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How to shop more ecologically: Fabrics guide

 

It is really high time all of us became more aware of the products we have in our home. Where do our clothes come from? Was it made ethically? What resources did it use? 

Can we do anything to reduce our negative impact on the planet?

The answer is YES!

The first step you can do as a consumer is to start looking at the material tag inside clothes before buying them. This is one of the best recommendations I got from my mother in law around 8 years ago. When I was younger, polyester blend clothes were cheaper, most fast fashion brands carried them and it was easy to find. You’ve seen similar labels for sure – 68% Polyester, 25% Polyamide, 7% Wool. OMG. Once I started paying attention to the label inside, I realized 90% of my clothes were some form of blend or the other! It was time to start educating myself and start buying better clothing.

Here’s what you need to know. There are 3 types of fabrics – 

  1. Natural
  2. Synthetic (1)
  3. Blends (combination of different fabrics)

Natural fibers

Natural fabrics are either animal based fibers or plant based fibers. The upsides to natural fabrics are that they feel really good on the skin, they typically last long, they look more elegant and they are decomposable. The downsides are that in some cases they consume a lot of water to produce, and some animal based fibers have unethical treatment of the animals. The best way to circumvent the downsides are to go with certified products and use organic materials.

In Europe, there are 4 big certifications used (2):

  1. OEKO-TEX 100 – Label that ensures consumers that all materials used in a garment are tested for harmful substances.
  2. GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) – This standard covers everything from the production to the distribution of textiles made from at least 70% organic natural fibres.
  3. EU Ecolabel – Label that ensures consumers that textiles are made using less harmful substances, energy and water.
  4. Bluesign – The Bluesign System reduces impact on people and the environment in the entire textile supply chain, based on input stream management.

Takeaway: For the most positive impact on the planet, buy 100% natural fabrics like cotton, wool, silk & jute, COMBINED with global certifications.

Synthetic fibers

Synthetic fibers are fibers made by humans through chemical synthesis, as opposed to natural fibers that are directly derived from living organisms. They account for about half of all fiber usage and the most common synthetic fibers are polyamid (nylon), polyester, acrylic and polyolefin (3).

Synthetic fibers have some pros. They are more durable than most natural fibers and will readily pick-up different dyes. In addition, many synthetic fibers offer consumer-friendly functions such as stretching, waterproofing and stain resistance. They also usually do not cause harm to animals during production.

The cons to synthetic fabrics are mono-fibers do not trap air pockets like cotton and thus provide poor insulation. They burn more rapidly than natural fibers and cannot withstand high temperature washes. They also cause more static. They are non-biodegradable or far less biodegradable in comparison to natural fibers and are a source of microplastic pollution from laundry machines.

There has been a positive trend towards producing more sustainable synthetic fabrics, like recycled plastics. A big certification in this field is (4)

  • Global Recycled Standard (GRS). Product standard that incorporates recycled material verification, including social and environmental responsibility criteria, as well as chemical management.

Takeaway: Recycled synthetic fibers are a good alternative to certified natural fabrics. In some cases, they are even better for the planet than natural fabrics that are not certified. 

Blends

Blended textiles are unavoidable. They are EVERYWHERE. Commercially it is the best type of fabric out there as they are typically more durable and cost less. For example, cotton is most often mixed with other fibers, particularly synthetics. This blending can be used to make cotton-like fabrics with improved functionality such as wrinkle resistance and dimensional stability. The addition of spandex to cotton improves the stretch of the product. (4)

However, it is also important to know that there is still no mature technology for recycling synthetic fibers from blended fabrics again, because the separation of the different components is very difficult. (5)

Good blends in our books are those that are biodegradable. They are (6):

  • Linen/Cotton
  • Silk/Cotton
  • Wool/Cotton
  • Linen/Silk

Blends that are non biodegradable are:

  • Cotton/Polyester
  • Polyester/Viscose
  • Acrylic/Cotton
  • Nylon/Wool
  • Nylon/Acetate
  • Spandex blends

Takeaway: While it might be economically more viable to produce blends, we personally really don’t think non biodegradable blends are the right choice for our planet.

 

Lets take small steps together to buy more recycle/compostable fabrics.

 

And finally, this goes without saying, let’s buy more second hand clothes!

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