An inexpensive garment gets thrown out after three posts on Instagram. Every year, in the US alone, fourteen million tons of clothes are thrown away: after oil, fashion is the second most polluting industry, consuming both natural and human resources. According to the World Bank, it is the cause of 20% of the world’s water pollution. The result of a system that led us to think of clothing as something disposable. The Global Fashion Agenda reported that if the fashion industry does not change, its impact on our climate will increase to 60% by 2030.
“All three of us were already established in our careers within the fashion industry, but we quit our jobs and started working together”, – says Matteo Ward who, together with co-founders Victor Santiago and Silvia Giovanardi, launched WRÅD, a brand that seeks to transform a global problem into a new opportunity. “Our goal began to take shape during an Interrail trip across Europe in the summer of 2015. Victor and I created an Instagram page to expose the real environmental and social costs of fashion. From there, we evolved into an educational movement, and then in 2016, with the support of Susanna Martucci, founder and CEO of Alisea Recycled & Reused Objects Design and inventor of Perpetua, we launched our Innovative R&D program”. In 2017 WRÅD became a Focus Design company, which today works to offer services through products, in line with the needs of the planet and of society.
It’s the year of 2013, Ward works for Abercrombie. He’s in CSR as co-manager of the Global Stores Diversity and Inclusion Council. It is in this role that he begins to discover the real social and environmental costs of clothes. “More than 8% of all greenhouse gases emitted into our atmosphere are produced by the fashion industry, and more than half of our clothes are partly made of fibers derived from petroleum, whose production has a negative impact on the environment and on public health. And then they are trashed after very few uses”. Every ton of clothes recycled stops twenty tons of CO2 from being released into the air – the equivalent of 7.3 million cars being taken off the roads. “Designers have the responsibility of thinking about a garment’s end of use — a theme that is addressed in fashion design schools today. I am confident that we will see less non-recyclable clothes.”
The three co-founders of WRÅD, along with Susanna Martucci, have devised GRAPHI-TEE™, which they define not as a t-shirt but as a service to the environment and to our health, as the skin is not exposed to chemical dyes. The project received support from Starbucks, which decided to include the WRÅD brand in Starbucks Reserve Roasteries in Milan, New York and Seattle. “The idea came from a question by Susanna Martucci: ‘Matteo, there are tons of graphite powder — an inevitable by-product of electrode production — that end up in landfills every day. Could there be an application for this material in the textile industry?’”
The discovery kickstarted their journey: “Silvia discovered that, more than two thousand years ago, ancient Romans already used graphite as a dye, extracting it from a mine in Monterosso Calabro, that can still be visited today. Chatting to the mayor, we discovered that the women of this town had been passing down the recipe for a mineral dye using graphite for centuries. A hidden oral tradition, which was about to disappear along with the last generation to adopt it, and which was taught to us on our first trip to Monterosso”. This story became the inspiration that prompted them to re-imagine the ancient recipe, using not the natural graphite of the Monterosso mine, but the one discarded today by the tech industry in circular economy dynamics. “Once the process was finalized, we decided to convey it through a statement product: GRAPHI-TEE, the first and only product to be dyed and treated with this innovative process called g_pwdr technology, which gives the fabric a mineral gray hue”. “WRÅD is not a brand, it’s our call to action” is the slogan that appears on their site — a wearable manifesto.
Most people wear black, even though it is the most polluting color. “We must not demonize color but invest in research and development to minimize the impact of chemical dyes on the environment and on our skin. We are trying to reach black through the use of recycled graphite during dyeing”.
Cotton production requires an enormous use of water. Alternative fabrics are being evaluated. “Linen is a solution, like hemp, which consumes up to 50% less water for the same amount of land. It does not require insecticides or pesticides to grow, and produces up to 250% more fiber. More and more bio-based or lab-grown yarns and fabrics are emerging, the result of circular supply chains that facilitate the correct recycling of garments. Recycled yarns are improving in quality and are already being employed in a certain percentage of denim clothing”.
Large quantities of water are also used to make jeans. By 2020, the entirety of UNIQLO’s denim line will be produced with a new technology called Blue Cycle Denim, which uses laser nanobubble ozone washing machines that reduce water consumption by up to 99%. HNST uses recycled yarns and has created a collection with yarns made from 50% old recycled denim (cotton) and 50% Tencel®. It is the highest percentage of recycled fibers technically possible at present. The yarn is dyed indigo by Italian partner PureDenim with the SmartIndigo™ technique, which does not require hazardous chemicals to make the indigo water soluble. “For our denim that’s treated in recycled graphite (an Endorsed by Perpetua project), we use the organic kind that’s treated with chitosan from PureDenim”. Sustainable fashion is not cheap but, “Can we really put a price on protecting our planet and our health? We should be willing to pay more to guarantee that future generations – and ours – will be able to live in a world built on respect for our natural and human resources.”