Does natural always equal good and synthetic equal bad?
Does natural always equal good and synthetic equal bad?
To put it simply, no!
Many hear the word 'natural' and deem it best. The use of eco-sounding phrases is one of the most common ways that brands greenwash, but the reality is that one must consider the whole fabric lifecycle...
Creating fabric requires a vast amount of resources that most don’t think about, or ever see. To select the fabrics for our collections, we are taking all of these factors into consideration; the water input, energy input, land use, eco and human toxicity, greenhouse gas emissions, microfiber shedding, availability and comfort. No fabric is perfect, but we will always try to source the closest to it.
We don't think conventional cotton is cute. According to Fashion For Good, it accounts for one sixth of all pesticides used worldwide, impacting farmers and local communities with harmful chemicals. The World Health Organisation released figures that revealed developing countries have approximately 20,000 individuals die of cancer and suffer miscarriages as a result of chemicals sprayed on conventional cotton.
Not only this, but it also requires high levels of water-intensive processing - a typical cotton t-shirt can require up to 700 gallons of water to make, that equates to 18 full bathtubs’ worth!
On a more positive note, organic cotton is a huge step in the right direction - eliminating the use of genetically modified seeds and restricting the use of many chemicals, and even though it still requires a vast amount of water, it is often rain-fed!
Of course, there is a reason for cottons high demand, including its breathability and comfort against the skin. Consequently, we're including Organic (and only Organic!) cotton in future collections, but aim to minimise our overall demand for it by using other sustainable fabrics across our collections to prevent adding to the pressure pile of its production.
We’re sending one million items of clothing to the landfill every week in the UK alone. Our appetite to create new products and buy new products is infinite. The planet's resources aren't. But it's okay because we can have both: new products and a healthier environment.
Nylon waste from landfills and oceans around the world is transformed into ECONYL®. A recycled fiber that is exactly the same quality as virgin nylon. Not only this, but it can be recycled, recreated and remoulded again and again, in its closed loop production process. This means that you can create new products and buy new products without having to use new resources. In addition, ECONYL® is Oeko-Tex certified which ensures that there are no hazardous chemicals used in dyeing the fabric. The outcome is an incredibly versatile, hyper-resistant, thin, elegant, soft and stretchy eco-friendly fabric, perfect for intimate clothing and sourced in Europe. We think ECONYL® is the holy grail of upcycled fibers.
Nevertheless, it is not perfect and it is vital to note that Econyl is a synthetic fibre, and thus to prevent microplastics from entering our oceans, it is extremely important to use a guppy bag (more on this below!).
Bamboo is fast growing and requires little water. As a fabric, it is also soft and much cheaper than cotton to source. However, chemical production of bamboo is sadly the most common method of producing the fabric, which uses bleaching agents such as sulfuric acid - substances that are very harmful to the environment and the factory workers who are forced to work with it. Unfortunately, most of the products labelled "Bamboo" actually involve intense environmental and human harm.
Many of these issues strem from the fact that China is still the only country that grows bamboo on a commercial scale, and as it becomes an increasingly lucrative cash crop, farmers are starting to grow it as a mono-crop. This clearing of natural forestland in order to grow more bamboo reduces biodiversity in itself and can lead to an increase in pests. This in turn means pesticide use becomes necessary. It seems rather ironic that much of the blame for endangering the giant pandas of China can be traced to farmers and landowners clearing bamboo forest for farmland - now they're clearing it to grow back some bamboo, but not for the benefit of Pandas.
We completely get why everyone loves cashmere. It's super cozy and warm, but unfortunately, the global demand for it has led to the overgrazing of goats in Mongolia. It's essentially turning grasslands into deserts. On a more positive note, on average 1 kg of recycled cashmere has 80% less of the environmental impact than conventional cashmere. Given that cashmere has a fuzzy texture, it may be irritable to the skin and thus is more suited to outwear such as coats or jumpers, rather than intimates.
