someone’s collected and found this item. And so I feel like by buying secondhand, I’m supporting that person and their work and their art and I also just feel better about collecting something from waste, so to speak. You know, giving it a new purpose and a new home.

Jay Famiglietti
When we look at the world’s worst water consumers and polluters, at the top of the list it’s food, oil and gas, followed by the fashion industry. Each year, it sucks up about 37 million Olympic-sized swimming pools of water to produce the textiles that we buy and wear. That concerns Andrea Kennedy. She’s been in the fashion industry for more than 30 years. As a designer for popular and luxury brands, she’s worked in merchandising and product development. And now, Andrea Kennedy works with designers and manufacturers to find more sustainable materials within factories and across supply chains. Andrea is the Vice President of Sustainability for Material Exchange. She joins us from New York. Welcome to “What About Water?”, Andrea.

Andrea Kennedy
Thank you so much for having me, Jay. I am thrilled to be here and really dive into chatting about water.

Jay Famiglietti
We really appreciate your taking the time to to join us. Where you sit in New York is basically the fashion capital of the world when it comes to the fashion and textile industry. Would you say it’s fair to call water pollution the fashion world’s dirty secret?

Andrea Kennedy
Well, I would. I totally would. I mean, we are the second largest consumer of water. Depending on whose research you read, we might be second or third or fourth for pollution. But in terms of just user, we’re second. And it was one of our dirty secrets. Fashion, although I love it as I learned it is a dirty business. And thankfully, a lot of brands and manufacturers, and supply chain partners are understanding this now. We’re listening to Mother Nature, and we no longer can ignore all of the signs of climate change. And I feel that, finally brands and customers are starting to ask for more sustainable practices in fashion. And thankfully, water is right up there because we use and pollute water all across the world.

Jay Famiglietti
How aware do you think consumers really are about that side of the apparel industry, how much water it takes and how much pollution is occurring?

Andrea Kennedy
I don’t think they’re really that clear and understanding it so well. We see sometimes ads or read posts on social media or documentaries that will say that there’s 3500 litres of water to make a pair of black leather boots or 800 litres of water to make a white T-shirt, etc.. But, you know, I don’t think the average customer really understands that. They understand the water that goes into it when they’re laundering it themselves. But they don’t understand that the water is used if it’s animal-based agriculture, because it’s a leather pair of boots or a leather handbag or jacket, all the water that goes in through the raw materials and the tanning and the finishing or when if it’s cotton or hemp or linen or if it’s plant-based agriculture, all of the water that goes into that as well as more importantly, all the water that goes into the dyeing, the finishing, the softening, the bleaching.

Andrea Kennedy
Most fibres are beige. Right? When they’re grown, they’re a natural colour, but we see fashions in all different colours. So everything first needs to be bleached white without colour, and then it can be dyed because otherwise, if it’s a bright pink, it would be kind of a dirty-ish bright pink because you’d be dyeing beige. So we have to bleach and then dye and then soften and all of that needs water. So often those jeans that you buy that are so soft, they’re soft because after they were sewn into pants, then they go to an industrial launder to with stones or acid or other things, pebbles or golf balls thrown in there to kind of pound them and soften them. So water is used everywhere.

Jay Famiglietti
That’s that’s pretty amazing. You mentioned that consumers are becoming aware, and of course, we know industry is becoming aware. Are there any kind of standards that are challenging this pretty clear, vast overuse of water?

Andrea Kennedy
Yes, there are. And thankfully, there are so many that have come over the last 10-15 years and continue to develop and get better. And these are sustainability standards and industry certifications that you can get at the farm level, at the processing level, at the what we say, the Tier One level, which is your cut and sew, and knitting and washing, you know, right before it goes to the store. Those include ZDHC, which is zero discharge of hazardous chemicals, has a clear stream standard and certification that helps factories phase out chemicals in their wastewater. There’s global organic textile standard — GOTS. There is BCI, which is Better Cotton Initiative, Fair Trade, Blue Sign. There are different standards that really help to reduce and eventually eliminate new water going in, help with recycling water, and then cleaning the water so that if there is wastewater, it’s going in clean and really not polluting the waters for the people that live on the fence line and front line of those factories and facilities that are either dyeing the factories or making the clothes. I mean, I don’t know if you remember a few years ago seeing the pictures of those blue dogs running around India that had been drinking the water coming out of a denim factory. So, I mean, that’s that you know, that was really wonderful in terms of helping drive awareness because it is, as you said, it’s like a dirty secret. We don’t realize if nobody is really boots on the ground in those factories.

