Did you realize that the industry of fashion is responsible for about 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions? And that it is one of the largest consumers of energy and water?
As responsible consumers we have a responsibility to pay attention to the entire lifecycle of our clothes.
Understanding the process involved in making fabrics , and how they will end up when they are used and you’ll be capable of making more informed choices when purchasing clothes and other clothing items.
In this post we review of sustainable textiles, the reasons they’re great for us and the planet, and how to differentiate from non-sustainable and sustainable materials.
What Does ‘sustainable Fabric’ Even Mean?
When we talk of sustainable fabrics, what exactly do we mean by sustainable fabrics?
It can be a bit confusing to determine exactly what sustainability in fashion means , particularly in a world where the fashion industry has complete control over the term “sustainable”.
Generally speaking, sustainability in the fashion industry refers to every fashion item, be it a pair of shoes or piece of cloth in its manufacturing process doesn’t violate the rights of workers, animals’ rights or cause harm to the environment.
Sustainable fashion products require little energy and water to make. They can also be made from waste and are biodegradable and don’t contribute to soil erosion.
The most sought-after sustainable fashion materials are:
- Recycled fibers
- Plant-based fibers
- Fibers made from animals
- Semi-synthetic fibers
What Are the Most Sustainable Fabrics?
There are a number of sustainable fabrics that a sustainability-conscious person can consider when shopping for fashion items. Let’s an overview of some sustainable materials that are available in the market:
It’s a naturally-occurring fiber made from the flax plant. Linen is a very lesser amount of resources, including energy, water pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers as compared to polyester or cotton.
Flax’s greatest benefit is that it can thrive in soil that is not intended for the production of food. In certain situations it may even help to restore soils that are polluted. Flax can also absorb a large quantity of carbon cleansing the air, instead of pollution.
Hemp is among the eco-friendly fabrics most commonly connected with hippie culture popular in the late 60s and the early 70s. It has however returned to the spotlight. The reason is that it’s an extremely durable crop.
Hemp is a fast-growing plant and does not use up the soil, nor do it require pesticides. The hemp-based fabric is durable, strong and doesn’t irritate your skin like many synthetic fabrics that are sold in fast-fashion shops.
Traditional cotton requires a massive amount of water as well as chemicals to produce. An alternative to conventional cotton is organic cotton.
Organic cotton is grown without harmful chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers as well as genetically engineered seeds. A sustainable fashion company will likely create its clothing items with organic cotton that is certified by GOTS. The cotton is traceable from beginning to end and is strictly controlled.
If you are looking to purchase products made from organic cotton, look for the label to see if it’s organic cotton. Organic cotton is also likely to feel more comfortable than cotton that is conventional because it is less damaged by chemical substances used in the manufacturing process.
Organic hemp and linen
Although we’ve already discussed hemp and linen earlier in our organic eco-friendly fabric section hemp and linen made from organic materials merit an additional mention.
These two fabrics are created from extremely versatile crops that require only a minimal water, and no pesticides and thrive in soil that is poor quality.
Linen in turn, replenishes soil, and also absorbs carbon, making it very beneficial to the environment.
Responsible and ethically produced textiles
Alpaca fiber is made by the wool of Alpacas predominantly bred in Peruvian Andes. Alpacas are thought to be eco-friendly due to of the way they consume grass. They cut grass they consume instead of taking it away. This allows the grass to grow.
In addition, Alpacas have soft padding beneath their feet. They have softer padding to the soil than sheep or goat hooves. Alpacas require a minimum of food and water to survive as they produce sufficient wool to make four or five sweaters each year. Comparatively an animal, a goat will require four years to make 1 cashmere garment.
Silk is a sustainable protein fiber that is produced by silkworms. Also, it is a biodegradable and renewable resource.
Some manufacturers also make use of chemicals to create silk. The chemicals kill silkworms. It is therefore essential to opt for organic silk like “Peace Silk”, Tussah and Ahimsa silks, which permit the moth to escape the cocoon before being heated to create silk.
Conventional wool isn’t an eco-friendly material. There are however eco-friendly wool alternatives, like Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) which is produced using sustainable practices that safeguard the environment and treat animals with respect. Organic wool certified as organic is not a requirement for pesticides and parasiticides during its production.
Cashmere that is normal has a significant environmental impact. But, alternatively sustainable cashmere solves the environmental issues.
Leather is made from the dead skin of animals. While it’s an end product of animals that are raised to be meat producers however, it has an environmental harm in the process of tanning.
There is a green leather that does not contain chrome and made by tanneries that recycle and clean the wastewater.
