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How to navigate the most sustainable fibres in fashion
By Valentina Zarew
With terms like eco-friendly, sustainable, natural, responsible and recycled being used interchangeably by brands when referencing the fabrics they are using to make your favourite swimwear, tees, knits or bedding, it can be easy to make the assumption that your purchase is good for the planet, and for you.
However, frustratingly, it’s not always the case.
So how then, are we supposed to make the right decision when it comes to shopping for our values? Essentially, there is no easy answer, however, there are some key tips for different fibre categories, with the number one rule always being; read the label before you buy.
Here are my top tips to navigate this not so sexy, but very important space:
Natural fibres are wonderful as they are renewable and generally biodegradable, but they need to be grown and sourced responsibly to ensure they’re not pumped with chemicals that damage the soil, farmers’ health and surrounding ecosystems.
Forest fibres – or cellulose fibres – are man made fibres created using the esters of cellulose, which are obtained from the bark, wood or leaves of trees. When looking at forest fibres, it’s important to ensure they’re sourced from sustainably managed forests. The textile industry, as with other industries that rely on wood to make their products, have been linked to deforestation of our natural and ancient forests.
Look out for LENZING™, responsibly sourced fibres, fighting the fight to protect our global forests, as well as Birla who are focused on closed loop practices and employ important social practices supporting the local communities.
Although cotton is a natural fibre, it can be highly chemically intensive and can have an adverse effect on the soil, farmers and water in the way that it is treated if it comes in conventional form.
By making the simple choice to only buy organic cotton for example, you are contributing to supporting an industry that uses up to 88 per cent less water, promotes soil health and also the livelihood of those who farm it.
Look out for GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) as the highest standard in the cotton space. The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is also a program that has been developed to promote environmental and social initiatives when it comes to cultivating cotton.
We are lucky in Australia to produce some of the world’s best wool, and as a fibre it’s renewable, recyclable, biodegradable and durable. Given that it comes from our precious sheep, we need to ensure the farming practices employed are sound and promote good animal welfare.
Look out for brands sourcing in-line with standards such as the Responsible Wool Standard and ZQ Merino standard, which both ensure farmers are audited against both animal welfare and environmental criteria.
We all love linen, and it’s popping up more and more. Its light and airy attributes can place you back to that holiday feeling of being on a dreamy island. It grows quite quickly, however it can be a laborious fibre to treat; chemicals are generally used to dye the fabrics, and pesticides are generally used in the growing process.
Look out for Linen products that have been GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified. This ensures no harmful pesticides have been used in the cultivation process and no harsh chemicals used throughout the processing or dyeing stages.
It has been a long-time practice to turn oil into fibres, think your polyesters and nylons primarily because of their durability and price points. However, due to the fact that these non-renewable fibres are highly resource intensive to make and harmful to the environment, there has been a major shift towards using recycled synthetics instead. This approach offers a more circular approach to design and fibres can be made from rescued fishing nets, for example. Some of the viable options you will see popping up on the market are:
ECONYL is a regenerated Nylon made from pre and post-industrial waste such as discarded fishing nets, which is exciting given up to 8 million tonnes of waste end up in our seas every single year.
It is a recycled polyester, made from recycled materials such as plastic bottles. So far, they have diverted over 20 million plastic bottles from landfill, as well as conserving water and energy compared to conventional synthetics.
Valentina is a sustainability expert, with among other accreditations a certificate of sustainability from the University of Bath. She is focussed on working with the brands of the future to help shape their strategy, sustainability framework, stories and partnerships. You can connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Instagram. @valya___z.
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