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A Guide to Eco-Friendly Materials


Fast fashion and low-quality clothes can have negative impacts on the environment and the way we view our clothes. We take a look at what happens when the brands themselves source their materials responsibly. Here's your one guide to eco-friendly materials and how they're changing the fashion industry.
A Guide to Eco-Friendly Materials

by Ellen Hill


Fast fashion and low-quality clothes can have negative impacts on the environment and the way we view our clothes. While as consumers we can adapt our shopping habits, what happens when the brands themselves source their materials responsibly? We explore what eco-friendly materials are out there, what they can do for the planet, and which brands are leading the way towards a more sustainable future. 

Eco-Friendly Materials 

Eco-friendly materials

Contents:

  • Responsible Wool
  • Organic Cotton
  • Lyocell
  • Deadstock Fabrics
  • Cactus Leather
  • Banana Fabric

Responsible Wool

Responsible wool is a standard for wool that cares about the quality of life of the sheep producing the wool and the land they graze on. The goals of the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) are to show best practices for farmers. It is to make sure that wool comes from farms with a modern approach to using their land, that respect their animals and the Five Freedoms of animal welfare.

The Five Freedoms of animal welfare are:

  • Freedom from Hunger and Thirst
  • Freedom from Discomfort
  • Freedom from Pain, Injury, or Disease
  • Freedom from Fear and Distress
  • Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour

Brands like People Tree have vowed to use wool from suppliers which can guarantee fair treatment of their animals. People Tree currently sources sheep’s wool from a supplier in New Zealand which has an Animal Welfare Act, and therefore a duty of care for their animals. The Merino wool they use is also mulesing free. Mulesing is the removal of strips of wool-bearing skin from the rear of lambs to prevent an infection called ‘flystrike’. This procedure is often performed without anaesthesia or pain relief and can cause injuries which may cause problems for the lambs. Many brands using responsible wool will not choose suppliers who practice this. 

Responsible wool

Organic Cotton 

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is a global not-for-profit cotton sustainability programme. The BCI seeks to make global cotton farming better for those who produce it, the environment it grows in, and the future of the industry. BCI cotton uses less water, without pesticides or fertilisers. The chemicals used in regular cotton growing can threaten soil biodiversity and pollute water systems nearby. The BCI makes sure the farms that supply this organic cotton use fair and safe working conditions, provide fair pay, and practice good safety and environmental methods.

Brands such as Kotn, whose name is based on the Arabic word for cotton, have committed to using organic cotton in line with the Better Cotton Initiative for their products made in Portugal. This is to make sure the organic cotton they use is produced using the most ethical and sustainable methods possible.

Better Cotton Initiative

Lyocell

Lyocell is an eco-friendly fibre made from wood pulp. This natural fibre is softer than cotton, uses less water, and requires no pesticide or fertiliser. The wood from birch, oak, or eucalyptus trees is ground up. It is then dissolved using amine oxide before being spun very quickly in order to release the long thin fibres. These fibres are then made into a fabric which is soft, durable, and non-toxic. The Lyocell fabric is more eco-friendly to grow as a raw material than cotton, and the amine oxide can be used again once the fibres have been made, so none of the process goes to waste. More and more sustainable fashion brands are choosing to switch to Lyocell for an even eco-friendlier spin on responsible material sourcing.

Sustainable fashion brands like Ecoalf are committing to Lyocell fabric and its eco-friendly alternative to cotton. Ecoalf use Lyocell fabric (or tencel) to make garments in line with their sustainable commitments. Ecoalf care about having a traceable supply chain, and supporting their suppliers. Lyocell is a fabric which can help to aid brands to a more sustainable future. 

Lyocell eco-friendly fabric

Deadstock Fabrics

Deadstock fabrics are fabrics destined for landfill. Deadstock fabric consists of leftover or unwanted materials from textile mills and garment factories. The fabric may be deadstock because too much was ordered, it was accidentally dyed the wrong colour, or it had small imperfections. Either way, deadstock fabric is leftover fabric without any plans for present or future use. 

Using deadstock fabrics is a great way for slow fashion brands to reduce waste going to landfill. If it can be reused and made into something else then that helps to reduce the amount of waste the fashion industry produces. It will also lower a company’s carbon footprint because they are not having to produce as many textiles for their garments. 

Depending on the way the fabrics have been made in the first place depends on how sustainable the practice is, and there is the worry of deliberate overproduction. However, using deadstock fabrics otherwise destined for landfill is certainly a step in the right direction for brands hoping to improve their sustainability. 

Sustainable fashion brand Gaâla mindfully craft their designs using production leftovers and deadstock fabrics from the Italian fashion houses, Hangzhou, China, and Belarus. This way, they repurpose fabrics destined for landfill. With the limited supply of each fabric or pattern, they sometimes produce as few as 2 or 3 pieces in one fabric, looking to make as small a footprint as possible. 

Eco-friendly fabrics

Cactus Leather

One type of eco-friendly material is an alternative vegan leather made without the use of animal hides. Cactus leather is a low-impact material made from cactus leaves. Cactus leaves are a great raw material because cactus plants don’t require large amounts of water to grow, and they can survive on land that would usually be unsuitable for other crops.

Mexican company, Desserto, make vegan leather using pear cactus leaves. They only use the mature leaves, so the rest of the plant is undamaged and can go on growing more leaves for future harvesting. This innovative eco-friendly material can be used to make vegan leather goods like handbags, car seats, and even a 100% vegan cactus sneaker.

Banana Fabric 

Banana fibre, also known as "musa fibre", is a strong and, better yet, natural fibre. The fibre is durable, naturally biodegradable, and made from the stem of the banana tree. Banana fibres can be used to make a strong and eco-friendly material in place of synthetic textiles which may contain plastic. Banana fibre can be used to make eco-friendly materials with different weights and thicknesses. These are based on what part of the banana stem the fibre was extracted from.

Sustainable company, Green Banana Paper, is using banana fibre to make vegan wallets, purses, beads and paper. Banana trees only fruit once in their lifetime, so once the bananas have been collected, the “parent” stem is removed, making way for the new, younger stem to flourish. In the meantime, a fantastically eco-friendly material is being crafted!

banana fibres can create an eco-friendly material

Eco-Friendly Materials For The Future

Eco-friendly materials allow consumers to align what they buy with their values. Responsible wool takes animal welfare into account. The Better Cotton Initiative reduces water usage and water pollution. Lyocell makes use of responsibly harvested trees and turns them into a natural fibre with zero waste. Using deadstock fabrics means fewer fabrics are made and fewer go to waste. 

There is a growing demand for businesses to be more responsible with the materials they source. Choose brands committing to using these eco-friendly materials and responsibly sourced fabrics to help toward a more sustainable future for the fashion industry.