What happens when a teeshirt, one of the most widely used garments in our closets, is thrown away because it is worn out or because it has to make room for something else in our wardrobe? How much CO2, water, electricity did it take to produce a teeshirt?
These are the questions at the origin of T-SAVE, a new project conceived by Talking Hands that unites three major players: Talking Hands, Angoli di Mondo Coop. Social and Engineer3d.
It was decided to collect 1,000 used tees. Starting with this simple garment, we began to imagine its creative reuse.
According to the guidelines provided by Engineer3d, it was possible to create a collection that not only enhanced the raw material destined to become waste, but also met strict environmental standards during all stages of processing.
The result was measured in terms of environmental impacts to ensure transparency and quantify the results.
These are completely revamped, one-of-a-kind items reinterpreted according to the personal vision of Talking Hands' designers.
Without the presumption of having solved the problem of the environmental impact of the textile supply chain, one of the most critical links in the fashion system, the T-SAVE project is first and foremost a network experiment that has tried to define a model that unites different actors with professional skills and knowledge.
We are convinced that it is precisely in the quality of production processes, design, materials, but also technological research oriented toward sustainable productivity in environmental and social terms that is the key to trying to increasingly reduce the impact of the fashion production chain on the environment.
The affinity between those involved is also confirmed by the common focus on social inclusion. Training, decent working conditions, pathways to vocational inclusion, and openness to plural imaginaries are just some of the ingredients that allow, in our view, to build a new supply chain under the banner of sustainability and dialogue.
The numbers of environmental savings
To assess the environmental benefits of the T-Save reuse project, a life cycle assessment (LCA) analysis was conducted. This is an objective, standardized method of analysis for quantifying the potential environmental and human health impacts associated with a good or service throughout its entire life cycle, from raw material acquisition to end of life ("from cradle to grave").
This type of methodology, which is the main operational tool of "Life Cycle Thinking" is not limited to considering only the "obvious" aspects of the processes analyzed, but also takes into account everything that is directly and indirectly related to them and that causes an impact on the environment. For example, to assess the CO2 emissions associated with a given process, it considers not only what comes out of a stack or the waste produced, but also everything that results from the processes involved indirectly (e.g., how much CO2 was generated to extract, produce, process, and transport the raw material input to the process itself).
The LCA analysis in question was therefore conducted with the aim of "measuring the sustainability" of the T-Save project, that is, to assess the environmental benefits of reuse. To do so, the environmental impacts due to the remanufacturing process of the garments in the T-Save collection were measured, which were then compared with those related to the process of producing the same garments involved in the project from scratch. In technical terms, the analysis conducted is a "from cradle to gate" LCA analysis.
This means that the boundaries of the same do not consider the use and end-of-life phases, which, as highlighted in the previous paragraphs, are characterized by high uncertainty, especially when it comes to reuse. In this way, the results of the analysis represent the environmental benefits of choosing a T-Save project garment, which avoids the ex-novo production of a T-shirt and prevents a still functional product from ending up in landfills.
(Full life cycle of a T-shirt from Engineer3d's T-Save project, 2022)
The dotted line in orange represents the ex-novo production of t-shirts that will then be remanufactured through the T-Save project. The dashed line in green, on the other hand, includes all the processes that grant the same T-shirt a second life. These two partial life cycles will then be compared to assess the environmental benefits of the reuse project.
The analysis was conducted from data directly provided by Talking Hands and World Corners, then supplemented with industry averages obtained from verified studies and the Ecoinvent 3.8 database (one of the most authoritative sources in the field of LCA analysis). This integration is inevitable: the supply chain of the textile sector is not always traceable, and the actors involved are often unable to communicate the data necessary for the development
of an LCA study, as they are difficult to measure. A further complication is due to the fact that the processes adopted in the fashion industry differ from manufacturer to manufacturer; this makes it necessary to adopt industry metrics to describe individual processes in the aggregate. In any case, the results obtained accurately reflect the sustainability of the raw materials used, the actors involved and the processes adopted.
In order to conduct the analysis, it was also necessary to make certain assumptions, which were reasonably justifiable and in any case methodologically sound:
- The process of producing T-shirts from scratch was modeled after the guidance provided by Gilldan, one of the world's leading players in the production of print-ready T-shirts and the most transparent in terms of supply chain. It was then reasonably assumed that this could be representative for all the T-shirts involved in the T-Save project, whose manufacturers are characterized like Gildan by an extensive supply chain worldwide.
- Regarding the remanufacturing process, the main raw materials used are textile wastes (both "pre-consumer waste" such as wax fabric, and "post-consumer waste" such as remanufactured T-shirts) and there is a strong consensus in the scientific and academic world to consider them impact-free. This is why the so-called "cut-off" approach has been adopted, in which wastes are considered "burden free" and their environmental impact is only due to collection and reuse operations.
