SUSTAINABLE FABRICS 101
Textiles can be so overwhelmingly different from one another, from the way they feel on our skin to their effects on our health and the health of our mother Earth. This is why we decided to put together a 101 guide for you. Let’s just say a whole book can be written on this topic but we’ll try to be brief.
First, it’s worth going over the non-eco fabrics, the ones we should try to avoid. We should avoid textiles that are produced with the use of harmful chemicals. Even if the garment is washed, some of those chemicals will remain in your clothing, which can be damaging not just to the environment but also to your health. These chemicals are entering our ecosystem in various steps throughout the supply chain from production to consumption. Also, textiles that we should avoid are those that are not biodegradable and textiles that cannot be easily recycled which means these materials will contaminate our planet until forever and beyond. Examples of common fabrics that we should try to move away from: nylon, polyester, rayon and conventional cotton. It is important to note that not all of these are synthetic fibers; synthetic isn’t always “bad” and natural isn’t always “good”. Also, listen to your body, avoid wearing anything that feels itchy or rough on your skin regardless of the material or what the tag says.
Moving on to the better stuff. We want to break down sustainable fabrics by a few general categories: natural, organic, recycled, regenerative, deadstock, and upcycled fabrics.
-Natural fibers come from plants and animals, basically they are not created in a lab. Unlike many synthetic materials, natural options are biodegradable and more easily recycled. An important thing to note about natural textiles is that they are NOT necessarily eco-friendly, ethically-sourced or free from toxic substances. Also, not all synthetics are the enemy. Some examples of natural fibers are:
- Silk: delicate, breathable and luxurious. We prefer reclaimed, wild and organic silk. If you are buying conventional silk, go for brands that offer transparency and work with factories that are more ethical and conscious.
- Linen: sturdy, resistant and perfect for hot weather. Go for natural-toned linen vs. pure white or dyed linen if the brand doesn’t disclose on their bleaching or dying practices. Curious fact: linen is the oldest textile known.
- Wool: durable, stain/odor resistant and great for all weathers. Go for recycled, organic or ethically-sourced wool, such as ZQ-certified wool. Even better if you can find Climate Beneficial™ Wool.
- Hemp: strong, durable and anti-microbial. Hemp is a very efficient crop, requiring little water or harsh fertilizers. Many companies produce hemp fabric chemically so it’s best to buy organic hemp or from a brand that offers transparency.
- Cashmere: luxurious, warm and super smooth. Always choose recycled, repurposed or ethically-sourced cashmere.
- Bamboo: there’s two kinds, the soft and breathable bamboo fabric and the coarser, known as “bamboo linen”. Avoid the softer, “bamboo rayon”, as it usually undergoes a highly chemical process. When you find bamboo on its raw, un-manipulated form go for it if you’re into that texture.
- Cotton: versatile, soft and easy to care for. Sadly, conventional cotton is considered the dirtiest crop on Earth. The process to produce cotton fabric is highly chemical and water-intensive. Go for organic cotton or recycled cotton.
-Organic fibers include organic cotton, hemp, linen, wool and other natural fibers grown according to organic standards without the use of toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or genetic engineering. When possible, it is always best to find certified-organic fabrics. Some examples are the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification or the Organic Content Standards (OCS) certification. Certain certifications also look at ethical practices throughout the supply chain, not only with regards to environmental practices but also with labor and social standards. On a general level, we always prefer organic fabrics to the conventional natural alternatives, this doesn’t mean organic fabrics are 100% sustainable or ethically-produced but they are much healthier for us and for the environment.
-Recycled fabrics are textiles made of natural or synthetic materials which undergo a process in order to be reused again and turned into fabric. Synthetic materials like plastic and nylon are poisoning our oceans and food supply on a massive scale so it is a wise idea to reuse them and extend their life. Examples for recycled fabrics are: recycled polyester (rPET) and recycled nylon. Also, we can also find recycled versions of natural fabrics as well such as recycled cotton, recycled wool and recycled cashmere
. It is important to note that the recycling process can be chemical and not very “eco” so it’s best to do some more research. A couple of interesting options that are out there:
- REPREVE®: a fiber made from recycled plastic bottles which has certifications confirming the amount of recycled content claims as well as the lack of harmful chemicals present.
- ECONYL®: nylon waste from landfills and oceans around the world is transformed into regenerated nylon. It is also infinitely recyclable.
- NuCycl by EVRNU®: technology that uses unwanted textiles transforming waste into a resource by recovering the raw materials and creating new fibers.
-Regenerative textiles are a game-changer. They include animal and plant-based fibers that are produced using carbon-farming and holistic management practices that help increase the health of the ecosystem and fight global warming by sequestering carbon in the ground. There are many innovative farmers out there experimenting with other organic and regenerative production systems for fibers like hemp, wool, and cotton. We’re so excited about this topic and cannot wait to see how it evolves. Here are a couple of resources:
- Fibershed: non-profit organization developing regenerative textile systems.
- Circular Systems S.P.C.: materials science company focused on innovative circular and regenerative technologies. They’re transforming waste into fiber, yarn,and textile fabrics.
-Upcycling means to re-use or re-purpose materials and products by transforming them into new pieces; unlike recycling, the materials do not undergo a process. Those old or vintage clothes in your closet can be transformed them into something that looked even better than the original garment adding more value to it by making it unique and exclusive! Upcycling is very much in trend right now.
We FOR SURE covered a lot in this article so don't get overwhelmed and do your best. The important thing is to keep learning and keep trying to make informed decisions.
There is so much innovation taking place in the industry so we’ll keep our eyes open for new and exciting materials! If you know of any reach out, we love it when you do.