Written by Flora Davidson, Co-Founder of Supplycompass.
Supplycompass helps brands and manufacturers find each other and work better together. Through the Supplycompass platform, brands get matched with a manufacturer, receive cost estimates, create tech packs, request samples and manage production all from one dashboard. Supplycompass is harnessing the power of tech to bring greater trust, transparency and collaboration to global supply chains.
For brands looking to launch more sustainable collections, one of the first things to consider when going through the design process is, what fabrics should you choose?
What does sustainable actually mean when it comes to fabrics?
To asses the sustainability of a fabric, you need to consider its social and environmental impact in 4 main areas:
1. The extraction of the raw material
2. Textile production
3. Dyeing, printing, washing and finishing
4. End of life, biodegradability and ability to be recycled
"One of the most eco friendly options is to work with recycled, dead stock or upcycled fabrics."
The top 6 most sustainable fabrics
This article focuses on more mainstream and readily available fabrics but to learn more about the latest innovations in sustainable textiles, read our article from the Future Fabric Expo. At their annual event, we came across thousands of different fabrics, from orange peel fibre, and Dian-Jen's post carbon material to leather made from mushrooms and biodegradable sequins.
1. Recycled fabrics
One of the most eco friendly options is to work with recycled, dead stock or upcycled fabrics. The use of rPET [recycled polyester] by fashion and sportswear brands is growing, as is the use of fabrics such as Econyl, which is made from regenerated Nylon waste. Adidas works with Parley to make trainers using ocean plastic and sold over 1 million of them last year.
This fabric is made from eucalyptus trees grown in Australia and Indonesia, and the green technology used to make it means that 98% of waste dumping is eliminated. Eucalyptus trees don’t need any toxic pesticides, and only require a little water. It also absorbs dye really well, meaning that manufacturers don’t need to use as much. Tencel can be used to make the same types of garments as rayon, as it has a similar look and feel.
[source - Tencel]
Linen uses fibres from the flax plant, which is grown worldwide on marginal lands so that it doesn’t compete with food crops. A technique called retting is used to separate the fibre and make it ready for processing. Linen is a very light fabric, mostly used for clothes worn in hot climates as it’s so breathable. It is also one of the most biodegradable fabrics.
Hemp is grown all over the world, and is very high-yield. It grows very quickly, and produces more fibre than flax or cotton as a result. Like flax it can be grown on marginal lands, and in addition it produces seeds and oil alongside the fibres which can be used to ensure food security and minimise the social impact for local people. The fabric it produces is absorbent and strong, making it ideal for shoes and bags as well as garments.
5. Organic cotton
Unlike other cotton, organic cotton is grown in places like China, Turkey and the USA without the use of chemicals. The chemical-free techniques used instead mean safer conditions for the workers who harvest it, as well as minimising environmental impact. It uses less water than other cotton, but still more than some of the other plants on this list.
Jute is grown mostly in the Ganges Delta in India and Bangladesh. The final product is tougher than cotton or other green fabrics, so it’s mostly used to make sacking, twine and carpets. It doesn’t need chemical pesticides, and grows much more quickly than cotton. It is also recyclable, and biodegrades easily.
Jute espadrilles from Jutelaune http://www.jutelaune.com/
How to shop more sustainably
- Visit stores like The Acey, Gather & See and Antibad. They are great for discovering brands who are making responsibly and working with more sustainable fabrics.
- Use ethical shopping app Good on You
- Look more closely at fabric composition and care labels and check for GOTS, recycled or Fairtrade logos.