“Every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it and whispers, Grow-Grow.” – The Talmud

Popular buzzwords such as ‘eco-friendly’, ‘zero waste’ and ‘green fashion’ are frequently heard terms often used without a true understanding of what they really mean.

Ideally, an Eco-friendly or ‘green’ product needs to have zero or negative carbon footprint; will be created without use of harmful chemicals; is fit for purpose and is compostable, re-usable or recyclable after use rather than discarded. In return we help to conserve resources such as energy and water and prevent land, water and air contamination.

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A typical product life cycle is linear. At each stage, there are material, energy, and labor inputs and waste outputs that create environmental and social impacts. Designers today are tasked with developing products that have a ‘Closed Loop’ life cycle reducing the carbon footprint and environmental harm. We can also help by choosing and demanding ‘eco’ products.

We can engage in eco-friendly practices or habits by being conscious of how we utilize resources. The clothing we buy, the fabrics from which these are made and the chemicals used to dye them, may cause irreparable damage to the environment. Here are some eco-friendly fabrics that will help turn your wardrobe green:

Organic Cotton fabric:
It is a known fact that more than 25% of the pesticides used on land worldwide are used for the production of cotton. However, Organic cotton is produced without any synthetic and/or toxic chemical sprays. If we buy organic cotton products especially those with international certification such as GOTS we help further reduce the chemical amount being dumped into the environment.

Bamboo fabric:
Bamboo is an extremely renewable product grown with almost zero percent chemical inputs. Bamboo fabric also has natural antibacterial qualities and is biodegradable. However, although it is easy and fast to grow, most bamboo is processed using toxic chemicals to extract the fibre from the plant. It is mandatory for brands to label their products as bamboo-based.

Polyester (recycled):
Recycled Polyester is a synthetic, man-made fibre produced from discarded plastic bottles with the resulting carbon footprint 75% less than the original polyester. Little water is used in the processing of this fabric. Recycled polyester however does have poisonous antimony, though most manufacturers are working towards removing it from finished fabrics.

Hemp:
Hemp is a star in ‘eco’ fabrics – it requires minimum to zero pesticides, can be transformed rapidly, can grow without fertilizer, is easy to harvest and most importantly doesn’t reduce soil nutrients. It is being widely used a variety of products from bags to clothing.

Tencel:
Tencel is a viscose fabric extracted from natural cellulose wooden tissue and is completely biodegradable. Its manufacturing process utilizes wood pulp certified from ‘Forest-Stewardship-Council’ and low-toxic chemical inputs. A fabulously soft, durable and versatile fabric found in anything from bed linen to sportswear also uses little water in processing.

Soy Silk/Cashmere:
Produced from soy-protein fiber left over after soybeans are processed into food. However, this soy might be ‘Genetically Engineered’ unless mentioned on its label.

Wool:
An obviously renewable fabric requiring little chemical inputs until it is processed. Organic wool is the ideal choice with the added care of animals and sustainable agriculture practices.

 

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS:

In general, all these ‘eco-friendly’ fabric types stand for optimistic change, though many feel that it’s still not clear cut and possess numerous drawbacks as almost all clothing production is associated with environmental concerns including:

  • Energy:
    Energy is required to process, produce and ship fabric as well as its final finished product. Reducing the carbon footprint is a priority and solutions include local manufacturing.
  • Chemicals:
    Toxic chemicals such as dyes, pesticides, bleaches and many more are used for the chemical processing of fibers such as rayon (viscose) or bamboo as well as in the processing of non-organic natural and synthetic fabrics.
  • Natural resources:
    Natural fibers require large areas for fabrication purpose and synthetic fibers need petrochemicals.
  • Water resources:
    Almost all fabrics need some amount of water during the production phase with cotton requiring the most. New dyeing and finishing technologies are developing using methods with little or no water.

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For more information and classroom resources go to: http://practicalaction.org/the-sustainability-handbook

 

 

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