A Field Guide for Sustainable Fabrics
"Don't underestimate the power of a vigilant consumer."
- Anita Roddick
Fast fashion is for the convenience of the consumer, but we can change that. Knowing fabrics is a great way to decide which garments and products to purchase and look out for. When we change our shopping practices we change corporate practices, as Anita Roddick says, "don't underestimate the power of a vigilant consumer."
Unsustainable fabrics are harmful to the environment, the individuals crafting our clothes, and our health. Our skin is the largest organ on our body and soaks up the materials we wear. Spreading our awareness and consumer habits is a great way to support ourselves and the planet.
Here is a fabric field guide we created on which textiles are unsustainable and sustainable solutions.
Polyester and Nylon
Polyester and Nylon are both synthetic fabrics made from plastic. It is believed that synthetic garments are the most significant source of micro plastic pollution in the oceans because up to 1900, fibers can be washed off one garment during one wash. Manufacturing Nylon is an extremely chemical-intensive process creating nitrous oxide, which is 300 times denser than carbon dioxide.
Although rayon is made from plants, it is unsustainable due to deforestation needed to create this fabric. Viscose is similar; it is made from bamboo, yet uses chemical processing to create.
Conventional Cotton is commonly known for being the dirtiest crop on earth. It consumes 16% of the world's insecticides and requires $2 Billion in pesticides each year. According to the WWF, it takes 2,700 liters of water to make just one cotton T-shirt.
Hemp is a highly sustainable fabric due to its effortless growth and natural pest control, so no pesticides are needed. Amazingly it also returns 60-70% of the nutrients it takes from the soil.
Although organic Cotton still uses large amounts of water, it is safer for farmers because it doesn't use toxic chemical treatments and maintains healthy soil. Organic Cotton is a great way to support slow fashion and farmers.
Wool is an ancient material used from sheep and is ranked as one of the most sustainable fabrics by the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS). Wool is naturally water-resistant, antimicrobial, and regulates temperature (keeping you warm in the winter and cool during the summer).
Tencel and Lyocell are a non-chemical, sustainable alternative to viscose and rayon. It uses 99.9% reclaimed solvents and reused from eucalyptus trees (which grow quickly without the need for pesticides).
Sustainable alternatives and solutions are already in use; it's a matter of us choosing and changing our consumer habits. The most sustainable options are the ones that you already have and be empowered for your next purchase.