Jay Famiglietti
Yeah. Well, so let’s dive into that a little bit. We know that the majority of clothing isn’t even produced here in North America. So let’s take the example of Bangladesh. Every year, Bangladesh earns $28 billion, producing many of the clothes that we wear. Full disclosure: last time I was there, which was right before COVID, I bought a nice suit. But Bangladesh is also burdened with the downside: the 217 million cubic meters of polluted wastewater every year. That water ends up back in rivers, and then that dirty water is used to irrigate the crops that feed its people. So what I see happening is really other countries are bearing this burden, including a human health burden of our global thirst, our global desire for new clothing. Does that does that sound about right?

Andrea Kennedy
That sounds right. And I don’t — I don’t know if everybody understands the interconnectedness. They’ll they’ll hear that there’s a lot of water to dye those jeans or whatnot. But are they realizing that that’s polluting the water that’s watering the crops and now that soil is unhealthy and those crops are unhealthy? It is true that a majority of our garments are made in China, India, Vietnam and Bangladesh, as well as Myanmar and Cambodia and Turkey and everywhere else. But a huge amount are in those countries, and we are polluting their water, we’re polluting their soil, we’re polluting their air, and we’re harming those people. You know, pollutants in the water make it so that the people that live near those facilities can’t really swim in it, bathe in it, drink it. I mean, it is a really wicked problem.

Jay Famiglietti
Yeah, I think, you know, it’s sort of instructive for our listeners to think about that, that there are a lot of rivers around, of course, around the world, but even in the United States that are just too dirty for any kind of… any kind of recreation. So, Andrea, you mentioned ZDHC and some other industry standards that are aimed at reducing the environmental footprint of the fashion industry.

Jay Famiglietti
But how do we enforce that sort of stuff?

Andrea Kennedy
So, so far, there’s no fashion police making anyone doing it. It’s all still voluntary. That’s why it’s really important that all this legislation is coming through so that companies are going to have to really work towards cleaner water just to comply with with the legalities that are coming around. But what’s really great are that there are people along the supply chain that are even saying, we want to start working on this before sometimes the brands get behind it. I mean, farmers are seeing that there’s water issues. Textile suppliers and washers and finishers are also seeing that there are those issues and you know, that they’re having inefficiencies with water. So they want to change. So you’ve got some companies changing from within, some of our suppliers, some brands who may or may not want to change, but then they’ll start sourcing and realize, oh, look, these companies are already doing some great water management, and then they’ll chat with those suppliers, and they’ll explain why. And that sometimes it’s not always brands going down the supply chain. Sometimes it’s the reverse. And I think that’s great. But how you do get certified from one of these third parties, they come in, and they do a water audit. They really help the companies change their equipment, change their processes to more efficient ones where they’re using less water, recycling more water and cleaning up their wastewater, and they help them create a roadmap. It usually takes 3 to 5 years for a large facility with many production lines to get changed. It’s costly for these suppliers. So I will tell you an example of a fashion factory that got ahead of it. TAL — T A L — Apparel. They do everything from recycled their toilet water for flushing and eventually watering their community garden to collecting rainwater. And they use a lot less water than the average factory. So there are factories that are, as I said, getting ahead of the regulation and really to make themselves look forward facing and future-proofing their own businesses. So there’s many ways to get certified. But also, as consumers, we can look for those certifications on hang tags labels and on company websites because they are listed. You will see something like GOTS — G O T S — which is the Global Organic Textile Standard.

Jay Famiglietti
GOTS to get some of that.

Andrea Kennedy
Yes, we GOTS to.

Jay Famiglietti
Y’know, I think we respond to those things. I think we really do. So I’d love to see more of that in clothing. So let’s get into some solutions. We heard a lot of promises over the years from brands and designers about becoming more sustainable. But what does it take to tip the balance and really turn those promises into action?

Andrea Kennedy
Well, it’s going to take coming from bottom up and top down. So first, brands will change a little bit faster if consumers start asking for it. To start designing products with water stewardship in mind, I think there are some people saying, you know, help with the climate crisis, start looking at the carbon. But, you know, also look at the water. It’s also going to take policy and legislation. Right? We’re here having an avalanche of legislation coming around the bend out of Europe, New York and California in terms of measuring supply chains. And once we start mapping and measuring those supply chains and disclosing that information, we’ll have a better idea of the water inputs. And that’s really important as well. And then as you map those supply chains, I speak to designers all the time, and they may know who their cut and sew factory is, they don’t know where those factories are ordering all of the fabrics and all of the boxes and all of that. But once they do measure that, then they can reach out to those and say: “Is there on-site water management?”, “What are you doing, you know, in terms of conserving water and keeping water clean and recycling water?”

