Cornell professor Tasha Lewis is on a mission to cultivate what we refer to as a “slow fashion” movement. That’s because the way most textiles are made—and how we eventually, inevitably dispose of them—can take quite the toll on the environment. When you really think about it, it’s a lot: The production of fibers for textiles alone requires a ton of water, not to mention all the fossil fuels and pesticides involved. In an effort to cut down, Tasha, who is an associate professor at Cornell’s department of fiber science and apparel design (and a fashion industry vet), is currently researching ways to transform textile waste into new product to keep their lifecycles going instead of being sent straight to landfills. We chatted with her here about fast fashion, its footprint on the environment, and ways to make more conscious choices as consumers.
Can you tell us a little about your current research, in a nutshell?
My research examines how post-consumer textile waste can be transformed into new products. I would like to achieve a customized solution for different fabrications and blends of fibers since post-consumer textile waste is so varied in its quality and composition.
The impact of textiles, especially in terms of the fashion industry and garment production, has a much larger scope than the end consumer. Can you explain the key parts of that lifecycle?
At the time garments are designed is when decisions about materials and construction are determined and these choices can have an impact throughout the lifecycle. Development of garments often requires numerous samples for styling and fit approvals as well as for textile and color approvals. The cultivation and production of fibers for textiles is also involved and includes use of resources like land and water, as well as fossil fuels and pesticides. The dyeing and finishing processes used for textiles further contribute to environmental issues in the lifecycle, through the use of more water, as well as chemical toxins and the creation of effluent. Energy is used to assemble garments in the production phase and for transporting garments across borders and states. Pre-consumer textile waste is generated as part of the production process due to fabric wastage or quality issues. Activities to move garments around for consumption and distribution, also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. So, we can see that there is a large environmental footprint even before the garments is in the hand of the end consumer.