THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY
Wednesday, 27th February 2019
Being aware of how different fabrics impact the environment is a good start to buying responsibly. Here’s our tips on the fabrics to look out for and the ones to avoid.
Cotton: IT’S COMPLICATED
Cotton is a natural fibre, however it’s also a highly water-intensive crop meaning that cotton shouldn’t be consumed on such a large scale as it is currently. Standard cotton is also a highly sprayed crop that causes harsh chemicals to be put into the environment on a large scale. That said, cotton is a biodegradable fabric that is naturally antibacterial and soft to wear, so organic cotton is best.
Organic cotton farming uses less water and avoids toxic chemicals. Regulators like GOTS often also require that workers rights are met for producers to be awarded certification. Go organic every-time.
Image credit: Jonquil Living
Polyester, Nylon and Acrylic: NO-GO
These are a big no no. Unfortunately the majority of items on the high street are made from these, but by checking the label you can easily avoid them. Every time you wash an item made from Polyester, Nylon or Acrylic tiny micro-fibres are released into the water system, which then end up in our oceans and even in our drinking water (!!). Polyester and Acrylic are essentially made from plastic which means they won’t break down for hundreds of years.
Watch this video for more information
Image credit: Craig Easton
Wool: GREEN LIGHT
Wool is a great sustainable fibre as it renewable, biodegradable and the most recyclable fabric. British wool is a great industry to support, and sheep-shearing is a routine process that is not harmful to the sheep, leaving wool as a by-product that can be re-used for our clothes.
Cashmere: IT’S COMPLICATED
Similar to sheeps wool, cashmere is a natural fibre from goats. However due to overconsumption, areas such as the grassland in Mongolia are being destroyed by hungry goats, overturning the top-soil - which in turn leads to them not having enough food and eating the hair off each other!
As a solution designer’s such as Stella McCartney have banned ‘virgin’ cashmere and instead use recycled, post factory waste cashmere. If you’re looking to buy cashmere you’re going to have to do your research and check the supply chain, but as a general rule look for thicker cashmere-ply’s (thinner ply is cheaper and usually means it is from unsustainable source), and expect to pay a high-price.
Image credit: Naadam
Viscose: IT’S COMPLICATED
Viscose comes from the cellulose of wood pulp from plants such as bamboo, eucalyptus, soy and sugar cane. Viscose should be a sustainable fabric as these plants are fast growing, and regenerative, but in order to make the fibre the pulp is dissolved in a highly toxic chemical, sodium hydroxide, which is an extremely polluting process. Alternatives are being made such as EcoVero, which responsibly source the wood pulp and recover and reuse the chemicals that are used in the process.
Image credit: Falco Negenman
Silk: GREEN LIGHT
Raw silk is one of our favourite sustainable materials, spun from the inner cocoon of a silkworm. The silk threads are made from the worms saliva and are harvested by hand. These threads are then spun in to a fabric. Silk is another dubious fabric when is comes to being completely sustainable as many suppliers then treat it with toxic chemicals. In order to avoid this don’t go for silk that claims to be ‘wrinkle-free’ or ‘stain-resistant’ as these will have been treated with chemicals to ensure this. Instead look for ‘100% natural dyes’, ‘undyed’ or ‘unbleached’.
Image credit: Next Nature
Hemp: GREEN LIGHT
Hemp is a great alternative to materials like cotton as it is a quick growing crop that doesn’t need much water or any pesticides to grow. Although it is made from the same plant as marijuana, Hemp contains no THC so you’ll only be getting a moral high for now.
Image credit: Hemp Wear
Modal: IT’S COMPLICATED
Modal is essentially a great alternative to cotton as it is breathable and absorbent, and uses half the amount of water as cotton. ‘Lenzing’ modal is the most sustainable choice as they are transparent with their harvesting process - the fibres come from sustainably managed beech plantations in Europe. Having said this, modal produced in other countries, in particular Asia, is not sustainably sourced and can use a lot of water and chemicals in the weaving process.
Image credit: Lenzing Modal
Linen: GREEN LIGHT
Linen is made from Flax, the fluorescent yellow plants that fill fields in June. Flax is a resistant plant meaning that it can grow it many different types of soil without any chemicals, and doesn’t need much water. The downside of linen is that is takes a lot to make the yarn so is therefore considered a luxury and expensive fabric - but it’s well worth the cost as it will last forever! Stick to more neutral tones as to avoid the fabric being bleached.