Reclaimed fabric is leftovers from fabric manufacturers, vintage fabrics or any other non-use fabric purchased from second-hand stores. Many manufacturers and big brands have leftover pieces of fabric that they cannot utilize anymore.
Eco-friendly companies are able to purchase the leftover fabric and reuse it rather than throwing it away to end being buried in landfills. Reusing fabric from reclaimed materials is a fantastic method to reduce the amount of textile waste.
Polyester that has been recycled
Recycled polyester is an eco-friendly fabric that is made using recycled plastic bottles. This is an excellent method to cut down on how much plastic ending in the landfill. Another advantage of recycling polyester is the fact that it needs much less resources for production and produces less CO2 emissions.
However recycled polyester is non-biodegradable . It takes years to break down after it has been removed.
Recycled Nylon , as recycled polyester diverts the waste from landfills. Its production requires less resources as virgin nylon.
The majority of recycled nylon that is produced is made from fishing nets that have been used for years and nylon carpets. Tights and more.
Recycled nylon can be more expensive than brand new nylon. But, it offers numerous environmental benefits.
Recycled cotton is among the most eco-friendly fabrics and helps conserve water in the process of production. For each ton of cotton that is recycled more than 765,000 liters of water could be saved. Additionally, it requires a lot less resources than organic or conventional cotton. This makes it a fantastic environmentally sustainable choice.
Recycled wool is yet another eco-friendly fabric. Recycling wool conserves a substantial amount of water during its production and eliminates the need for dyeing chemicals, cutting down on water, air and soil pollution.
Future-proof and sustainable fabrics
TENCEL(r) can be described as a lightweight cellulose fabric produced by dissolving wood. Tencel has been increasing in popularity lately. Tencel is thought to have 50 percent greater absorbent than cotton, and takes less energy and water to manufacture.
The chemicals that make Tencel are controlled in closed loops, thereby eliminating hazardous waste.
Pinatex is an excellent vegan leather substitute. It is made of the pineapple leaf fiber. It is a cruelty-free substitute for leather. It is organic and sustainable.
Because Pinatex is produced from a food by-product which reduces waste and helps the communities of farmers who cultivate pineapples.
Econyl is another excellent green fabric. It is made from recycled synthetic waste like textiles, industrial waste or fishing nets. The material is then transformed into a brand new nylon yarn with the same characteristics as nylon.
The process of regeneration uses less water and generates less waste than the traditional manufacturing methods.
Econyl is the best choice for making products that are not regularly cleaned, like bags and sneakers because the traditional washing with Econyl will still release plastic microparticles , which could end in the ocean.
Qmonos is a synthetic spider silk created by the combination of the genetically modified spider silk and bacteria. The fiber is believed by scientists to 5 times more durable than steel however, it is extremely light and elastic than nylon, and completely biodegradable.
The spiders aren’t farmed or hurt during the manufacturing process, which makes Qmonos a more ethical and sustainable alternative to nylon and silk.
Refibra(tm) is an organic fibre that is made of wood and cotton scraps. The process of production is environmentally sensitive, and in addition, makes use of recycled materials (cotton scraps) left over by the manufacturing of textiles.
Orange Fiber is an innovative fabric that is made of orange skins. The fiber is able to blend with other substances.
In its most pure form in its purest form, the fiber is orange and has smooth and soft hand-feel. It’s lightweight and is able to be transparent or shiny, in accordance with the needs of production.
Which Non-eco Fabrics Should You Avoid?
There are a variety of materials that must be not be used because they need a significant amount of energy and water to make, contain harmful chemicals that cause soil erosion, aren’t biodegradable or cause animal cruelty or aren’t renewable.
It is among the most used fabrics however it’s also extremely damaging to the environment and humans too.
It is believed that 20,000 women suffer from miscarriages and cancer every year because of the chemicals that are sprayed onto cotton.
The majority of cotton is grown in warm and dry regions however it requires lots of water for growth. 20000 liters of water is needed to grow one kilo of cotton. It also requires a significant amount of insecticides and pesticides. 10% of chemicals used for pest control and 25 percent of insecticides are used worldwide on cotton.
99percent of all cotton farmers are in miserable conditions of work and earn low wages. The use of forced and child labor is typical practices on cotton farms.
One billion sheep across all over the globe are being bred to make wool. The extensive farming of sheep is the reason wool is an unsustainable choice. The extensive sheep farming practice has had catastrophic effects for the natural environment.
One of the main causes is the overgrazing of vegetation that leaves it with no time to regenerate before it gets eaten. The soil also gets weaker and makes it more susceptible to desertification and erosion.
