Fashion startup ALT TEX provides sustainable solutions to the fashion industry’s overproduction of carbon emissions

Most people typically don’t consider wearing the things they would eat, but a Toronto-based company is hoping to change that.

ALT TEX is a  biomaterial startup that turns food waste into textile material for apparel. The company was founded by Avneet Ghotra, a 2018 University of Toronto graduate who used her knowledge from biochemistry and environmental science to create these materials.

Sustainability within the fashion community has been a hot topic as the environmental effects of fast fashion become increasingly apparent.

Where were all these affordable textiles going? The answer is right to the landfill. We purchase 400% more clothing than we used too.

These textiles make up about eight to 12 per cent of our landfills. In addition, Canadian households throw away about 2.2 million tonnes of edible food waste a year.

Photo by Stijn Dijkstra from Pexels

“Circular design is thinking with the end first. It is thinking in inputs and outputs as well as nature loops. We need to move away from the linear model. Redesign comes down to ideologies – western ideas of life and death are very linear,”  said Ryerson fashion professor Anika Kozlowski. “The dominant structure is linear. If we look at Indigenous peoples and Buddhism, there is this circularity-based thinking.”

Circular design and the creation of eco-based fabrics are important aspects of sustainable fashion.

For ALT TEX, Ghotra is creating a PLA-based fabric – a polylactic acid which is a compostable bioplastic.

Compared to ALT TEX, the majority of clothing is made with synthetic polyester which is non-recyclable. These cheaper fabrics are the basis for fast fashion –good for our wallets, but terrible for the environment.

This PLA fabric can be made from organic waste. By teaming up with restaurants, ALT TEX can limit the amount of methane gas that is produced in landfills and limit the amount of non-recycled textiles that are thrown away.

The idea of sustainability was to change the mindset of consumers and consumerism.

Soft Focus is an eco-friendly brand that focuses on bringing a cool girl attitude to pajamas. Ryerson fashion design graduate and founder of Soft Focus, Sammi Smith makes items from plant-based fabrics such as tencel – a fabric similar to cotton but made from sustainable wood cellulose, which is essentially wood “pulp.” 

The challenge with changing consumer behavior is that the act of purchasing items has been proven to create dopamine – especially purchasing items online.

Psychology Today article states that this could be a reason why online shopping is such a large infrastructure. Looking past its basic convenience – especially in a COVID-19 world – the anticipation and excitement are what produce this dopamine, not the reward itself.

Ghotra has found a way to tweak the cycle instead of trying to reinvent it. By creating a fabric that can be broken down, she isn’t trying to deter this consumerism that keeps the fashion industry afloat, but instead, correcting the problems that make the fashion industry an accessory to the murder of our enviroment.

“Food waste is a common input for the production of bioplastics. Many synthetic materials like polyester and spandex have plastics. Bioplastics and biomaterials are natural nutrients and are derived from nature,” said Kozlowski

The Fashion Zone at Ryerson also highlights creative individuals who prioritize sustainability with  their innovative materials.

Fashion startup Daveed created Nixburg Bullskin, a leather that uses 80 per cent less water compared to normal leather and uses 99 per cent of hide including all byproducts.

Not only does this product cut down on waste, but it also sustainably uses energy and resources to create a product.

reDesign canvas concept graphic. Photo courtesy of Ryerson Fashion Zone.

Designs such as this can be generated by using the reDesign canvas that was created by Kozlowski and Ryerson professors Cory Searcy and Michal Bardecki.

It consists of 12 building blocks that aims to develop a sustainable fashion enterprise instead of relying on the concept of quick and cheap.

It relies on holistic thinking, or thinking of everything in the design process as a system. Resources are small and the idea was generated through feedback from over 50 designers globally by asking important questions like “Where do you start?”

ALT TEX’s priority is to create a carbon neutral textile. Carbon neutral means no net release of carbon dioxide, which is usually done by offsetting emissions by planting trees.

However, now there is an overproduction of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is produced by industrial processes such as mass manufacturing of clothing for fast fashion brands like Zara, H&M and Forever 21.

This means a lot more needs to be done to cancel emissions. Carbon neutral designs are one way, and have been implemented in everything from fashion to architecture.

It is proven that we cannot afford to keep allowing the emissions of carbon dioxide. Brands like ALT TEX are showing us new ways of creating products that could help offset our carbon production.

ALT TEX is proving that sustainable options are needed to keep the fashion industry socially and environmentally-conscious. Without this effort, then both are competing and one is bound to falter.