The future of fashion?: Carbon-negative clothing

Kaycee Enerva

Kaycee Enerva

Two UK fashion brands – Sheep Inc and Post-carbon Lab – are developing carbon-negative clothing to help address climate change.

According to the UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), the global fashion industry is responsible for an estimated 10 per cent of total carbon emissions – more than the aviation and shipping sectors combined.

Brands are aware of this and have started introducing “carbon-neutral” products. Carbon neutralising compensates for the equal amount of carbon dioxide released due to certain actions, also known as carbon footprint. Carbon negative, however, is compensating for more than emissions than one creates. 

Carbon-negative clothing brands

carbon-negative clothing
Source: Sheep Inc.

Sheep Inc.

The London-based knitwear retailer offers carbon-negative hoodies that the brand claims remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than its manufacturing produces, with the carbon footprint of each hoodie 2kg.

“We believe in the fashion industry’s collective responsibility to create products that work within safe, planetary boundaries,” said Edzard van der Wyck, CEO and co-founder, Sheep Inc. “Therefore, we need to start designing products that naturally have a regenerative effect on our planet.”

The wool used as raw material is sourced from three “regenerative” sheep stations in New Zealand: Lake Hawaea, Middlehurst, and Omarama. 

Farmers implement rotational grazing systems to make sure the grass is never overgrazed and provide living organisms with a constant supply of nutrition, preventing soil erosion, increasing water filtration rates, and storing more carbon in the soil. At the same time, the sheep keep the soil healthy by closing the nutrient loop, reducing the need for fertilisers. 

This carbon-negative fibre is processed by Portuguese specialist knitter Fatexil, using 100 per cent solar energy and 3D knitting machines to ensure a zero-waste manufacturing process.

All orders are fulfilled from UK’s first carbon-neutral logistics, Airbox, which uses solar power and electric vehicles.

carbon-negative clothing
Source: Post-carbon Lab

Post-carbon Lab

The London-based start-up has created a coating for clothes that photosynthesise. If you remember your elementary science, photosynthesis is used by plants, algae and certain bacteria to turn sunlight, carbon dioxide (CO2) and water into food.

A layer of living algae is coated on the garment’s fabric, absorbing carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen in real-time, turning the carbon into sugar.

According to co-founder Dian-Jen, one large t-shirt coated with the substance generates as much oxygen as a six-year-old oak tree. However, the care instructions would be different from regular clothing. 

“You can’t put it into your dark wardrobe. It needs light and carbon dioxide, so you have to put it in a well-ventilated area, like the back of your chair,” shared Dian-Jen.

“Washing machines would harm the algae, so it’s handwash only – you have to be a bit careful.”

The start-up is currently working with designers in the fashion industry to help scale its photosynthesis coating into marketable products such as shoes, backpacks.

Is carbon-negative clothing the future of fashion?

While all the research and innovations that the fashion industry is currently doing for sustainability is commendable, let’s not forget that consumers like us can also leave a planet positive impact. We can reduce carbon emissions in many ways than just purchasing carbon-neutral or carbon-negative clothing.

For example, we can repair clothes instead of immediately throwing them away, or support circular fashion and buy something pre-loved. 

“Can we really consume our way out of consumerism?” – Michelle Haworth.

Kaycee Enerva

Kaycee Enerva

A digital content manager based in the Philippines, Kaycee Enerva has written for multiple publications over several years. A graduate of Computer Science, she exchanged a career in IT to pursue her passion for writing. She's slowly practicing sustainability through period cups, and eating more plant-based food.



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