Last week I had a chat with one of my clients about sustainable fabrics and I understood that it’s a lot of misunderstandings there.
The first question is what we believe is sustainable fabrics are. To me, it’s a combination of many factors:
- what is it made from
- what recourses it needs to produce 1 m of fabric (for example, how much water it needs starting from growing crops till dying, bleaching, etc)
- how many pesticides, chemicals it requires
- how durable is this fabric
- is it biodegradable or not
- is it easy to recycle
It pretty obvious that natural fabrics are much better than synthetic fabrics like polyester as they are biodegradable. But what if it’s recycled polyester?
Recycling polyester is good as you can do it pretty much endlessly, most of the recycled polyester uses PET as raw material, so less plastic bottles will be landfilled!
I think recycling polyester is an amazing initiative, it helps us to clean our Planet, but so often fast fashion brands use this for the greenwashing as their “recycled garments” may actually contain only 20-30% of recycled materials in them, keeping other 70-80% to regular polyester which is extremely non-sustainable material. So make sure, you read all labels when you buy recycled polyester clothing.
Ok, we don’t want those synthetic fabrics, let’s choose something natural! Cotton? How good is it?
Cotton is a natural fabric produced from fluffy cotton bolls (pure cellulose!), then spun into yarn and woven to create a soft, durable fabric. Cotton is one of the two (together with polyester) most popular textiles all over the world, if you open your closet definitely you will find there lots of different types of this material.
Cotton is biodegradable, but the production of this fabric requires enormous quantities of water and pesticides, pollute waters are causing some health issues and very often ruins ecosystem (such as the Aral Sea in Central Asia, the Indus Delta in Pakistan and the Murray Darling River in Australia).
WWF assumes that to produce one t-shirt or one pair of jeans it requires about 20,000 liters of water! Unbelievable, that some of these T-shirts go to landfill never worn or worn once.
What about organic cotton?
Organic cotton is grown without the use of toxins, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers, using eco-friendly methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment. But! There are a couple of researches about how much water needs organic cotton and the results are totally controversial!
Taking a T-shirt, Textile Exchange said, to produce it, conventional cotton would use 8200 liters of water compared to 705 liters for organic. To make a pair of jeans, conventional cotton would take 37513 liters !!! of water compared to 3528 liters with organic.
Another research held by Cotton Inc. (a not-for-profit group, works to help boost the industry’s demand and profitability—though it insists any claim it makes must be vetted by its legal department and the US Department of Agriculture.) shows that it will take you about 1100 l of water to grow enough conventional, high-yield cotton to produce a t-shirt. To grow the same amount of organic cotton for a t-shirt, however, requires about 2500 liters of water.
Where is the truth? Hard to understand as the cotton industry has one of the most powerful lobbies. So, I think we should wait for more researches to be done on this subject to clarify real numbers.
The next textile we want to speak about is Linen – vegan-friendly natural fabric made from flax plant fibers. The flax plant is endurant and doesn’t have particular soil requirements (it can grow on quite poor soil), using far less water in its consumption than cotton. According to the European Confederation of Linen and Hemp, “Across its lifecycle, a linen shirt uses 6.4 liters of water” which is a great indicator of sustainability for me! Linen is a strong, biodegradable fabric with a long lifespan and can easily be recycled making this fabric one of the most environmentally friendly. To tell you the truth we find this fabric the best to work with, check our latest collection of linen basics here: https://ossom.com.au/collections/basic-linens
Another extremely popular and eco-friendly fabric is Hemp. Hemp has been around for thousands of years, was quite underestimated last century, and got back in fashion recently. Hemp fabric is very similar to linen, and as flax does, Hemp uses a small amount of water, doesn’t need pesticides, and can grow in almost all soil conditions. We are looking forward to working with this fabric but for the moment we have difficulties finding a reliable supplier of Australian hemp (give us a shout if you know one!)
We hope, it’s now a bit more clear about the sustainability of the fabrics, so you can vote for the future of the planet next time you go shopping. But please don’t forget, that even the most eco-friendly garment is bad for the planet if you wear it once or twice only, so be mindful, reuse, repair, and recycle!