The sheep also produce methane methane is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more harmful to climate change than carbon dioxide. Sheep are also treated with insecticide baths that contain harmful substances for farmers. These harmful chemicals can leave behind traces of the harmful chemicals in wool and eventually end up in our clothing.
The greatest social and environmental damages caused by leather are due to tanning processes. Chromium, a very toxic chemical, is used to convert animal skins into leather that can be worn. 80percent of the leather industry worldwide uses chrome, putting around 16 million people across all over the globe at risk. These chemicals are typically released into rivers, contaminating the oceans and freshwater.
Furthermore, the majority of workers at the tanning plant work in extreme conditions and don’t have adequate protection. They suffer from eye, skin, and respiratory illnesses and cancers, among others because of exposure to chemicals.
Cashmere fiber is made by removing the hairs of cashmere goats. Cashmere is in high demand, which means the breeding in millions of animals in order to keep up with demand. Since goats pull grass out through their roots, instead of cutting through it, grass will not regenerate, resulting in desertification of the land.
The most widely used fiber that is found on 52% of the clothes we wear. Polyester is an artificial fiber that comes by petroleum, a nonrenewable fossil fuel.
The process of turning petroleum into Petrochemicals can release harmful toxins in the air that pose a risk to human health.
Polyester requires a great deal of energy in order to make. Additionally, it’s not biodegradable. Additionally, each when you wash the garment made of polyester release 700,000 microfibers of plastic that are deposited in the oceans and rivers.
Rayon, Viscose, Modal
70 % of trees have to be cut every year for clothing. 30 percent of viscose and rayon clothing is made from endangered and ancient forests . This results in massive deforestation. In the United States, thousands of hectares of forest are cleared annually to plant trees that are specifically designed for the production of rayon.
Rayon is a type of fiber that comes by wood, particularly from eucalyptus plants. The trees undergo an entire process that involves a variety of energy, chemicals, and water in order to convert into rayon.
Viscose, Modal, and lyocell are all different types of rayon.
Viscose is by far the most well-known kind of rayon. The process involves a variety of chemicals that are extremely detrimental on the planet.
Modal is a product made by beech trees through similar chemical processes to viscose.
Other Synthetic Fibers
Acrylic, polyamide, polypropyleneand PVC spandex and aramid are all common synthetic fibers that are made from petroleum. They have a same impact on the environment like polypropylene.
Bamboo is often marketed as an eco-friendly product. It is true in part since bamboo is one of the most durable sources. It is able to grow very quickly and effortlessly. It doesn’t require fertilizers or pesticides, and it doesn’t need to be planted again after harvest, as it sprouts new growth from the roots.
However, in order to convert bamboo into fiber the bamboo plant needs to be processed using powerful chemical solvents that can be dangerous in the long run to health and safety of the workers who make the products and the environment. even the individual who purchases clothes made of bamboo.
The benefits of choosing ethical fabrics could save the World
Selecting clothes made of diverse sustainable materials can make significant difference not only to the environment, but to factory workers and for your health.
Recycled fibers are among the most sustainable alternatives that conserve natural resources since they require less oil in order to make and release less carbon dioxide in the process of manufacturing.
If more people select ethically produced fabrics, there is less demand for toxic fabrics which emit large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions per year. This would mean lesser global warming.
Organic fabrics, such as organic cotton cut down on water usage by 91 percent. This is an enormous impact when you consider that water is an insufficient resource in many regions around the globe.
Through reducing the use of fabrics that are not ethical and reducing the amount of harmful chemicals that are used for bleach, dye, and wet process clothing. Chemicals that cause disease or even death in factory workers and farmers.
Switching to Sustainable and Ethical Fabrics
Moving to ethical and sustainable fabric might seem like an overwhelming task considering the ubiquity of non-sustainable textiles. But, it’s possible when you’re committed to making the change and know what you should be looking out for.
Always look for an GOTS certificate on the care label of a product in your search for eco-friendly alternatives. A GOTS certification indicates that the fabric has met all (or the majority) items required to be considered sustainable.
Also, remember that not all natural fibers is sustainable. For instance, cotton is a natural fiber, but it isn’t always sustainable due to the environmental impacts it has when it is taken in.
Third, choose ethical clothing brands. Many fashion companies will not reveal the source of their fabrics. However some ethical fashion companies are open about all aspects of their designs and typically have a page or section on their site that is dedicated to the fabric they employ.
The easiest method of starting is to start asking yourself “what is my garment made from?”. This will help you be more aware of what you are wearing.