Materials that we use in the making of our textiles
play an important role in the output and how sustainable actually the product
is. There are various ways in which we can make our fabrics more sustainable
like recycling, up-cycling, sourcing locally, etc. Our present-day lifestyle
consumption of fashion as we know it like Fast Fashion and the excessive use of
cotton has an adverse effect on the environment.
Sustainable Materials are defined as something that is made from natural products and the processing it to the final product is less resource-intensive. There are various types of materials that are available in the market in the present day which are deemed as sustainable and we shall be dwelling into each one. For the purpose of this article, we shall take six sustainable materials and dive deeper into how each is produced and how each of them helps save the environment.
We begin with a type of leather that is made from a fruit that we all
recognize. The leather in question is Pineapple Leather or better known as Pinatex. In recent years
there has been a trend in the industry to make leather from plants and fruits from waste materials.
Pinatex is a leather made from the tropical fruit Pineapple leaves from the tropical island of the
Philippines. The best part about Pinatex is that it is way more sustainable because it does not
cause harm to animals and hence can be termed cruelty-free and vegan. The tanning of leather
releases a lot of toxic chemicals into the water bodies and is a major cause of concern, hence using
natural materials like Pineapple conserves water and no hazardous waste is disposed of in the water.
It also reduces the Greenhouse Gases as well as the livestock that give us most of our leather and
have a huge footprint of methane. Apart from these benefits the leaves and other waste that is
leftover are recycled and used to fertilize the plants or could be used as biomass. A hotel suite in
London is famous for using all the upholstery from Pintex and have branded itself as the world’s
first Vegan Suite.1
We will now have a look into the material that is way more scientific and futuristic. This material known as Squid’s In is a biomimicry2 product that is nothing but looking into the natural world for inspiration. Textile designers are now finding new ways to look into new ways to be sustainable and have found that processes that take place in nature more often than not use less energy to get the desired results. The best example of this can be that there are only five polymers or long-chain molecules in the natural world while we humans manufacture more than 350. Only very recently scientists have discovered that a protein present in squid’s ring teeth in their tentacles can be engineered in labs for various uses. Fashion designers are now incorporating this protein as a coating on fiber which makes it more durable. This protein is also known to have healing properties. It is being used by garment makers to make their products more recyclable and biodegradable.
Wool is another natural fiber that is known to be sustainable. Animal welfare standards are a growing concern which makes some wool farms a major source of protest by many activist organizations like PETA, which argue that anything using other animals is unethical. But
Some farms do employ ethical practices and wool itself is known to be a sustainable fabric as it is renewable, durable, and biodegradable. There are many farms with sheep in the west3 that have engineered techniques that help in capturing carbon from the atmosphere and hence reducing the impact on the environment itself. Wool is well-known for its strength and resilience as it's both flames resistant and waterproof which means that it will stand the test of time which would reduce our reliance on Fast Fashion alternatives.
Linen is also considered to be a sustainable fabric as it is made from fibers of the Flax Plant.4 Linen has been known by mankind for many centuries as we have evidence of ancient Egyptians using it for its durability and ability to absorb water and keep people cool. Nowadays the reach of Linen is far-reaching and it is now being grown in all the geographically suitable areas like in the European Union (almost three-quarters of flax is grown in the EU). It is the best fabric fiber as there is no need for pesticides and fertilizers and it requires way less water than cotton does and is way better for soil health. The fabric has the best tensile strength and doesn't need to be replaced for years and it also dries way quicker than cotton.
Better Cotton is also something that has been discovered only recently. Rather than using a different kind of fiber we use different production methods to make the cotton more sustainable. Cotton Farming is very resource-intensive and uses pesticides and chemicals as well as gallons of water in order to produce just one product. This is where the better cotton initiative comes in where they support farmers in the world to be more conscious about water, soil health, and natural habitation with certain standards. As of now, the Better Cotton Initiative covers 12.5% of the market. If we are to find the impact of a single piece of garment is by looking out for retailers that are certified organic cotton by GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) Label.5
Now in the end we shall look into a fabric that is very recent. There has been a growing awareness amongst the general public that when we wash our clothes which are made from man-made fibers they tend to release microfibers into the waterways. Hence there has been a growing need for new fabrics that are natural. Lyocell is one such material that is made from cellulose from wood pulp. It is being solely manufactured under the trade name Tencel which is owned by an Austrian company. The Tencel fabrics hence produced are biodegradable and compostable the production process itself has a very low carbon footprint. The wastewater from production is reusable as no chemicals are used.
As illustrated in this article there are various new ways and fabrics that are there in the fashion industry. This is making fashion more sustainable and people more environmentally educated. Apart from the six fabrics mentioned above, there are other fabrics that are popular like Hemp which has a fairly low environmental impact. Designers have also been known to use cork, bamboo, and even seaweed in order to make their products more sustainable and ethical.