One company’s efforts to turn the tide towards fashion sustainability
Might as well have our names written on some of what is choking our oceans today. One way or another, what we wear, wash and toss, ends up in oceans and rivers in the form of plastic fibers. Billions of them.
One fashion company, North Sails Apparel, is actually allowing you to reverse that while at the same time making you famous!
Marisa Selfa, CEO of North Sails Apparel, is no stranger to sustainable fashion and she did it while working with global brands like Levi’s, Adidas, Timberland, and National Geographic.
Today she is the CEO of North Sails Apparel, a much smaller brand, but one trying to make a global impact and a name for itself in sustainable fashion.
“I’m Spanish, and Italy is now the 7th country I worked in,” Marisa told Economy Middle East, following her participation at the recent Retail Summit in Dubai.
“I worked with big companies and smaller ones looking to grow and go international. The latter is the case for North Sails. I worked on social and environmental impact with the big brands, but sustainability is core and part of my agenda for my company today.”
Despite Marisa’s passion for fashion, she experienced a rude awakening.
“Around 2007, I started reading about fashion and realized I had no idea about the impact it has on our oceans. I was an early mom and wanted to leave a better world for my kids,” Marisa said.
“Oceans are made of billions of drops. I’m still in fashion because I want to add my little drop of contribution into saving the ocean.”
Every little “drop” helps
One thing about sustainability is that being responsible and worried about the earth could be very uncomfortable and expensive, according to Marisa.
“That’s because there are things you shouldn’t do or buy, leaving you with more expensive options especially when buying earth-friendly products,” Marisa explained.
“But one step forward is better than nothing. For companies or individuals that even do a 10% effort, at least they are doing something about it. Every drop counts.”
Fashion, Lifestyle and sustainability
Marisa says that it’s only when big fashion brands take charge of making our future sustainable that real and big changes can happen.
“Trendy wear can be sustainable but not with a ‘fast fashion’ lifestyle. It goes against sustainability if every month I need to buy new things,” Marisa believed.
“On average, people wear one product 7 times before throwing it or giving it away. Fast fashion is much quicker.”
Evidence of this happening, not just with fashion and apparel, is Earth Overshoot Day, the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.
“That day happened on July 29, 2021. This means, we needed at that time of the year 1.6 ‘earths’ to take care of all of us,” Marisa said.
She added that, typically, we only recycle 15% of our clothing, usually by giving it to someone else. Everything else ends up in landfills or is incinerated.
“We need to buy less, and buy (ecologically) better. Buy something you can wear for many seasons and many times.”
Environmental impact of the apparel industry
How much of the garment industry is polluting oceans or the environment, in general?
“Looks like we are the 2nd most polluting industry in the world after oil and gas, depending on who you ask,” Marisa revealed.
“The industry is a big consumer of cotton, which by itself has a big impact on water consumption.”
It is estimated that over 5,283 gallons of water are needed to produce just one kilogram of cotton.
Marisa said that Polyester, Nylon, Acrylic, and other synthetics fibers are about 60% of what clothes are made of worldwide.
“What people don’t know is that there is a big issue on the production level, both with water use and dyes, but also industries and consumers are creating a bigger problem when they wash these products,” Marisa indicated.
“Washing garments releases microfibers that pollute the waters of the ocean and rivers. Every wash that we do, releases 9 million microfibers of these materials. It seems that one-third of micro-plastics in the ocean is coming from the textile industry.”
She said that dyes in the textile industry are the second most polluting water in the world.
“I remember being in China and seeing green and red rivers flowing mostly from factories using dyes.”
Solutions on offer
Marisa said more garment brands need to use recycled or organic materials.
“We use Bamboo, for example, a tougher material that makes it more expensive to produce, so I have to lower my margins to make it happen,” Marisa said.
“Also, textile companies need to use non-polluting dyes. As for consumers, they need to understand that we have to consume less and look for brands that are committed to social responsibility.”
You probably heard of Carbon Neutral, but Ocean Positive?
“It’s a term we created which reflects our philosophy. The ocean is our playground. To reverse some of the effects on our oceans, we are planting Corals,” Marisa said.
Corals will be one of the first to disappear as an ecosystem by 2050, as the water keeps getting more acidic, and hotter.
Coral reefs are the tropical forests of the ocean, providing shelter and spawning grounds to a wide range of ocean life. They also protect shorelines from storms, create jobs and offer recreation avenues for sea/ocean lovers.
“If Corals disappear, around 25% of the marine world will disappear. We are doing it with a company called Coral Gardeners. This company plant nurseries and 97% of the corals they plant survive. We planted 5,000 in one year.”
But it doesn’t stop here.
Buying certain sustainable fashion apparel from North Sails will result in you adopting a coral that will bear your name. Think of it as your personal ‘Hollywood Star on Ocean Boulevard’, only your claim to fame is the act of saving the ocean.
What is next for the fashion company?
“We are an Italian design company expanding internationally. We have1300 points of sales, stores, franchise, and others, growing 44% in 2021 vs 2020, and 32% over 2019,” Marisa revealed.
“Dubai and the Middle East is a great opportunity as sustainability is growing in waves. We’re looking for partners who share similar values in improving our sustainable footprint. Our collections are almost 100% from sustainable materials but there are always more, better things to do, improve,” Marisa ended.