Did you know that the fashion business is responsible for approximately 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions? Or that it is a significant user of water and energy?
As responsible buyers, we owe it to our apparel to consider its complete life cycle.
By understanding the manufacturing process for materials and where they wind up after use, you can make more informed purchasing decisions when it comes to clothing and other fashion goods.
Today’s post discusses sustainable materials, why they are beneficial to both humans and the environment, and how to tell the difference between sustainable and non-sustainable fabrics.
What Exactly Is a ‘Sustainable Fabric’?
So, when we speak of sustainable fabrics, what precisely do we mean?
It may be extremely perplexing to define sustainable fashion, all the more so when the fashion industry retains complete control over the phrase “sustainable.”
In general, sustainability in the fashion business means that no fashion item, whether a shoe or a piece of cloth, is manufactured in a way that violates worker or animal rights or harms the environment.
Producing sustainable fashion items requires less water and energy. Additionally, they are recycled from garbage, are biodegradable, and do not contribute to soil erosion.
Among the most popular sustainable fashion materials are:
- Fibers that have been recycled
- Fibers derived from plants
- Fibers derived from animals
- Fibers that are semi-synthetic
Which Fabrics Are the Most Sustainable?
When shopping for fashion goods, a sustainability-conscious individual can examine a variety of sustainable fabrics. Consider the following examples of some of the most sustainable fabrics in the industry:
Eco-fabrics derived from plants
Linen is a natural fiber that the flax plant produces. In comparison to cotton or polyester, linen consumes far less water, energy, herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers.
The beauty of flax is that it thrives in soils that are not suitable for food production. It may also be used to restore polluted soil in rare instances. Additionally, flax absorbs a high amount of carbon, purifying the air rather than contaminating it.
Hemp is one of the eco-fabrics most closely linked with the late 1960s and early 1970s hippie lifestyle. However, the fabric has regained favor. The reason for this is that it is a highly sustainable crop.
Hemp is a fast-growing crop that requires no pesticides and does not deplete the soil. Contrary to the majority of man-made materials seen in fast fashion stores, hemp cloth is robust, resilient, and does not irritate the skin.
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Cotton grown in the traditional manner takes an enormous quantity of water and chemicals to be produced. Organic cotton is a superior substitute for conventional cotton.
Organic cotton is not treated with hazardous pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or genetically engineered seeds throughout the harvesting process. A sustainable fashion firm will almost certainly use GOTS-certified organic cotton in the production of its clothing. Cotton grown in this manner is traceable from beginning to end and is rigorously monitored.
If you wish to purchase anything made from organic cotton, look for the organic cotton label. Additionally, organic cotton will feel somewhat better than conventional cotton due to less chemical damage throughout the manufacturing process.
Organic hemp & linen
While hemp and linen were addressed previously in the section on plant-based eco-fabrics, organic hemp and linen require another mention.
These two fabrics are made from extremely adaptable crops that require minimal water, no pesticides, and may even thrive in poor soil.
Linen, on the other hand, replenishes the soil and absorbs carbon, making it extremely environmentally friendly.
Ethical and responsible fabrics
Alpaca fiber is made from the fleece of Alpacas that are mostly bred in Peru’s Andes. Alpacas are regarded more eco-friendly due to the way they consume grass. They chop the grass they consume rather of removing it. This enables the grass to continue growing.
Additionally, alpacas have a plush underfoot padding. Padding is kinder to the earth than goat or sheep hooves are. Additionally, alpacas require relatively little water and food to thrive and produce enough wool to make four or five sweaters each year. By comparison, it takes a goat four years to produce a single cashmere sweater.
Silk is a protein fiber that is renewable because it is produced by silkworms. Additionally, it is a regenerative and biodegradable resource.
However, other firms create silk using chemicals. These chemicals are poisonous to the silkworm. It is therefore critical to use organic silks such as “Peace Silk,” Tussah, and Ahimsa silks that allow the moth to exit the cocoon prior to boiling it to make silk.
Wool that has been processed conventionally is not an eco-friendly fabric. However, there are some sustainable wool options available, such as the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), which is produced using environmentally friendly procedures that conserve the land and humanely treat the animals. Certified organic wool is produced without the use of pesticides or parasiticides.
Cashmere in its natural state has a significant environmental impact. However, its sustainable cashmere solution addresses these environmental concerns.
Leather is made from the skin of deceased animals. Even though it is a byproduct of animals grown for their flesh, the tanning process has a severe influence on the environment.
Fortunately, there is chrome-free eco-friendly leather produced by tanneries that recycle and purify wastewater.
