With the topic of conversation around sustainability in society today, how much does it affect the fashion industry and why should we choose sustainable materials for our garments?
As we know, the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries that there is. Textiles are often treated with chemicals to soften and dye them. These chemicals are toxic for the environment and can easily be transferred to the skin of people who wear them.
Fast fashion is another causation, the low cost and general nature of ‘fast fashion’ means that a lot of the items of clothing are shortly disposed into landfill sites. The UK alone throws away a total of 1 million tonnes of clothing each year.
By looking at just these reasons facts above, it’s safe to say that choosing sustainable materials as a replacement is far better for the environment and for the welfare of people producing them than the alternative.
Why should we choose sustainable materials?
- Buying into sustainable fashion brands under the Fair-Trade Act means that the items were produced under safe working conditions and the person who made it earned a fair wage
- Choosing alternative sustainable materials such as Bamboo or Hemp will cut down the amount of chemicals produced
- It is better for people producing the fabrics and the animals used for the materials – utilising ethically made and sustainable materials helps everyone involved.
So what sustainable materials are brands are using today?
Cotton is one of the most popular fabrics used in fashion – and it is a natural material, however it is a tricky fabric to label as sustainable due to how it is produced. It currently uses around 22.5% of the worlds insecticides and around 10% of the worlds pesticides; these contain chemicals that can be dangerous to the environment and harmful to the farms who are growing it (Ethical Fashion Form). It also takes a lot of water to produce – white t-shirt and a pair of jeans can take 20,000 litres of water to make – that’s 13 years of drinking water!
Organic cotton is grown without pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and processed with no chemicals. Organic cotton farming uses 62% less energy and 88% less water than conventional cotton.
There are several certifications used with sustainable and ethical cotton to look out for such as Fair Trade, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and USDA-Certified Organic. The most notable is the Better Cotton Initiative – which is frequently used by many high street stores today.
It is made from the fibres of the flax plant and requires minimal water, pesticides and can grow in poor-quality soil. Furthermore, every part of the plant is used, so nothing is wasted. Linen is naturally moth resistant, and, when untreated (i.e. not dyed) it is fully biodegradable. It is also a strong material which makes it great to wear again and again.
Hemp is one of the most eco-friendly natural fabrics. It is very versatile and is used as a food, a building material and in cosmetics. It is grown all around the world and requires very little water, no pesticides and naturally fertilises the soil it grows in. It is also considered a carbon negative raw material as it absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere. It helps keep you warm in winter and cool in summer and gets softer the more you wash it.
This is a great vegan leather alternative. It is a material made from pineapple leaves. Its production is much more sustainable than traditional leather and is completely animal-free. It requires less water and no harmful chemicals that are ecologically toxic to wildlife. The leftover leaf waste is recycled and used for fertiliser or biomass.
(Also known as TENCEL™, the trademark name of the fabric given to it by Austrian manufacturer Lenzing).
It is a light cellulose fabric, created by dissolving wood pulp from eucalyptus trees, which don’t require a lot of water or pesticides. It’s been growing in popularity recently, as it is said to be 50% more absorbent than cotton and requires less energy and water to produce. The chemicals used to produce the fibre are managed in a closed-loop system, meaning the solvent is recycled, which reduces dangerous waste.
In addition to this, Lyocell has moisture-wicking and anti-bacterial properties, which makes it perfect for activewear.
This fibre uses synthetic waste such as industrial plastic, waste fabric, and fishing nets from the ocean, then recycles and regenerates them into a new yarn that is the same quality as nylon. This regeneration system forms a closed-loop, uses less water, and creates less waste than traditional nylon production methods.
Although, traditional washing of Econyl can still shed plastic microparticles that can end up in the ocean. So, this material is best to use for items that are rarely washed like trainers.
Chitosan / Chitin Fibre
Chitin is a natural compound found in the shells of crabs and shellfish that protect them from their environment. Like cellulose from plant fibres, chitin is easy to process into textiles, because it has a soft texture and dyes easily. It’s sourced from the waste of crabmeat manufacturing and is fully biodegradable.
If you’re looking into a starting your own fashion business, then choosing to go down the sustainable materials route is definitely to your advantage. With the great environmental impacts it has and the ever-growing amount of supports towards a more sustainable life – you’re instantly at an advantage!
Want to know more? Why not check out our other sustainable focused articles, such as Leather Alternatives or Sustainable Certifications – A Simple Guide for Brands, including many others on our blogs page.