From throws made from 100% recycled wool, to ‘squat-proof’ leggings made from recycled polyester and recycled elastane, an ambitious designer has set about tackling the fashion industry’s colossal carbon footprint.
Angela O’Donnell, from Cork, founded sustainable and ethical fashion brand YAWUW – an acronym for You Are What U Wear – last year.
Having built up an in-depth knowledge of textiles and development with her previous luxury womenswear label, Angela’s ‘lightbulb moment’ came when she became a mother for the first time.
She said: “The climate crisis will be one of the biggest issues of the next generation and the fashion industry is one of the worst culprits.
“My lightbulb moment was when my little girl was born. When she is my age, 37, and she says, ‘Mom, what the hell is going on with the world? What did you do?’ I can say I did something.
“I went and designed the best products to try and change an industry that is just decimated because of the textiles they use and the conditions that people work in”.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, we discard around 110,000 tonnes of textiles as waste every year in Ireland. Of these textiles 42,000 tonnes are clothing.
Angela uses recycled polyester yarn obtained from plastic bottles (PET), organic cotton, recycled wool, and recycled elastane for her designs.
She said: “It is so much easier designing products and clothing made from traditional textiles because those textiles are just readily available.
“You can buy them from multiple suppliers but whereas sourcing and retaining textiles that are sustainable either from 100% recycled PET or recycled elastane, or anything like that, it’s really difficult because they’re not common. They’re generally made in the Far East and sourcing them, testing them is very difficult.
“My life would be ten times easier to just be like, ‘yeah. I’ll just send that off there’. Don’t look into the background of anything. Don’t push for the answers. Don’t hammer people on the phone to send you the certs. Don’t ask them, ‘Can you take videos of your factories?’”
Using 100% recycled textiles can prove to be a challenge. Angela spent a year prototyping a pair of leggings which would pass the ultimate test.
She said: “The reason why leggings are really difficult to make from 100% recycled materials is because most leggings you buy right now say they’re made from plastic bottles.
“But when you dig down into the composition you see they’re only partially made from recycled bottles. It’s the rest of the composition that is elastane or nylon that is really difficult to recycle.
“On my original samples, the leggings are made from 80% recycled polyester and 20% recycled elastane, but because the textile is so new, we were unable to dye the interior of the leggings.
“So, when you put these on and do your squats, you can see your bum basically. They were a disaster.
“With our final prototype, the quality of the recycled textile is so much better, and we could dye it through completely. They are totally see-through proof!”.
Angela believes the environmental impact of the global fashion industry will only be reduced through government policy.
She said: “I have always been fashion-obsessed. I always used fashion and style as a way to express myself. But when you wake up to how the industry really is and how fast fashion companies work and operate, you can’t ignore that anymore.
“I think true change will only come when governments say, ‘if you’re bring product in here, you need to say to us, 50% of your textiles are made from sustainable materials. This is how you are offsetting your carbon. Your packaging is biodegradable. Three simple things’.”
In our ‘Climate Heroes’ series of reports, we shine a light the people who are stepping up to protect our environment and tackle climate change. While these people come from all walks of life, they share a common purpose to improve the world around us.