Fabric that has been reclaimed is cloth that has been left over from manufacturers, vintage fabric, or any other unwanted fabric that has been purchased secondhand. The majority of producers and large companies are left with scraps of fabric they can no longer use.
Eco-friendly firms can then purchase and repurpose this excess material, rather than having it discarded and ending up in landfills. Utilizing recycled fabric is an excellent approach to help reduce textile waste.
Polyester manufactured from recycled plastic bottles is an ethical fabric. This is an excellent technique to cut down on plastic waste that ends up in landfills. Another advantage of recycled polyester is that it uses far fewer resources to manufacture and emits significantly less CO2.
However, recycled polyester is not biodegradable and takes years to degrade when it is discarded.
As with recycled polyester, recycled nylon diverts waste from landfills and its production consumes far fewer resources than virgin nylon.
The majority of recycled nylon is derived from discarded fishing nets, nylon rugs, and tights.
Nylon that has been recycled is typically more expensive than nylon that has been manufactured new. However, it provides a plethora of environmental benefits.
Recycled cotton is one of the greatest recycled fabrics since it conserves a significant amount of water throughout the manufacturing process. Each ton of recycled cotton can save 765,000 gallons of water. Additionally, it consumes far fewer resources than conventional or organic cotton. As a result, it is an excellent sustainable solution.
Another extremely ecological fabric is recycled wool. Recycled wool conserves significant amounts of water during production and eliminates the need for chemical dyeing, so minimizing pollution of the air, water, and soil.
Sustainable futuristic fabrics
TENCEL® is a cellulose fabric made from dissolved wood pulp. Tencel has been gaining popularity in recent years. It is supposed to be 50% more absorbent than cotton and to be produced with less energy and water.
Tencel’s chemicals are controlled in a closed-loop manner, which minimizes hazardous waste.
Piatex is an excellent vegan leather substitute. It is a fiber derived from pineapple leaves. This material is a cruelty-free alternative to leather; it is also natural and sustainably sourced.
Because Piatex is created from a food by-product, it reduces waste and supports the pineapple agricultural community.
Econyl is another excellent environmentally friendly fabric. This fiber is made from recycled synthetic waste, including industrial plastic, scrap fabric, and fishing nets. The trash is recycled to create a fresh nylon yarn of comparable quality to nylon.
The regeneration process consumes less water and generates less waste than conventional nylon manufacturing.
Econyl is ideal for making things that are rarely washed, such as sneakers and bags, but conventional washing of Econyl can still result in the release of plastic microparticles that end up in the ocean.
Qmonos is a synthetic spider silk made by fusing spider silk genes with microorganisms. The fiber is expected to be five times stronger than steel, but is significantly lighter, more flexible, and completely biodegradable than nylon.
Qmonos is a more ecological and ethical alternative to silk and nylon because no spiders are farmed or injured during the manufacturing process.
Refibra is a natural fiber made from cotton scraps and wood. The manufacturing technique is environmentally friendly and incorporates recycled material (cotton scraps) from the textile industry.
Orange Fiber is a cutting-edge fabric constructed entirely of orange peels. This fiber is compatible with a variety of different materials.
When orange fiber is used in its purest form, it has a delicate and silky hand feel. It is a lightweight material that can be opaque or shining depending on the production requirements.
Which Non-Eco-Friendly Fabrics Are to Be Avoided?
Numerous fabrics should be avoided entirely because they consume a great deal of water and energy to manufacture, contain toxic chemicals, contribute to soil erosion, are non-biodegradable, contribute to animal cruelty, or are non-renewable.
Cotton is a widely used fabric, however it is also extremely hazardous to the environment and individuals.
Each year, it is estimated that 20,000 people die of cancer and miscarriages as a result of the pesticides sprayed on cotton.
Cotton is primarily grown in dry and warm climates, yet it takes a great deal of water to flourish. A pound of cotton requires 20,000 gallons of water to create. Additionally, it necessitates the use of several pesticides and insecticides. Cotton receives 10% of pesticides and 25% of insecticides used globally.
99% of the world’s cotton farmers work in substandard circumstances and get pitiful earnings. Child labor and forced labor are prevalent on cotton farms.
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The world’s one billion sheep are bred for their wool. Wool is not a viable alternative due to this large sheep farming. Extensive sheep husbandry has wreaked havoc on the ecosystem.
One of the effects is overgrazing, which depletes vegetation’s ability to regenerate before it is devoured. Additionally, it weakens the soil, making it more susceptible to erosion and desertification.
