PORTLAND, Feb 8 — As households grow increasingly accustomed to composting coffee grounds, eggshells and vegetable peels, could they one day be composting their clothes? Biodegradable garments, made entirely from plant-based materials, could provide an alternative to help fight plastic pollution and the mountains of textile waste that are building up worldwide.

Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world, accounting for 8 per cent to 10 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to data published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). However, this environmental impact is less than that generated by the washing of clothes, which requires a lot of water and energy, but above all is very polluting for water and soil. No less than 500,000 tonnes of plastic microfibers, the equivalent of 3 million barrels of oil, are spilled into the oceans each year, according to a report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). A major problem that the recycling and reselling of clothing cannot solve, but which could find an answer in the introduction of new, fully biodegradable plant-based materials.

Plant-based clothing


This is the niche chosen by Unless Collective, a streetwear label based in Portland, USA, that has chosen to ban polluting materials in favour of plant-based materials capable of decomposing at the end of their life. The initiative is led by Eric Liedtke and Paul Gaudio, two former adidas employees, who decided to do away with plastic, and — why not — to revolutionise the fashion industry. “Since all products eventually end up in the ground someday, we decided to use materials that could safely decompose when they did. We didn’t need to look farther than the forest floor to see the answers already existed in nature,” reads the brand’s official website.

All of the clothing offered by the streetwear label can therefore be composted by consumers, although this is not the primary objective. “This doesn’t mean we want you to throw your Unless products away when you are done with them. We want them back so we can repair and resell, recycle, or compost them properly. But, if you find that your dog has buried your products somewhere in your backyard or in the trash, know that they won’t be there for long,” the brand explains. Recycled cotton, coconut fiber, and hemp are among the materials used in these zero-waste garments, while buttons are made of corozo nut, also known as vegetable ivory. Everything has been considered so that “what grows from the ground can return to the ground.”


Biodegrading to reduce pollution

While Unless Collective is the first streetwear label to offer biodegradable clothing, it is not the only brand to have embraced this eco-responsible alternative. During the Covid pandemic, a Dutch company began marketing biodegradable face masks under the name Marie Bee Bloom. The said product was made with rice paper, pure sheep’s wool cords, and potato starch glue, and was filled with seeds that grew into flowers as the mask decomposed. For its part, the American brand Kent, founded by Canadian entrepreneur, Stacy Grace, offers compostable underwear. The idea is to banish elastane, nylon, polyester and spandex to focus on Pima cotton, an ecological and compostable material. And she’s not the only one working on this kind of alternative in the lingerie sector. Bella Eco and Calida have also launched into this niche using cellulose fabrics.

Many players in various branches of the fashion industry are showing growing interest in plant-based clothing to try to produce zero plastic in their collections. It remains to be seen if this alternative is really viable on a large scale, while remaining eco-responsible. — ETX Studio