The environmental impact of African wax (more specifically, of the dyeing/printing process itself) is not particularly well researched in the relevant literature; consequently, it is safe to assume that its sustainability depends mostly on the textile "substrate" to which the dyeing is applied: a 100% organic cotton wax will therefore result in lower impacts than an irresponsibly produced cotton.
- The beginning of the life cycle of the T-Save project T-shirts was identified with their transportation to the Angoli di Mondo locations. According to estimates provided, about 80 percent of the garments are brought directly as spontaneous donations from individuals.
To assess the environmental impact related to this phase of the life cycle, it was therefore assumed that a person delivers an average of 3 kg of clothes and that they optimize this movement by running subsequent errands. In this way, the environmental impact of transportation was only partially associated with donated T-shirts, the raw material of the remanufacturing process.
On a weekly basis, there are 3 fixed internal exchange/redemption rounds between Noventa and Padua stores. It was therefore assumed that a T-shirt remains in circulation between 4 and 6 months before it is purchased, thus being redistributed among the Angles of the World locations on average between 4 and 8 times.
It has been assumed that an average of 100 T-shirts are selected to be transported to the Talking Hands location to be regenerated. This means that to reach the quota of 1,000 T-shirts reused in the T-Save project will require approximately ten trips between the Angoli Di Mondo Used Market in Noventa Padovana and the Talking Hands headquarters itself.
The environmental footprint of the garments in the T-Save collection has been assessed according to the impact categories defined by Environmental Footprint 3.0, the method for assessing environmental impacts developed by the European Union.
It is therefore possible to say that choosing a T-shirt from the T-Save project allows you to:
First of all, we think a brief background on the two protagonists of the T-Save project is appropriate: their very cooperation demonstrates, in itself, the strong social sustainability of such an initiative.
Born in Treviso in the midst of a humanitarian emergency, Talking Hands is more than a nonprofit organization. It is a fashion design studio that empowers African migrants and refugees - a chance to start over and tell their stories through dignified and artistic work.
In the Talking Hands atelier, every step of the creative and production process takes place according to collaboration and creative freedom, so that everyone contributes to the common goal by leaving their own imprint. Even before the design of the garments (for which all workers have an equal say), the confrontation between different ideas and sensibilities begins with the selection of materials - a combination of Italian and African fabrics; these are then matched on a case-by-case basis (and in total expressive autonomy) by the individual tailors, thus creating unique pieces. Participation also concerns the sales phase: the artisans attend pop-up stores, markets, fairs and exhibitions, making themselves protagonists of the entire project.
Angoli di Mondo is a type B social cooperative, and as such encourages the employment of disadvantaged people. Enrolled in the register of Equo Garantito organizations, part of the Veneto Equo Network, as well as members of Altromercato, AltrEconomia and Viaggi & Miraggi: affiliation with these well-established and virtuous entities to demonstrate Angoli di Mondo's commitment to responsible consumption. The goal is to ensure that consumers always ask themselves what is behind their purchasing choices, so that each of us can contribute every day to shaping a fairer economy (and therefore a fairer society).
Information activities respond directly to the previous objective, and include interventions (workshops, testimonies, etc.) aimed at students or informal groups, participation in territorial planning and other events (e.g., promotion of "value chains," respect for human rights). In this regard, Angoli di Mondo welcomes interns/trainees, supporting them in their training in these areas.
Consistent with the values described so far, Angoli di Mondo various environmental projects (e.g., Riusame mucho, RipArati, The Thread that Unites Us) aspire to achieve a broader definition of sustainability. With Talking Hands and the T-Save project, the idea is to build a new value chain and (ideally) expand it in a systematic way.
Under these circumstances, the T-Save project already appears to be consistent with many of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) defined by the UN 2030 Agenda-especially 4 (Quality Education), 10 (Reduced Inequalities) and 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), but also 1 (No Poverty) and 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), ideally 9 (Industry Innovation and Infrastructure) and certainly 17 (Partnership for the Goals).
Talking Hands, a permanent design studio that enables people from refugee communities to design, create and sell fashion and design products;
Angoli di Mondo Coop. Sociale, a reality that since 1998 has flanked the pre-existing association, active in Padua and province since 1985. The organization's main purpose is to raise awareness of Responsible Consumption practices, including through paths of job placement for people in distress. Its main activities are the promotion of Fair Trade and other ethical and sustainable supply chains and the Recovery and valorization of used goods. The cooperative operates 8 outlets between stores and markets in Padua and its province;
Engineer3d, an organization of transparent and responsible fashion experts based in Milan, which helps brands make their products sustainable based on measuring, reducing and offsetting environmental impacts throughout the supply chain.