Jay Famiglietti
Your company is called Material Exchange. What is it? How is it trying to solve this problem?

Andrea Kennedy
So Material Exchange is a digital sourcing platform where we are working to transform and accelerate sourcing so that it becomes more responsible with less waste and just better environmental and social standards altogether. And how it works is, for instance, a brand can go on to the site and express what we say are their needs. So “I need 3000 meters of recycled nylon for boys swimming trunks that will be made in Vietnam in eight weeks from now. And I need it to be recycled, content certified or whatnot.” And then our our website will look at all of the materials, of which there’s about 30,000 on it, and put them all into a digital showroom. And in the digital showroom can be shared with everybody else from that brand where they can compare and contrast attributes, important ones that they always are looking at first, like minimums, lead times and price, but also what certifications they have, what features are happening at those facilities, is that wastewater being treated, etc. so that then they can have some materials edit it down before they get physical swatches. Eventually, if they like one of those order that tracked that through the website. So we’re trying to put it all in one place into these showrooms so that brands can make really well-informed decisions. We’re working on adding chain of custody, embedded water impacts, all for 2023. So I’m really excited about some of the initiatives that are coming soon.

Jay Famiglietti
And it also sounds like you’re having some success with some pretty big names like Banana Republic and Ralph Lauren that’s pushing them to make that switch to more sustainable materials.

Andrea Kennedy
I think that what’s pushing them is just a realization that water is a huge input in all of the products that they make. And they’re realizing with water scarcity and pollution issues across the world that this is a very, very precious resource. And if we don’t use less of it and dispel less of it that is not cleaned, then we’re not going to have water to continue making product. And they’re scared about that. And it’s terrifying when you start thinking of it, right? You know, you have to understand that, yes, these are businesses, but the design and merchandizers are creative people, and they feel it and get very emotional when they learn about the impacts of fashion. And they’re the first ones to say, “we need to change.” It’s a little harder getting, you know, the salespeople and the CEO, you know, at least this happened to me 15 years ago when I started working in sustainable sourcing. I could get in and get the designers to like it, but then it was getting refused higher up the chain. And now those voices are louder. Those designers 15 years ago are now leading the place. And I just think we have more compassionate people in terms of and more woke people in terms of water issues and climate issues now.

Jay Famiglietti
So how is it, then, that fast fashion is still making so much money and companies like SHEIN are, you know, thriving?

Andrea Kennedy
Well, good question. You know, fashion, there’s psychological issues that it satisfies, right? It expresses our personalities. So what do you want to say today? How do you want to look? How do you look — want to look on social? How do you want to…. You know, I think there’s so many things that it does. It makes us stand out. It makes us blend into a crowd. “Oh, now we’re going to college and now we see that everybody’s wearing this. I need to buy this, and everybody wears something different to every party. I need to do that” and I feel that there’s so… we’re not really going to change the consumers as fast as we need to, which is why that brands and manufacturers and textile suppliers and need to change faster. Because as much as we want everyone to buy less, it’s not always happening. Some people are buying more thoughtfully, but still, then we see that fast fashion is getting faster for many brands. So that’s why my work has been to really, really help and try and drive the shift so that if there are individuals that still want to shop a lot, how can we give them something that’s more responsible? And then, once they’re done with it, what can we develop and build at end of use that will become inputs into the next round? Which is really the circular economy.

Jay Famiglietti
So just a question on that. You know, I’ve been a big fan of Patagonia my entire entire life, but it didn’t come from a place of conservation. It just came from a, you know, being a kid in the seventies who was interested in the outdoors. And this is one of the first big outdoor companies, but they’ve done a pretty strong job, have they not? We’re not trying to plug Patagonia here, by the way.

Andrea Kennedy
But they deserve plugging. They’re one of the brands that really does stand out in terms of who’s made progress and who’s really just continuing to push themselves. And I really don’t like to mention brands, but Levi’s also. And Levi’s is a brand that everyone can have. You know, Patagonia is more of an aspirational price point. Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, Stella McCartney, all of these lines that we hear people say to me all the time, I want to buy sustainably, but it’s too expensive. But everybody has a pair of Levi’s jeans or shorts or some jacket in their wardrobe already. They have jeans that sell for everywhere from $39.99 and up. So it’s it’s not that $300 pair of jeans, and they have really cut their water use with their waterless initiative the way that they launder the jeans. They’re also really helping the consumer understand that you can wash these less. And that’s really important, too.

