This post is a follow-up to Sustainable Textiles Part I | The Best Options.
The following textiles, although not cutting edge when considering fashion & sustainability, can still be good options under the right conditions. They all share the characteristic of coming from natural sources, rather than petroleum-based synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, and acrylic (but we’ll get more into those in the third and final post of this series).
It’s important to know the issues surrounding the sourcing and manufacturing of these following fabrics; this way you can seek out brands who attempt to mitigate these concerns.
Conventionally grown cotton is far from one of the most sustainable fabric choices. Cotton crops are one of the most water-intensive and pesticide-sprayed crops on the planet. It takes 2,700 gallons of water to produce enough cotton to make one cotton tee-shirt. Additionally, cotton cultivation uses roughly 16% of the world’s pesticides and 7% of the world’s insecticides.
If you’re going to buy clothing made from cotton, make sure it is organic and/or rain-fed (preferably both). Most sustainable/ ethical fashion brands use organic cotton or organic cotton blends in some of their styles. Amour Vert is one brand who has included certified organic cotton in their repertoire of sustainable fabrics (among linen, Tencel, Indian silk, and recycled polyester) like in the dress pictured below.
And here’s another infographic for you from the game-changing ZADY (because I know you all love a good infographic) showing you just how thirsty how a crop cotton is.
We tend to think of bamboo as a sustainable option since it is the world’s fastest growing woody plant. However, the textile that comes from a bamboo plant must undergo an incredibly chemical intensive process known as “viscose” to get that soft, silky feeling we love. In this process, the pulp from the bamboo is dissolved in a solvent and then spun in a spinneret to produce a fiber. Only about 50% of the solvent is recovered in the factory, meaning the other 50% is released into the environment. Other chemical byproducts, including sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid, put not only the environment but also factory workers at risk.
There are a small handful of companies who grow and manufacture bamboo into a textile responsibly, such as Boody Eco Wear. This company sources organic bamboo from Sichuan, China in a factory that is Oeko-Tex 100 certified, meaning the finished product has no trace of chemicals that may pose a health risk to consumers.
RAYON / VISCOSE
In years past, rayon/ viscose was considered a sustainable fabric because it comes from trees. However, there are many things to be concerned about considering the use and production of this textile. For one, it is not manufactured in a closed-loop system, so new chemicals are required and waste is generated. It also does not always come from responsibly managed sources, so sustainable forestry is another major concern.
Some companies manufacture viscose responsibly, and it’s important to find fashion brands who understand the problems associated with the textile and seek responsibly sourced viscose for their products. Eileen Fisher is one such company. While in the process of switching to the use of Tencel instead of viscose, the viscose fabric that they do utilize in certain fashions (like the jumpsuit pictured below) is responsibly sourced.