Photo courtesy of Arvin Goods.

Plastic has a bad rap. And for brands and retailers responding to consumer-led demand for sustainability, solutions centered on the removal and recycling of ocean plastic pollution for fashion products has risen to the surface.

The Fashion Institute of Technology’s Textile Ocean Plastics Pollution Initiative, a student-led and multipronged educational program, recently escorted students aboard the American Princess Cruise boat from Riis Landing in Breezy Point, Queens, to experience ocean pollution first-hand. FIT said much of marine pollution is created by disposable plastics, microplastic fibrils and other marine textile debris from both synthetic and natural textile products and fibers.

Jeffrey Silberman, professor and chairperson at FIT’s Textile Development and Marketing Department, told WWD, “We became aware of microfibrils from synthetic fibers that are polluting the food and water supply, and noticed also that the textile and fashion industries are doing a lot to create and add to the problem but are doing very little to try to fix it.” Its TOPPI program aims to “expose students to current and ongoing scientific research, and enables them to explore the response from textile companies, brands and retail organizations,” FIT said, and offers regularly scheduled sustainability-themed outings for students to further increase engagement and awareness.

Artie Kopelman, distinguished service professor, School of Liberal Arts. Photo courtesy of FIT. 

Also on the oceanic front is apparel basics brand Arvin Goods. The company said it recently incorporated Econyl into its men’s boxers — a regenerated nylon made from rescued waste such as fishing nets and industrial plastic from oceans and landfills —as the brand is intent on elevating its products whilst considering “low impact, quality and price.” Dustin Winegardner, cofounder and managing director of Arvin Goods, told WWD, “We are always looking for new recycled fabrics that we can apply to our range,” he said. “We really wanted a functional everyday men’s boxer that had a story to fit in the brand. After some research and reading up on Econyl’s background and process, it seemed like a perfect fit. Adding ocean waste as an input to the Arvin Goods brand story we think is the perfect complement to our upcycled cotton materials we are using in the other items.”

And the experts agree. Riggs Eckelberry, chief executive officer of water treatment solution firm OriginClear, told WWD, “Microplastics and microfibers in our water have primarily two origins. One is waste plastic in the ocean, which slowly erodes into microparticles, so tiny that fish would ingest them as part of their feed. This fish we eat are found to have these microparticles that eventually end up in our organisms. Another one comes from daily activity.”

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