China is by far the world’s leading textile manufacturer, accounting for 50% of total industry production, far above India, second in rank, with only 6% of that share. Data by the Institute of Studies and Industrial Marketing shows Brazil ranks fifth. Nevertheless, it is the only Western country that works through the whole chain, from supporting the growth of cotton and the manufacture of threads and fibers to running confections and retail stores and holding International fashion shows – according to the Brazilian Association of the Textile Industry. This is Brazil’s top two employing Industry, outranked only by the food and beverages (together) segment, with 1.479 million direct and 8 million indirect workers, of whom 75% refer to labor provided by women.
According to estimates by SEBRAE (the Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service), Brazil produces 170 thousand tons of fabric leftovers annually, of which 30 percent is delivered by the state of São Paulo, the country’s leading textile industry player. 80 percent of all materials produced in São Paulo go to dumping grounds and sanitary landfills. Headquartered in Vila Leopoldina, the Banco de Tecido (Fabric Bank) introduces one of the possible solutions to minimize the problem. “This question is kind of our motto: what should we do with fabric leftovers?” says Luciana Bueno, costume designer, setting designer, art director, and the Bank’s founder. Dating back to 2014, the project was born in a time when she realized she had already stored over half a ton of raw material leftovers. “Fabric is used for household linen items. The greatest problem lies in the fashion chain, though”, she says.
Manufacturing fabrics and costumes not only affect the environment, but it also has severe consequences on a socio-economic perspective basis. In 2015, Chief Executive Andrew Morgan launched his documentary, The True Cost , which talks about the manufacture, distribution, advertising, and waste chain, as well as the darkest side of the industry: its reported cases of slavery. Receiving low wages and working under heavy hourly loads and risky conditions, 40 million workers around the world put their lives at stake to keep production up and running. Cotton plantations are treated with pesticides, which are harmful to farmers and the environment alike. However, the growing production of synthetic fabrics - which are easier, cheaper, and faster to manufacture - brings a new problem when it's time to discard waste.
Challenges and Solutions
“70% of all fiber produced in the world is synthetic. We are talking about petroleum in the form of fabric. If it is 100% polyester, you need to treat it one way. If it is 100% cotton, treatment should be different. Mixed fabrics do not allow separating its component materials at the end of the chain,” considers Luciana.
The Fabric Bank works with neither scraps nor fabric leftovers but only excesses, i.e., pieces of fabrics in good conditions whose meterage is big enough to be used in other productions. The Bank welcomes exchanges (fabric given in turn for another) and accepts ordinary purchases. “For example, bringing 10 kilograms yields a 7-kilogram credit for you to exchange with any other fabric from the store. We charge a 3-kilogram fee to monetize the business. Currently, we boast 900 account holders,” she explains.
Businesswoman Luciana Bueno believes that, after three years of operation, the Bank has put back into production 12 tons of reusable fabrics that would be useless or discarded. “It is still very little considering that 233 thousand tons of fabrics are wasted annually. We still have a long way ahead of us,” she considers.
At “Virada Sustentável” (a sustainability focused event), the Bank’s agenda included debates, alternative times (o original é sobre horários de trabalho alternativos? Se sim, sugiro mudar pra "alternative working hours"), and also an educational collection of fabric scraps and leftovers. Scraps (worn, dirty, tear, stained, unwoven clothes) and fabric leftovers (pieces of fabric too small to be used in new seams) must be sent to other kind of treatment, such as recycling. Retalhar, for instance, receives out-of-fashion clothes whose fabric is ground and shredded and used in different new applications. On its turn, Renovar receives textile industry leftovers that will be transformed into other products.
After completing researches aimed at giving residues their right destination and figuring out ways to turn a problem into business, Luciana and her partners came up with a model that's combined (allowing exchanges, besides purchases), circular (puts stored healthy fabrics back into production, warms up economy, and generates employment) and shared (the whole inventory is built by people who use and discard fabrics at the area serviced). This model is already running in both Curitiba and Porto Alegre.
What is still missing? “Money!”, replies Luciana without hesitation. “Being a social entrepreneur in Brazil is not an easy task, because we lack clear small business supporting programs. Growing up requires investments. Our marketplace requires initiatives like this one. As a startup, we need to learn more about kicking off,” she wraps up.
“Ecobairro”, the Green Neighborhood Circuit
The Fabric Bank integrates the attractions of Virada Sustentável in São Paulo by presenting its “Programa Permanente Ecobairro” (Permanent Green Neighborhood Program). Created by Lara Freitas and Paullo Santos back in 2005, the program serves today three areas across the city of São Paulo: Vila Mariana, Pinheiros, and Vila Leopoldina, but has also landed in Salvador, Manaus, and Brasília. With an eye set on the 2030 Agenda and the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, the project shifted dramatically towards focusing on initiatives that would connect and integrate local communities to support a healthier individual and day-to-day social life.
“We want to awaken the power of communities and make people clearly understand that it is possible to drive changes and build better relationships with individuals, neighbors, and commercial establishments,” points out Lara. After going through a green village training, Lara and Paullo thought it would be a good idea to work for sustainability across cities. In February, they established themselves as the Instituto Ecobairro Brasil (Brazil Green Neighborhood Institute) and started working with support from the Fundo Municipal de Meio Ambiente (FMMA, Municipal Environment Fund), following also the international notice of Municipalidades em Transição (Changing Municipalities).
“This is all about a huge collaboration. We serve as a bridge through which people and initiatives are connected, since they are invariably found isolated from each other,” explains Lara. She also stresses out that globalization led us to see the world only from a large-scale perspective; this has impaired us from realizing how powerful local communities are in influencing our daily experiences and common choices, as well as putting our green actions at risk. The Green Neighborhood Circuit highlights 26 major sites within Vila Leopoldina alone. Things to do include neighborhood meditation, conversations at the square, school gatherings, storytelling, collective harvesting, street games, and, of course, Fabric Bank collections.