The resurgence of fast fashion and ultra-fast fashion has once again sparked headlines as numerous companies flood the global market with their low-cost products. These companies target the youth demographic, but there's also growing interest from older consumers in their online offerings. Why does fast fashion persist so strongly despite its widely recognized flawed concept of sustainability?

Several countries have awoken to this issue, seeking legislative interventions. For instance, France is poised to restrict ultra-fast fashion through marketing bans and by correlating environmental fees with the volumes of textiles entering the market. At the EU level, numerous legislative initiatives related to textiles are in progress as part of the textile strategy. Initiatives such as the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR), the Green Claims Directive, and Producer Responsibility aim to increase circular design and environmental sustainability. Among other goals, these initiatives seek to ban the destruction of unsold textiles, mandate better recyclability of textiles, and reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing.

Wood Fibers Have the Potential to Transform the Textile Market

Replacing environmentally harmful textile materials and processes requires expertise in chemistry and process engineering. Finland's strong fiber expertise in traditional pulp and paper industries is being leveraged to develop a wood-based textile ecosystem. Expertise in wood fiber treatment and modification is largely applicable to textile fiber recycling processes as well.

The future environmentally sustainable textile industry predominantly relies on cotton and cellulose fibers. Cellulose fibers are derived from forestry and agricultural by-products, wood, and recycled materials. In the longer term, in addition to cellulose fibers, bio- and CO2-based synthetic fibers and efficient recycling of all fibers could replace most synthetic fibers. (Michael Carus, Pulp & Beyond, 2024)

Many companies have already embarked on the development of wood-based fibers. For example, Metsä Spring has announced a feasibility study for the production of Kuura fiber from softwood pulp, exploring the viability of establishing a plant at the Äänekoski or Kemi bioproduct mill. Nordic Bioproducts Group recently inaugurated the world's first continuous microcrystalline cellulose production line in Lappeenranta, enabling future textile use. Spinnova, specializing e.g. in wood-based textiles, already operates a commercial plant in Jyväskylä in partnership with Suzano. These technologies aim to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, water usage, and chemical loads compared to cotton production and traditional synthetic fibers.

Finland Needs a Comprehensive Textile Ecosystem

In addition to fiber production, Finland needs a comprehensive textile ecosystem for further processing fibers into yarn, fabric, and ultimately finished products. We must not forget the importance of a functional textile fiber recycling system. A textile ecosystem would enable significant value addition and strengthen Europe's self-sufficiency. Achieving this requires supporting industrial investment in commercialization and ensuring predictability in the legislative environment.

In conclusion, real change occurs through consumption habits. The government and industry must lead by example and facilitate change for consumers. It would be desirable to pursue slower, environmentally sustainable fashion in the future and enjoy it for longer periods – much like the concept of slow food.