According to a report on Forbes, the fashion industry comes second to oil as the largest industrial polluter in the world, accounting for 10% of global carbon emissions, and producing 20% of the earth’s water waste. To add to this alarming knowledge, an estimated 15% of clothing fabric end up as offcuts, unused, wasted, and go straight to landfills.
As a response to this, players in the industry have been taking steps to achieve more environmentally-friendly means of manufacturing their products, including brands that use biodegradable and sustainable fabric to craft their apparel. In line with this, we rounded up five note-worthy and eco-friendly textiles that you should look out for when shopping, if you’re hoping to live out a responsible and sustainably stylish lifestyle.
The Pinatex fabric is a byproduct of the pineapple plant, specifically originating from its discarded leaves. It was developed by Dr. Carmen Hijosa after spending years of research in pursuit of finding a natural sustainable alternative to leather. The extracted fiber from the leaves undergo an environmentally harmless procedure developed by the company behind Piñatex, Ananas Anam. According to its official website, “Once the leaves have been stripped of fibre, the leftover biomass can be used as a nutrient-rich natural fertiliser or a biofuel, so nothing is wasted. The fibres then get degummed and undergo an industrial process to become a non-woven mesh, which forms the base of Piñatex®.” The non-woven mesh is then transported to Spain for a special finishing that provides it with its leather quality, before being distributed by Ananas Anam.
As a sustainable alternative to leather, Pinatex may be used in clothing, footwear, and other fashion accessories. Fast Fashion giant H&M has recently used the fabric as a part of their Conscious Collection for 2019.
As byproducts of pineapple leaves, clothes manufactured from Pinatex are known to be durable, soft, and breathable. Its initial production stage also provides income for the farmers in the community involved with the plant’s decortication process (the process of extracting fibre from its leaves). As mentioned above, it also goes through a closed loop production, meaning zero-waste, and zero-harm for the environment.
According to Eco Cult, Pinatex is finished with a synthetic material that prevents it from being completely biodegradable. Ananas Anam, however, is currently working to resolve this with a plant-based finishing.
Made from flax plant fiber, linen is 100% biodegradable when left untreated by color dye. It’s also a summer-time favorite and a popular choice by clothing brands due to its light and airy quality perfect for the warmer months. Apart from the fashion industry, it can also be used in a variety of ways, ranging from industrial products, interior design, and home items such as table cloths and bed sheets.
As far as quality goes, linen is soft, light, breezy, and has been known to last decades with proper care. Aside from this, it has an absorbent quality, is susceptible to stains, and is highly durable. Not to mention it originates from flax, which takes only six to eight inches of water to grow as opposed to the copious amount of water required for cotton.
The intensive and laborious production process that goes into manufacturing linen accounts for its hefty price, which also makes it more expensive in the market. Another common complaint over the fabric is its tendency to wrinkle easily and the subsequent difficulty in ironing out the formed crinkles, which is why great care and caution should be taken when cleaning and storing your linen clothing, such as hanging them instead of folding, before hiding them away in your closet.
Yet another alternative to leather, cork originates from the bark of the cork oak tree, widely harvested from Portugal and Spain. It’s important to note that its harvesting process in no way harms cork trees, as manufacturing the fabric only requires its bark to be stripped and not cut down. Once harvested the oak tree’s bark undergoes a self-regeneration process that results to its extended lifespan, making it highly renewable and environmentally friendly. Cork is often widely used for wine bottles, bulletin boards, and flooring. But when it comes to the fashion industry, it’s an eco-friendly and durable substitute for leather goods such as wallets, bags, shoes, and other accessories.
Due to its regenerative nature, the use of cork encourages the planting of more cork oak trees. Not only is it sustainable, the tree’s harvesting process actively aids in alleviating the carbon dioxide in the environment, lessening the greenhouse gasses that perpetrate climate change, as the oak tree absorbs carbon dioxide and does so repeatedly once it self-regenerates.
On the other hand, when it comes to the actual quality of cork, the fabric is known to be feather light, soft, sturdy, and water-resistant. It’s also recyclable, and durable enough to last for about 20 years without one having to worry about quality deterioration.
An eco-friendly and sustainable fabric that’s almost too good to be true, the known disadvantages of cork remain manageable. This includes the limited color options, as one will most likely have to stick to its natural color. Another con is its obvious shorter lifespan when compared to leather. However, taking this into account, it can be said that through its sustainable and regenerative production process, cork is arguably a much better option than leather in the long run.
4. Reclaimed Fabric
There’s an understandable confusion between lumping recycled fabric and reclaimed fabric into the same definition. Although while recycled fabric comes from already produced and used clothes, or fibers that are then made into an entirely new fabric or product, reclaimed fabric, on the other hand, is extra offcut fabric that ends up on the production cutting-room floor. As a result they are otherwise automatically destined for the landfill.
Opting to use reclaimed fabric saves these unused scraps from going straight to the landfill and adding to the dangerous amount of waste the fashion industry produces each year. Doing so can also keep a textile’s chemical finishing from seeping into the soil and contaminating the environment, particularly from releasing toxins out into the earth’s waterways.
Reclaimed fabric is hardly a be-all end-all solution to the world’s textile waste problem. Once turned into new clothing, one way or the other, they will still end up as waste at some point, accounting for their limited wearability lifespan. Not to mention the use of reclaimed fabric doesn’t keep from the continued production of new and toxic textiles that take hundreds of years to decompose. While this shouldn’t deter one from choosing reclaimed fabric when you can, it’s definitely a reminder to do better in our search for ways to enact a zero-waste fashion lifestyle.
Much like Piñatex, Tencel is also a man-made sustainable textiel developed by Lenzing AG, a fiber producer based in Austria. Tencel is a brand name for a type of lyocell, a cellulose fibre made from dissolving wood pulp. Manufacturing this synthetic fiber, involves an award-winning, environmentally sound and closed loop process using the company’s specialized Refirba technology. “The use of resources and energy is reduced to a minimum, at the same time we achieve distinguished level of environmental protection and resource preservation,” Lenzing writes on their website. A few famous brands that make use of Tencel include H&M and Levi’s.
Tencel is best used for activewear as it is soft, and breathable. “The smooth fiber surface absorbs and releases moisture efficiently therefore supports the body’s natural thermal regulation,” Lenzing AG explains. This also means that Tencel clothing are less susceptible to the growth of bacteria that can result to body odor.
Unfortunately, as of the moment, Tencel can’t be produced at the same massive scale as cotton just yet. Additionally it also requires the use of energy at the manufacturing stage, although considerably less than what’s needed for cotton. Lenzing AG have acknowledged this problem and are looking for a solution in renewable energy sources.