Additionally, sheep produce methane, a gas that contributes 25 times more to global warming than carbon dioxide. Additionally, sheep must be cleansed in pesticide baths that include chemicals that are dangerous to farmers. Additionally, these toxic chemicals leave residues that may persist in the wool and find their way into our clothing.
The tanning process is responsible for the majority of leather’s environmental and societal impact. To turn animal skins into wearable leather, chromium, an extremely poisonous chemical, is employed. 80 percent of the world’s leather production involves the usage of chromium, placing around 16 million people at danger. These pollutants are frequently discharged into rivers, contaminating both freshwater and the oceans.
Additionally, the majority of tanning plant workers operate in hazardous situations and do not wear proper protective gear. As a result of their exposure to toxic compounds, they develop skin, eye, and respiratory ailments, as well as cancer.
Cashmere fiber is made from the hairs of cashmere goats. Cashmere’s high demand necessitates the breeding of millions of goats to meet demand. Due to the fact that goats pull grass by the roots rather than cutting it, the grass does not regrow, resulting in land desertification.
Polyester is the most prevalent fiber, accounting for 52% of our clothing. Polyester is a man-made fiber derived from petroleum, a finite fossil fuel.
The process of refining crude oil into petrochemicals discharges harmful poisons into the environment.
Polyester is also an energy-intensive material to manufacture. Furthermore, it is a non-biodegradable fiber. Additionally, each time a polyester clothing is washed, 700,000 plastic microfibers are released into rivers and oceans.
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Rayon, Viscose, Modal
Each year, 70 million trees are felled to create clothing. 30% of rayon and viscose clothing is derived from endangered and ancient forests, resulting in widespread deforestation. Each year, thousands of hectares of rainforest are cleared to establish trees exclusively for the production of rayon.
Rayon is a man-made fiber made from wood pulp, most notably eucalyptus trees. To convert the trees into rayon, a procedure comprising a large amount of chemicals, energy, and water is used.
Rayon is classified into three types: viscose, modal, and lyocell.
The most popular type of rayon is viscose. Its manufacture necessitates the use of numerous chemicals that are extremely damaging to the environment.
Modal is made in a similar chemical-intensive manner to viscose from beech trees.
Other Synthetic Fibers
Acrylic, polyamide, nylon, polypropylene, PVC, spandex, and aramid are all examples of petroleum-based synthetic fibers. These fibers have a fairly similar environmental impact to polyester.
Bamboo is frequently marketed as an environmentally friendly material. This is true to a certain extent, as bamboo is one of the most sustainable resources. It spreads rapidly and easily. It requires no pesticides or fertilizers and does not require replanting after harvest because new sprouts develop from the roots.
To convert bamboo into fiber, however, the bamboo plant must be handled with strong chemical solvents that may be hazardous to the health of industrial workers, the environment, and even the consumer of bamboo clothes.
Why Choosing Ethical Materials Can Help Save the World
Choosing fashion items manufactured from a variety of sustainable fabrics can have a significant impact on the environment, factory employees, and your health.
Recycled fibers are one of the most environmentally friendly solutions available, as they take less oil to manufacture and emit less carbon dioxide throughout the manufacturing process.
If more individuals opted for ethical materials, the demand for damaging fabrics that generate significant amounts of greenhouse gases each year would decrease. As a result, global warming would be reduced.
Organic materials, such as organic cotton, consume 91 percent less water. This is a significant impact, given the fact that water is still a scarce resource in many regions of the world.
By lowering our reliance on unethical fibers, we may also significantly reduce the amount of toxic chemicals used to dye, bleach, and wet process garments. These chemicals frequently cause disease, and in some cases, death, in farmers and manufacturing employees.
Switching to Sustainable and Ethical Fabrics
Making the switch to sustainable and ethical fibers may appear challenging, given the prevalence of non-sustainable fabrics. However, it is doable if you are committed to making the change and are aware of the potential pitfalls.
To begin, always check the care label of a garment for a GOTS certification while searching for eco-friendly solutions. A GOTS certification indicates that the cloth meets all (or the majority) of the criteria for being considered sustainable.
Second, keep in mind that not all natural fibers are sustainable. Cotton, for example, is natural but not always sustainable due to the environmental impact of its harvesting.
Thirdly, choose ethical fashion labels. The majority of fashion brands will not be forthcoming with information on the sustainability of the fibers they employ. Many ethical fashion manufacturers, on the other hand, are upfront about every aspect of their designs and frequently designate a section or page to the textiles they use on their website.
To begin, simply ask yourself “what is my outfit made of?” This will make you more aware of what you wear.