Jay Famiglietti
I feel much better now that you’ve said that because I barely wash my jeans, so now I feel like I’m doing something that’s good for the environment.

Andrea Kennedy
Right? Exactly.

Jay Famiglietti
Now, let’s talk about ordinary people like like you and me. What can we do differently when it comes to buying clothes?

Andrea Kennedy
The best thing to do is to buy what’s called monofibre clothing. So try and stay away from any blends. When you see that it’s 50% polyester, 40% cotton, 10% acrylic, etc., whatever the blend is. That’s really hard to break down for working towards that circular economy. When it’s all one fibre, it can be sorted more easily, broken down more easily and recycled and upcycled into a new fibre better. So start looking at the fibre. Natural, of course, is always better than synthetics because natural fibres will biodegrade. Synthetics stay in the landfill for 200 years. Wash your clothes less, though, also. You can spritz ‘em with lemon juice or hang them outside in the fresh air or, you know, string up a clothesline if you’re in an apartment building.

Andrea Kennedy
But wash your clothes less, especially when they’re polyester and whatnot, because we all hear about it, and it’s true, the microplastics in the water. So just like you were talking about the dyes that dirty the water, you know, going into the agriculture in Bangladesh. Same thing with the microplastics. Also, look on the website of the brands that you want to shop at and see what are they doing in terms of sustainability and research.

Andrea Kennedy
Right? So if they’re saying they’re working towards responsible water use, how are they? They will tell you. And that’s what’s really exciting too. There’s a lot of suppliers to these brands that they will shell out when they are doing good things. I’m really excited by a company called Textil Santanderina right now, which makes fabrics that are washed and soft and which is usually a very water-intensive industrial laundering process. And they’re doing that with 90% less water. It’s called flow. So it’s still soft, and it has that look of being washed, but it’s done differently. So a lot of companies that are supplying fabrics to your favourite brands are starting to do things just with less water. So check that out and read that on their site to see if they’re doing that.

Jay Famiglietti
It’s been a really enlightening conversation. Andrea, I really, really appreciate it. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Andrea Kennedy
Thanks so much, Jay, for having me and appreciate it.

Jay Famiglietti
Andrea Kennedy is the Vice President of Sustainability for Material Exchange. She’s also an adjunct faculty member at LIM College in Manhattan. She created and teaches the course Storytelling for Sustainability and Sustainability and the Future of Fashion.

Madeline
[Background chatter] Hi, my name is Madeline. My shop’s name is Gaia’s Hearth and I specialize in vintage non-toxic textiles. So anything that is a natural fibre that is sustainable for our environment. And I also do a lot of natural dyeing with materials that I foraged or things that my homies grow.

Madeline
I go into my yard, and I see it as this like never-ending dye pot. And so you can often see me like picking things up on the ground and being like, “Ooh, I wonder what this colour will be.” And I kind of just work it down, and then everything goes into my compost pile or in my garden.

Madeline
I have a degree in sustainable agriculture, and I grew up on a farm in Maine, so I have studied a lot about materials and like the plant-based materials that we’re all aware of and that some of us are like, “Oh, I feel really good about wearing something like Rayon because it’s made from bamboo or pine” But unfortunately there’s so much wastewater to break those plants down into a cellulosic material.

Madeline
So that’s not something that I carry in my shop just because I really don’t stand for that. And in normal dyeing, like big vat dyeing that you’re seeing in like fast fashion, all the dyes are super toxic. They’re made with really toxic metals, and then they’re just dumping all of it. And there’s no like proper waste… line for it.

Madeline
So yeah, I’m never going out and purchasing things. I’m not ordering things from the internet and like importing that way. I’m always going out in the woods or going into my yard, picking something up and putting it in a pot. Like a pretty big like lobster pot. But that one pot of water will last me at least ten garments.

Madeline
So it makes me feel really good.

Jay Famiglietti
Getting the rich colours into the clothes we love uses a lot of water.

Ernst Siewers
If you look at all the steps that you’re doing in the textile industry, all your processes, the dyeing step is is by far the most polluting step.

Jay Famiglietti
That’s what Ernst Siewers is hoping to change. He’s the chief technological officer for DyeCoo. Siewers created the first waterless textile dyeing machine. It uses carbon dioxide to dye fabrics.