Hemp & Linen
Help and Linen, requires very little water and no pesticides to thrive, making them an impressive sustainable fabric. Although they may be perfect for that floaty shirt of yours, as fabrics they are susceptible to creasing, fraying and have a rough feel them, making them more suited to outerwear.
Tencell is a regenerated cellulose fiber with properties almost identical to cotton. It’s made from renewable wood materials, more specifically Eucalyptus trees, which grow fast and thus eliminate the need for large-scale farming or the use of pesticides. As a fabric it brings the same joys of cotton, and thus we are definitely keeping our eyes on Tencel for future collections.
1. CHOOSING THE FABRIC
Importing goods, as opposed to producing them domestically can increase the environmental impacts due to differing standards, the need to transport the goods across the globe, and excessive pressures on these high-demand countries.
Most of the production of clothing, footwear and household textiles for consumption occurs outside of Europe, and thus most of the environmental strain lies in these countries.
Land & Resource use: The majority of land use pressures come from outside the EU (93 %) and are largely a consequence of cotton cultivation.
Water Pollution & Chemical use: As an example, many Chinese bamboo fabric factories expose their workers to the gaseous carbon disulfide. Workers who are exposed to this chemical can develop psychosis, liver damage, coma, blindness and heart attacks.
Greenhouse gas emissions: The production and handling of clothing, footwear and household textiles consumed in the EU generated emissions of 654 kg CO2 equivalent per person in 2017. Only 25 % of this took place inside the EU.
Social impacts: Poor rates of pay and working conditions, and even avoiding suppliers outside Europe that use child labour is still a challenge in some regions.
Case Study Example:
Production pressures of Bamboo fabric
The single largest producer of this crop is China, as it remains the case that producing textiles of all kinds is, in many instances, the cheapest in China. This has caused a variety of brands to gravitate toward this country for their production needs.
Although bamboo has been an integral part of Chinese culture for millennia, there is a darker side to why production is so popular in China. Since the late 1970s, China has become more popular due to this communist country's lax environmental standards and out of control human rights abuses in the consumer goods production sector. As a result, many Chinese companies are not highly incentivized to grow their products in an ethical or sustainable manner, and thus production is more environmentally damaging than reasonable.
Natural fibers are eventually able to break down in the environment.
Synthetic fibres, such as polyester or nylon, are not.
However, what many don't realise, is that recycling natural fiber clothing is extremely difficult, with cotton being the toughest textile to do so with.
Although cotton can be recycled into paper products, the reason your old T-shirt can't be made into more T-shirts is because of the qualities of cotton fabric itself. Cotton has fibers with a long length, yet when you process old clothing to create new, the result is chopped-up cotton fibers — short and variable— which doesn't make for the soft cotton clothing we are used to wearing.
Less than 1% of the material used to produce clothing globally is recycled into new clothing. Therefore, to be truly environmentally friendly, Extinction Rebellion argues that the fashion industry needs to cease the use of virgin resources to create new materials and instead "use and repurpose what we already have”.
By no means is Econyl or Organic cotton perfect, but unfortunately no sustainable fabric is. However, as you can see fabric sustainability is far more than the actual fiber itself, and covers all aspects from its creation, location and recyclability. Consequently, after intensive research on the choices available to us, we chose these two fabrics for our first couple of collections, but can assure you that we are constantly researching for the next best thing to help our planet (and your wardrobes!).
Another question around synthetic fabrics such as Econyl is its potential impact on microplastic. When plastic is disposed of it is unable to fully break down, and thus leaves behind tiny fragments of plastic that eventually end up in rivers and oceans and even snow in the Alps. Researchers are concerned about the global impact of the tiny plastics on aquatic life and human health. This is an issue we are acutely aware of, becasuse as well as the disposal of single-use plastics such as plastic cutlery, synthetic clothing is also susceptible to shedding microfibres in the washing machine.
Although synthetics with long, continuous fibre yarns such as Econyl and recycled synthetics are thought to reduce, if not eliminate microfibre shedding, the research is unsatisfactory to us and thus we recommend the following tips, for all of your synthetic washing, from clothing to bedsheets: