We are all about sustainable fashion. This is what we do.
If you buy from Ecoholic Threads, you have nothing to worry about. Your garment is 100% sustainable.
But what if you decide to shop somewhere else? What do you need to look for when shopping for sustainable fashion?
The full answer spans many aspects. The most prominent ones are:
- Production - the materials and methods used to produce the garment
- Sourcing - the way materials are sourced
- Shipping - if involved
The sourcing and shipping methods are practically impossible to track. Brands can claim whatever they want.
They know customers have no way of verifying those claims. They can claim your parcel was shipped in the most sustainable way possible. But how can you really verify that claim?
So, in this post, we will focus on the aspect that you CAN verify - production. More specifically on the fabrics used to produce the garment. So let’s dive in.
What’s The Problem With Traditional Fabrics?Polyester is by far the most common fabric out there. 65% of the world’s clothes are made of Polyester.
The second place goes to traditional cotton with 21%.
Both have a devastating effect on the environment.
Polyester is produced from petroleum, like regular plastic. Its production process emits a large amount of CO2 (14.2lb per 1lb of usable material).
It is also a major water polluter. Factories producing Polyester may release potentially harmful byproducts. These include sodium bromide, titanium dioxide, and antimony.
And of course, as it is a synthetic fiber, it is neither compostable nor biodegradable.
Traditional cotton is a natural fiber. So, what’s the problem?
Despite its luxurious reputation, cotton is one of the most polluting fabrics out there.
Cotton’s production process involves many pesticides. Those chemicals are then absorbed in the ground and transferred to underground aquifers.
Those chemicals can often deem the soil unfertile and even poison factory workers.
Cotton’s production process also uses a huge amount of water. Around 713 gallons of water to produce 1 t-shirt to be (more) exact. Cotton accounts for only about 2.5% of the planet’s cultivated land. Despite that, it uses a staggering 10-16% of the world’s pesticides.
And of course, cotton production emits huge amounts of CO2. 220,000,000 (220 million!) metric tons per year to be exact.
On top of that, cotton is often produced in sweatshops. This means inhumane conditions for factory workers. Many of these workers are children.
Additionally, textile dyeing is the most polluting process. The reason is that the residue of dyeing is often disposed of in rivers and streams.
The detrimental effects of the fashion industry on the environment are vast. They are so vast, that they require an entire blog post. We have already devised it for you. Read it here.
2 Groups Of Sustainable Fabrics
We will start by dividing them into 2 groups: natural fibers and futuristic fabrics.
Natural fibers are fibers that are produced from what mother nature has to offer. Meaning, they grow naturally and then undergo some process to become an actual fabric.
Futuristic fabrics are fabrics produced by innovative minds and cutting-edge technology. Some harness technology to produce recycled fabrics. Some use natural materials with a special trademarked production process. They are pretty hard to find and are often very expensive.
We won’t be discussing them in this post. The reason is that this post is meant to inform you about practical substitutes to the regular fabrics you see in stores. We may write a separate post about them in the future.
4 Types Of Sustainable Fabrics For The Conscious Shopper
Traditional cotton is bad for the environment. We have already established that.
Luckily, there are more sustainable alternatives.
Recycled Cotton - The Most Sustainable Option
How is recycled cotton produced?
Basically, recycled cotton can be produced from two sources.
The first source is called pre-consumer. This means recycling scraps that are byproducts of the original production process. Those scraps are unusable and are usually disposed of.
The second source is, you guessed it right, post-consumer. It’s just a fancy name for the familiar form of recycling. Meaning: buy --> use --> exhaust --> recycle.
Recycled cotton is a water saver
As we already stated, cotton is a very thirsty crop. Switching to recycled cotton can significantly reduce water consumption. In fact, producing one ton of recycled cotton (as opposed to traditional cotton) can save 200,000 gallons of water.
Recycled cotton emits less CO2
By reusing cotton, CO2 emissions are almost entirely eliminated. We don’t have to produce a garment from scratch. We can simply take an old one and reuse it. Thus, saving all CO2 emissions that occur in the production process. No agrochemicals are used because nothing needs to be grown. No dyeing is required since the fabric is already dyed.
Recycled cotton helps decrease textile waste
Textile waste is a major environmental issue. Globally, an estimated 100,000,000 tons of textile waste is produced every year. When we recycle, we help empty our landfills.
Organic Cotton - The 2nd Best Choice
Organic cotton is not as sustainable as recycled cotton. Nonetheless, it is far more sustainable than traditional cotton. It is also the most practical option as it is far more common.
What is organic cotton?
Organic cotton is different from traditional cotton in 4 fundamental ways:
Firstly, it is produced from 100% natural seeds. This is contrary to traditional cotton, which is produced from genetically modified seeds. This modification is done to help cotton repel bugs and pesticides. As time goes by, more and more pesticides are required.
Secondly, organic cotton uses no synthetic pesticides. Instead, farmers use natural pesticides. Meaning, they use insects that eat pests that threaten cotton crops.
The third way is the dominant watering method. Organic cotton is thirsty just like its evil brother. But the difference is in the way farmers water their crops. A report by The Soil Association determined that 80% of organic cotton crops are watered by rainfall (and 20% irrigation). Obviously, the evil brother uses 100% irrigation.
Finally, organic cotton criteria require farmers to adopt crop rotation methods. Traditional cotton has no limitations when it comes to crop rotation methods.
Going over the differences, you may have already guessed the benefits of organic cotton.
Organic cotton emits far less CO2 and requires less energy
As opposed to traditional cotton, organic cotton production doesn’t require the use of pesticides.
This means that a lot less CO2 and other GHGs are emitted.
This also means that the soil quality is preserved. Pesticides not only kill pests. They also kill the soil. Healthy soil is a great CO2 sequester. Constant pesticide absorption degrades soil. In turn, this causes the soil to become a worse CO2 sequester.
As already noted, organic cotton production requires implementing crop rotation methods. These methods naturally sequester carbon. Instead of slowly killing the soil, organic cotton farmers treat it!
In total, organic cotton emits 46% less CO2 than traditional cotton.
Organic cotton requires less water
Organic cotton is as thirsty as its non-organic brother. But as written above, the difference is in the way farmers water their crops. 80% of organic cotton is watered with rainwater. This means other water sources don’t need to be used.
In total, organic cotton requires 91% less water to produce!
Organic cotton farmers are often Fairtrade certified
Fairtrade means that all workers along the supply chain are treated fairly. They work under sufficient conditions and receive fair pay. Moreover, Fairtrade guarantees minimal use of chemicals and excessive waste production.
65% of registered Fairtrade cotton farmers are also certified organic farmers. This number is constantly growing.
Obviously, not all organic cotton farmers are Fairtrade. Nonetheless, Fairtrade and organic go hand-in-hand. This makes sense. Organic and fair trade have a common goal: protecting the planet and its people.
What is hemp?
Hemp is Marijuana’s sober brother. We know you have a smile on your face right now. But you can relax. You will not get high by wearing hemp.
By definition, hemp and marijuana are produced from the same plant - Cannabis. The difference is the THC concentration level. Hemp contains no more than 0.3%. Marijuana contains more than that (although common levels are 5-20%).
Organic hemp vs. conventional hemp
In hemp’s case, there aren’t a lot of differences. The only practical difference is the soil.
Organic hemp farmers use natural fertilizers. Conventional hemp farmers may use synthetic fertilizers. To be deemed organic, a plant must grow on soil that’s free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers for at least 3 years.
That being said, hemp is often thought of as “the world’s most useful plant” (keep reading for details).
So, in hemp’s case (as opposed to cotton), conventional farming is also pretty good!
Hemp Is Super-Sustainable
So why is it considered “the world’s most useful plant”?
Hemp has thousands of potential uses. Besides being a great fabric source, it can also replace plastic, make biofuels, and even as a healthy food.
Hemp production requires no pesticides
Hemp is innately resistant to many insect and plant species. This makes the use of synthetic chemicals unnecessary. Consequently, the soil doesn’t erode. Also, the risk for workers decreases dramatically.
Hemp naturally replenishes the soil
Hemp farming leaves the soil in better condition than it started with! Yes, it’s not a mistake.
Remember that natural insect resistance? Well, not only does hemp not harm soil, it actually feeds it.
Hemp growth releases Nitrogen and important nutrients that help replenish the soil.
Hemp production is carbon-negative
This means that it enables sequestering more carbon than emitted during the production process.
In addition to the two previous cons we stated, hemp is also a great CO2 absorber.
An acre of hemp sequesters about 11,000 pounds of CO2.
So, provided that manufacturers adhere to environmental standards, hemp can easily be carbon-negative.
If no processing is done (like dyeing), it is 100% biodegradable and recyclable.
Hemp is extremely efficient and requires very little water
Hemp is a very light drinker. It requires 4 times less water than cotton. So the advantage here is clear.
Moreover, hemp is a very durable crop. Although a tropical climate is ideal, it can be grown in most regions of the world.
Hemp can also be harvested up to 3 times per year (cotton is harvested 1 time per year)!
Due to its thousands of possible uses, almost nothing gets wasted in hemp production.
All this makes hemp a very efficient crop. It is relatively cheap and easy to cultivate.
What is Linen?
Linen is a textile that’s produced from flax seeds. It is breathable and light, which makes the demand for it high in hot, humid areas.
Organic Linen vs. conventional Linen
Just like hemp, the differences are very little. This is because just like hemp, Linen comes to us from nature. It can be grown without pesticides and chemicals.
So, the only difference is that certified GOTS Linen is grown without them. Linen farmers that are not GOTS certified may use some chemicals in the production process.
Linen Is Super-Sustainable
Just like the previous miracle plant, Linen is also great for the planet.
Just like hemp, flax seeds have thousands of uses.
In fact, most of the environmental pros of Linen are similar to hemp.
Linen production requires no pesticides
Since flax plants are natural, they have natural defense systems. They fight off insects and harmful plant species. So, little-to-no pesticides are required. Consequently, workers are not forced to expose themselves to harmful chemicals.
Linen has positive effects on biodiversity
Flax preserves soil just like hemp. According to The Advisory Commission Report to The European Parliament, flax enables an environmental pause. This in turn affects biodiversity and the ecosystem in a positive manner.
Flax is a versatile water saver
As it is a natural crop, flax requires little-to-no water. Warning: you need to sit down to read the next piece of data.
It takes about 1.7 gallons of water to produce one Linen t-shirt.
Sounds like a lot? This is the part where you need to sit down.
It takes about 713 gallons of water to produce one cotton t-shirt.
Moreover, Linen production is an extremely energy-efficient process.
Linen production is carbon-negativeSimilar to its sustainable cousin, Linen production can be carbon-negative. Flax sequesters about the same amount of CO2.
Adding this fact to the 3 previous ones, we get yet another super-sustainable fiber!
To Sum Up Sustainable Fabrics
The advantages are obvious. So why aren’t we all wearing natural sustainable fabrics?
They are still not “mainstream” like polyester or cotton. The fashion industry is just starting to get to know these fabrics.
Also, customers are not fully aware of the environmental price of their garments. There has been a great increase in awareness. Nonetheless, it’s not enough to create massive demand.
The farming and production processes are expensive. This in turn makes consumer prices high.
An organic cotton t-shirt will likely cost more than an identical traditional cotton t-shirt.
As of now, natural sustainable fabrics are only for people with relatively robust financial status.
Once massive demand is created, technology will be harnessed to decrease production costs.
So to sum it up: if your financial status allows you to, buy that sustainable t-shirt!
You will pay a little extra. But you gain an extremely durable garment.
The best part is that you vote (with your money) for the planet in the process!