What are Eco-Friendly Fibers?
In a world where sustainable methods are not what they seem, it is important to have an introductory knowledge of eco-friendly materials. Currently the average amount of water used by the fashion industry is 93 billion cubic meters of water, enough water to satisfy 5 million people's needs for water. As a community, production of apparel needs to become better. Luckily, there are some eco-friendly fabric options in the textile industry that are becoming hard to ignore. Generally, natural fibers such as cotton, wool, and silk will have a smaller environmental impact than synthetic fabrics such as nylon, polyester, and spandex. Sustainable fibers include organic cotton, linen, hemp, responsible down, and vegan leather. Organic cotton is one of the most natural fibers available because fewer chemicals are used to produce it. The organic cotton growing process has a substantial difference in using much less water and energy when compared to regular cotton. Hemp is another sustainable option made of organic materials and is considered a carbon-negative raw material that absorbs CO2. In addition to having natural sun protective and antimicrobial properties, hemp is a sustainable but expensive textile option.
Another deceptive ‘sustainable’ fabric option is recycled fibers. The word ‘recycled’ can mislead people into thinking it is an eco-friendly option, but the quality is not comparable. Quality fabric directly relates to lower environmental impact because it is less likely to end up in a landfill. Recycled cotton goes through an extensive process to be recycled, which results in a loss of defining qualities such as durability, uniformness, and strength. In addition to being costly, the idea of recycled cotton seems to be greater than the reality of the fabric.
The largest volume of recycled cotton is sourced through pre-consumer waste, such as cutting scraps from the factory floor. As sustainability continues to be at the forefront of product decisions, brand initiatives, and strategy for Original Favorites - we are always researching and evaluating the options we have to better our products and lessen our environmental impact on the planet. Post-consumer waste, such as a cheap tri-blend t-shirt, is more difficult to sort through due to various color shades and fabric blends, and it is generally a much more labor-intensive process.
Fibers to Avoid
The attention on sustainability in the apparel industry has shined a spotlight on fibers that have both a positive and negative environmental impact. Some of the least eco-friendly fibers include leather, polyester, and down. Sustainable fibers are imperative to ethical apparel making.
Leather is a fabric widely known as environmentally harmful but is still frequently utilized. Turning animal skin into fabric requires a large amount of industrial energy and harmful chemicals. Livestock agriculture involves heavy deforestation, leading to massive biodiversity loss, as specifically seen in the Amazon rainforest, where 80% of its deforestation has been from cattle ranching. This causes endangerment to native plants and animals. Greenhouse gases emitted from cattle are already a problem, and encouraging that problem for fabric production is adding to an already massive sustainability issue. Leather, compared to vegan leather, has roughly three times the negative environmental impact and should not be as prevalent in the world today.
Polyester is a well-known fiber that is widely used in the fashion industry. However, given how popular it is, it comes with numerous overproduction and waste problems. It is cheap to produce and easy to acquire compared to natural fibers such as cotton. Fossil fuels produce polyester, so they cannot be recycled and are not biodegradable. To make polyester stain-resistant, which is very common, certain chemicals that are harmful cause the fabric to not be readily biodegradable. Wastewater from polyester production becomes extremely difficult to treat and results in toxic effects on the surrounding environment. These factors come at the expense of the environment. The cheapest and quickest options are usually not equally sustainable.
Even though down is biodegradable and a widely popular fiber, it is still not eco-friendly. Down requires animal resources and strains the natural ecosystem for its production. Plucking feathers from birds is necessary to create down, leading to animal neglect of birds such as geese. Even with cruelty-free claims, there are still instances of slaughter and plucking occurring in a harmful way. Generally, the overproduction of animals for textile production involves a large number of carbon emissions and contamination of the surrounding environment while also involving animal neglect. Since other fabrics don’t involve these negative impacts, alternatives to down would be a more responsible choice.
Tips for Shopping Sustainable Fabrics
The best way to source from sustainable fashion brands is to look for third-party certifications that ensure a company’s claims are accurate. These certifications will mainly examine a company’s supply chain and production process and check to see if they are up to a certification’s standards. Some acceptable certifications widely acknowledged for their standards are GOTS certified organic cotton, OEKO TEX, and Supima® Cotton. GOTS analyzes a company’s entire supply chain in order to certify that every part of it is ethically completed and held to their standards. OEKO TEX analyzes the product itself to ensure it does not contain harmful chemicals to humans or the environment. Supima® cotton is another indicator of sustainable practices because of the circular growing model and land stewardship utilized by licensed Supima farmers.
It is crucial to check a brand’s sustainability practices in the wholesale apparel industry. Consumers are purchasing more clothing items and disposing of them. This product lifecycle directly contributes to consumer textile waste. The impact of disposal and production greatly impacts energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
The Future for Sustainable Clothing
As the idea of sustainability has become essential, the fashion industry is one of the main culprits in need of better change. It has become painfully obvious how much strain the current model puts on the environment. Not only is it promoting the destruction of the natural environment, but it also encourages unsafe working conditions. When it comes to improving the industry, we must look at social and environmental practices. Many companies have made great efforts, but that does not mean there aren’t companies more focused on making a quick buck than reducing their impact. And since sustainability is becoming an expectation, some companies are putting their efforts into appearing eco-friendly to the consumer instead of changing their practices (often referred to as “greenwashing”).
Sadly, greenwashing has become widely apparent in the fashion industry. Within the apparel industry it was estimated that 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases are emitted annually, making it one of the worst industries for environmental impact. As more companies put their efforts into looking sustainable instead of implementing sustainable practices into their production process, it is imperative to take preliminary actions. In order to have the most affective outcome, consumers must educate themselves on sustainability and the certifications that uphold environmentally friendly standards. Hopefully, members in the industry can hold each other accountable and combat this problem with transparency and forward progress.