The Natural Progressives Panel Series: What impact does your clothing have? San Francisco


In 2014 my editor at the Guardian, we were talking about some story ideas and she said look into that weird story about that fleece jacket that was shedding fibers it turned out to be a then-three-year old report. I started to find that there were scientists all over the world that were starting to really find this preponderance of fibrous plastic in the environment and were just starting to make the connection to its sources and we know that there is more questions than answers. When we talk about the microplastic we have about 8 million tons of plastic discarded into the ocean every year which is a lot and it corresponds to one garbage truck every minute. When we talk about textile industry now it’s one garbage truck every second. So the fashion industry costs us a lot. It was very important for me to have eyes in the water because what has been done before and done a lot is just scratching the surface. The whole plastic issue is a very complex one and we were out to discover it and understand it. So we partnered with a lot of different scientific institutions and universities and provided data from looking at the big ghost nets, attaching the trackers with Ocean Voyages Institute and University of Hawaii to understand the currents and understand how it moves so they can better understand how the big debris moves. And then also we scaled it down and we looked at the abundance of these fragments and the abundance of this macroplastic that Drew touched upon doing debris watches which is simply just looking at the ocean and recording what you see for half an hour which is very valuable because, again, not many people go there and we were collecting this very high definition set of data that otherwise is not collected. And then we still come down to the next level which is the microplastics and where we tow the net for Sarah-Jeanne and again it comes further to what we’ve just been talking about this microfiber issue that is still relatively unknown. And so we tried to really cover the whole scope of things. But we’re not scientists ourselves, we’re just individuals trying to use Ben’s swim as the spotlight to bring awareness. Unfortunately also for us we didn’t have the equipment to see how much microfiber we were collecting we had the protocol where we filter water but we don’t have the equipment to know exactly what we went through there. But the plastic it was an ongoing thing and you become numb after a while. When we discuss about microfibers we don’t see the microfibers so it’s really hard to reach out to consumers. Since 60% of our clothes are made out of plastic polyester, polypropylene nylon, lycra the clothes we use to do yoga for example. We are covered in plastics so this is very counterintuitive. As we wash them for six kilogrammes of polyester clothes we get about 700,000 microfibers released into the waterways eventually it goes into the ocean, So all this plastic that goes into the ocean is not accounted for just because we don’t have any ways of measuring the microfibers in the ocean it’s so tiny. A microfiber is about one-fifth the diameter of a human hair so it’s very small. Out of this eight million tons of plastic discarded every year we only know where 1% of it is in the ocean and the reason is because some of it sinks; it lays at the bottom of the ocean. We have instrumentations but we don’t have a good mapping of the bottom of the ocean and then we have this huge water column. The average depth in the Pacific Ocean is about five kilometers so we have a lot to look at. I think we’ve just established that just with the information we’ve got at hand and the data that there’s a lot of unknowns and when there’s a lot of unknowns there’s actually not a lot of solutions. The point of learning is to create and test lots of new solutions. So at icebreaker we come from a very simple belief that nature has the answers and the reason that we’re giving ourselves that challenge is that science, expeditions, amazing discoveries might not yield even the next natural fiber that we can reconstitute with. So we have to move to a place where we make a choice to be natural. Now that’s not every brand we started that way. So what’s important for us is to get back to nature. And I’ve heard it again we’ve got to go back before we can go forward. I don’t have the answers and I’m still relatively new to the problem. In saying that I don’t think anybody other than the 10 of us who just spend 80 days in that patch for such a long time probably has the intimate relationship that we do now have with what it actually looks like. It’s a very complex issue and it comes from a complex problem and it involves a lot of businesses like icebreaker. That’s pretty ginormous The amount of personal ownership of the packaging, the garment, the washing. The impact of your clothing. There is a disconnect between understanding how your clothes are made, where they come from and quite honestly petrochemical-based synthetics is mostly where they come from and if as humans we don’t understand what that is then it’s very hard to say how are we going to get people to stop buying synthetics and only buy one jersey. Plastic is so cheap and convenient that’s the main issue but if we have law and policy makers that are behind us then we’ll be able to to stop it and just make a law against it so then it’s easier after that to build a market around it. What’s really important before policy and before regulation is that every company has an obligation. And not everyone is natural, not everybody is in the right place to make a change but there’s an obligation to do a better job. And that’s why we’ve got a relationship with Ben and the Vortex team not necessarily just about the clothing but we’ve all got to do more until those bills are passed. Until there is more change. We need to go back into that moment or that time and rethink about how we use plastic, how we consume plastic and move to something that is more natural. The things that I learn every day blow me away. And I mostly learn them from people I know passing information on and hooking me up with something to read. So I think that for those that do have access there’s an obligation to share because it is for the greater good. And that’s where we’re at we’re really at the start. So when you got asked the question about, this is just the start… what now? I’m with you, I think this is like the 1%. It’s a sum of parts and I really do believe in the power of people. What we really want to do is just shed a light on it and realize that everyone as an individual can leave today and do something about it we can all make that choice of immediately stepping away from single-use plastic and supporting businesses maybe with the innovation these businesses who are showing transparency and are trying to do bigger things.

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