Many fast fashion garments are made from synthetic materials such as polyester and nylon because these materials are easier and cheaper to access, buy and manufacture with.
In addition, other ‘natural’ fabrics such as cotton which is widely used, is considered ‘unsustainable’ by some given the amount of toxic chemicals used to grow the plant.
There are, however, some designers focusing not just on the functionality and form of their designs, but the impact their creations have on the environment. It’s why many fashion designers and brands are turning to sustainable fabrics.
There are several factors that determine sustainability when it comes to fabric, including:
- how has the original plant fibre been grown? Organic or not?
- does the garment use natural dyes?
- what was the energy and resources involved in blending the materials?
- where it the material grown and transported from?
- what sort of pollution does the process of creating the fabric make and where does it go?
In this piece, we focus particularly on the fabrics that are considered ‘eco-friendly’.
Organic cotton is a sustainable fabric because no toxic pesticides and fertilizers are in use during the planting process. Instead of using chemicals, farmers use crop rotation strategies to grow organic cotton. Farmers also compost rich soil to grow large quantities of cotton successfully.
Some farmers use castor oil as a natural pesticide for pests like aphids. Unlike Tencel that needs a little amount of water, cotton requires 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of organic cotton. However, organic cotton farming uses less water after three years or with the use of crop rotation. For this reason, if the soil is rich in nutrients, it can hold water better.
Organic cotton farming requires less water than the conventional cotton farming. However, it still consumes more water than other crops. Organic cotton fiber is biodegradable and easily recycled.
Related Post: Just How Sustainable is Organic Cotton?
Tencel or commonly known as Lyocell is a human-made and natural fiber. Made from wood pulp derived from sustainable eucalyptus tree farms, the textile uses nanotechnology and the closed-loop method that decomposes or recovers all the emissions and solvents. The entire Tencel textile production process is considered non-toxic.
Due to a process called closed-loop spinning, the residue becomes available for re-use over and over again. The production process eliminates at least 98% of the waste.
Eucalyptus trees requires zero toxic pesticides to grow and only a small amount of water compared with other plants and trees. In addition, Tencel fiber is completely biodegradable. Though the textile uses traditional dyes, the absorption of the fiber allows companies to use less dye while achieving the desired effect, nor does it require bleach.
There are claims that this biodegradable fabric has “antibacterial properties” but this is largely unproven. Bamboo fabric does however allow your skin to feel as though it can “breathe” through when sweating. However the reason why bamboo is increasingly popular and being used in eco-friendly fashion is that the plant required very few chemicals to grow and is drought resistant.
It’s important to know however that there isa risk of toxic chemicals being used during the process of turning the plant into fabric which makes it similar to other ‘man-made’ fabrics such as rayon, which is why it is important for companies to label their products “bamboo-based rayon” if it is so.
The better bamboo fabrics are the ones certified by external parties such as OEKO Tex and is produced in closed-loop systems to reduce environmental pollution and waste.
Hemp fabrics have great properties that make it an environmentally-friendly fiber. For starters, there is no pesticides and insecticides needed during the growing process. Instead, the hemp plant supplies nutrients to the soil which replenishes its fertility. Hemp plants, like bamboo, are drought-resistant and grow in different climates making it ideal to grow in areas that aren’t water abundant.
When producing the textile, there are no toxic chemicals used to create the fibrous stalks, unlike bamboo that required chemical solvents. It also does not require high-end technology to produce which helps to reduce costs in the production process.
Wool is a fiber that is fire-resistant, renewable and doesn’t require many (if at all) chemical inputs. Make sure to look for chlorine-free wool from humanely-treated animals. Nowadays, organic wool is becoming more widely available. The biggest difference between organic wool and conventional wool is that organically-grown wool uses sustainable farming practices, sheep are not ingesting food sprayed with toxic-chemicals and the process is less likely to harm sheep because toxic dips are not used.
Jute is a natural biodegradable fiber, and one of the most affordable natural fibers available in the market. This fiber is durable and tough compared to other textile fibers and is commercially used for burlap, sacking, and twine and often an underlying material for tufted carpets. The jute plants are versatile and grown on marginal soils.
It uses less water than cotton and doesn’t synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers to grow and replenish. It grows fast like bamboo plants and makes for an efficient source of renewable material. Many jute fabrics are organic but double check before purchasing.
You can learn more about building sustainable wardrobes here.
Jenny Park writes for French Connection Australia.