Ernst Siewers
Dyes do not like water and have no affinity for water. And with all that chemistry and all the dyes in it, that water is pretty difficult to to clean. In CO2 dyeing, it’s much more simple because the dyes actually dissolve in CO2. So your process in CO2 is much simpler. You don’t need all that chemistry to disperse your dye, so you can use the pure dyestuff.

Ernst Siewers
The technology that we’ve chosen to roll out is beam dyeing. So you have your fabric on a beam, put that in the machine, and you have your dyestuff in a cartridge. And that dye is, by nature, a dry powder. Put that in the machine, close the door, fill your system with CO2, bring that to the right conditions.

Ernst Siewers
And then, in effect what we do is just to circulate that CO2, a little bit of dye will be dissolved in the CO2 then, and that dyestuff is picked up by the fabric. And after a certain number of cycles or time, all the dyestuff is transported, and your fabric is coloured. When you depressurize your system so the CO2 is released, we clean the CO2 and reclaim almost all the CO2. So we constantly reuse the CO2. And [when] the pressure is down, you can open the door, and fabric comes out still completely dry because there is no water and, well, completely coloured. By not using that water, you solve quite a big problem in the textile industry, and I think the majority of brands in [the] textile world [have] heard about CO2 dyeing and maybe even about DyeCoo.

Ernst Siewers
In our earlier days, Nike decided to invest in DyeCoo. They’re still a small investor in DyeCoo. At this moment, Adidas is very active in looking how they can incorporate CO2-dyed fabrics in their product portfolio. Decathlon is working with the technology, but also, a retailer like Bonprix is very active and also is a shareholder of one of our customers.

Ernst Siewers
There is so much CO2 available, and you can use it to make a polluting technology into a clean technology. So yeah, let’s use it in a, in a positive way.

Jay Famiglietti
Ernst Siewers is the Chief Technological Officer for DyeCoo. He’s based in the Netherlands. Before fabrics even get to the dying stage, the threads have to be spun from raw materials — another water-intensive process. One company in Finland developed a new technology to do that, taking wood pulp and spinning it into fibre. It uses hardly any water, avoids harmful chemicals and produces zero waste.

Jay Famiglietti
And to do it, Spinnova uses the secrets of spiders.

Shahriare Mahmood
My name is Shahriare Mahmood. I have been working for Spinnova for last couple of years as Chief Sustainability Officer, um, leading the sustainability side and also the textile application. We produce the most sustainable textile material in the world for the environment and humanity. Our CTO, who is the inventor of Spinnova, actually got the idea of producing fibre by biomimicking how the spider makes the fibre and wood pulp is the most abundant polymer found in the nature.

Shahriare Mahmood
So making the fibre, the raw material, all are inspired by the nature. So we take a FSC certified or PEFC certified, even in some cases a dual-certified wood pulp, and then we convert it to the microfibrillated cellulose with a mechanical process and then passing it through our Spinnova spinning process. So it’s basically a biomechanical way of making fibre.

Shahriare Mahmood
It’s completely a waste-free process. It’s completely a water-free process. So if we compare it with synthetic fibre productions, all are more or less chemically intensive processes. With natural fibre like cotton, we know it’s a great fibre, but also we know the environmental challenges related to cotton production. Spinnova process actually saves 72% carbon emissions than conventional cotton.

Shahriare Mahmood
And then, if we consider the water footprint, we are saving 99% water compared to the conventional cotton, which is a significant saving. The global brands like Adidas, ARKET of H&M Group, The North Face, Bestseller, Icebreaker, also from Finland, Marimekko. We know we have a so-called “disruptive technology”, but we want to do the application without creating any further disruption.

Shahriare Mahmood
You take the Spinnova fibre, you can use the conventional process, conventional equipment, and conventional methods. We are getting our first industrial-scale plant, which will be operational beginning of next year. But most importantly, we are also aiming to produce 1 million tonnes of fibre production. We can make a real impact.

Jay Famiglietti
Shahriare Mahmood is the Chief Sustainability Officer for Spinnova. Well, that’s it for this episode of “What About Water?” If you have any questions or suggestions for the podcast, please email us at [email protected] We record and produce this podcast on Treaty Six Territory The Homeland of the First Nations and Métis People. “What About Water?” is a collaboration between The Walrus Lab and the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan. This podcast is a production of Cascade Communications. Our audio engineer is Wayne Giesbrecht. Our producer is Erin Stephens. Our fact-checker is Taisha Garby. The crew at GIWS is Mark Ferguson, Shawn Ahmed, Fred Reibin Andrea Rowe and Jesse Witow.

Jay Famiglietti
I’m Jay Famiglietti. Thanks for listening.