Becoming a conscientious consumer
Understanding the importance of what our clothing is made of is vital when it comes to assessing our environmental impact. Having the knowledge to choose which fabrics are better or worse for the planet, the workers and ourselves is a massive advantage as it allows us to actively demonstrate and vote with our money what kind of future and fashion industry we want.
TENCEL® (Lyocell/Modal) is the brand name for the popular lyocell or modal type fabric produced by Austrian company Lenzing AG. Made using reconstituted bark it is a very light yet durable fabric, is moisture-wicking and anti-bacterial. It requires 50% less water than cotton and less energy to make, is biodegradable and sourced from sustainably managed plantations. Tencel does require petrochemicals in its production process but they are used in a closed-loop system meaning the same solvent is recycled repeatedly to reduce harmful waste.
An ancient fabric made from the stem of the flax plant and is very sustainable. Tougher than cotton, it requires much less water to grow, is naturally moth resistant, and strengthens with every wash. It is an organic fabric, breathable, biodegradable and coloured using natural dyes, although white linen goes through an intense bleaching process so opt for natural colours such as tan, ecru, grey and ivory.
One of the oldest fibres in the world it is one of the most sustainable. It is very UV-resistant so is great to wear in the summer. Hemp is naturally pest-resistant so requires absolutely no pesticides, herbicides or fungicides, uses very little water and little land for cultivation, and is fantastic for soil as it returns the majority of nutrients it utilised to grow back into the earth. Make sure the hemp clothing you buy has been dyed using natural dyes, and that it comes from a company that genuinely cares about the plant though as some companies use chemicals to speed up the production process in order to create higher yields.
LOW WATER IMPACT ORGANIC COTTON
GOTS certified cotton (Global Organic Textile Standard) ensures that no pesticides or cancer-causing harmful chemicals have been used, as regular cotton is the most chemical intensive crop to grow which not only puts the environment at risk but the workers dealing with the crop and fibres. Cotton also consumes a LOT of water, so opt for Low Water Impact organic cotton, which has been watered using rainwater/recycled water sources. Cotton is a natural fibre so is completely biodegradable.
Made from the leaves of the pineapple pant, it is one of the most sustainable vegan leather alternatives right now. It is natural, biodegradable, reduces waste and provides income to farmers who would have otherwise discarded the pineapple leaves. It is an extremely eco-friendly material.
Water-resistant, renewable, durable, lightweight and 100% recyclable, it is made from cork oak trees that constantly regenerate after being harvested. Through the purchase of cork you are helping prevent desertification of cork oak forests that are home to many endangered species.
A textile made from mushroom mycelium (the root of the mushroom) it is 100% biodegradable and compostable, and serves as a breeding ground for many other plants when put into the ground.
THE NON-SUSTAINABLE/TOXIC FABRICS
One of the worst fabrics available, it is made from synthetic polymers coming from esters of dihydric alcohol and terpthalic acid. When they are washed they release microfibers (small bits of plastic) that pass easily through sewage and wastewater treatment plants into our waterways, and are not biodegradable.
The key ingredient of acrylic is acrylonitrile which is a carcinogen and a mutagen that targets the central nervous system through skin absorption, inhalation and ingestion. The manufacturing process involves highly toxic substances which are extremely dangerous to the health of factory workers. Not easily recycled or biodegradable, and is highly flammable.
An artificial fibre made from wood pulp treated with hazardous chemicals. Old growth forests are cleared with farmers being displaced to make way for pulpwood plantations such as eucalyptus which draws up ridiculous amounts of water which can cause soil problems.
Made from petroleum and given a harmful permanent chemical finish. The manufacturing process creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than Carbon Dioxide. Uses up a lot of energy in its production. Is not biodegradable.
Polyvinyl Chloride is the most toxic plastic for our health and is a known human carcinogen. Made from petroleum it is strong, resistant to chemicals and oil, sunlight, weathering and is flame resistant. It is not biodegradable and does not degenerate as it retains its form for decades and the breakdown of it is just granulation.
ANYTHING STAIN/STATIC RESISTANT, PERMANENT PRESS, WRINKLE FREE OR MOTH REPELLENT
Clothing described with any of these adjectives have usually been treated with perflourinated chemicals (PFC’s) such as Teflon.
Thanks for reading!