We obviously have to wear clothing in society, plus, hello, it’s fun! I for one express my personality through my clothing. I choose my outfits largely based on how I’m feeling that day and #FloridaWeather (ha!).
That being said, it’s a given that all of us will continue to buy clothing and textiles such as bedding, towels, cloth napkins, etc. As a consumer, we’re left wondering, what is a sustainable fabric? Which fabrics should we be purchasing that are better for the environment?
Read on to learn more about what you need to know about sustainable fabrics.
This is somewhat of a loaded question. First off, when we think about sustainable fabrics and you look at our current fashion and clothing industry, looking at the data, one could agree the industry as a whole is not sustainable. That’s a topic for another post for sure!
The idea behind sustainable fabrics is to tread lightly on our earth. Ultimately, these materials take fewer resources to grow and use bio friendly chemicals (yes some chemicals are biodegradable). In their processing, the manufacturing process itself is gentler on the environment and their “afterlife” is less harmful to our environment.
Personally, I had assumed that if a fabric was natural, that it must be sustainable. Unfortunately it’s a bit more complicated than that.
For example, silk is a natural material, but the conventional way of processing this material is with a lot of heat and chemicals. Cotton requires a lot of water and fertilizer to grow, all of which ends up back in our water supply.
However, there is a bit of a revolution going on across the globe. Many textile innovators are looking at the manufacturing process and coming up with new, innovative and eco friendly new processes. These new processes are slowly replacing the old environmentally destructive way of doing things.
In summary, it’s complicated, but, the fabrics that require the least amount of resources and that have the least harmful production and manufacturing processes to the environment are the most sustainable fabric options.
You may be wondering, why is it important to purchase sustainable fabrics? It’s important for a number of different reasons:
Looking for more ways to live sustainably? Check out this list of 50+ easy ways to live more sustainably!
You may, like me, ask yourself, “How can I tell if the clothing I bought is truly made from sustainable fabrics and that the company isn’t just claiming that it is?” You should look for certifications.
Certifications are essentially a seal of approval confirming that a textile has been grown and manufactured sustainably. Certifications are very difficult and arduous to obtain. Brands that you’re buying should have fabric certifications. If they have any of the following certifications, you can be confident in their materials. It means that the manufactures, designers & retailers took the time, money and effort to make sure their merchandise is truly and certifiably sustainable:
GOTS’ mission is the “development, implementation, verification, protection and promotion of the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).” Their certification is one of the leading worldwide textile certifications for organic fibers. They certify fabrics based on ecological and social criteria through the entire textile supply chain. They conduct on-site auditing and residue testing to ensure compliance.
“The aim of the standard is to define world-wide recognized requirements that ensure organic status of textiles, from harvesting of the raw materials, through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing up to labelling in order to provide a credible assurance to the end consumer.” (GOTS)
For more details on GOTS’ certification criteria, check out this page on their website for more information.
The Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard is a certification that can be applied to thousands of products. Their focus is on products for the circular economy. Meaning, the focus is on the reduction of waste and designing items and materials that will last and can be reused. Learn more about the concept of a circular economy here.
Certification renewal is required every two years which encourages continuous development and improvement. Products are assessed within five different categories: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship and social fairness.
Each product is assessed within these five different categories and is awarded an achievement level for each of these categories. The achievement levels are: Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. What’s interesting is that a product’s lowest category achievement also represents its overall certification level.
I personally like the concept of this certification as a product is only as strong as its weakest category and this encourages continuous improvement. Not only this, but it’s looking at not just the upfront production and creation of goods but also the full life cycle of a product.
Ultimately, how sustainable is a product if its materials cannot be recycled or reused? This certification has the power to disrupt how we think about production and products as a whole.
They have a third party that verifies the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labeling, trading and distribution of non-food products that have organic material.
The OCS Certification was created by the Textile Exchange, which is an international, member-supported, non-profit organization. Textile Exchange has other certifications, such as: Recycled Claim Standard, Global Recycled Standard, Responsible Wool Standard and more.
Bluesign was founded with the goal of encouraging and motivating supplies, manufacturers and brands to “reduce the overall footprint of textiles, with a particular focus on the chemicals used” (Bluesign).
Bluesign audits textile manufacturers throughout the entire chain. Their aim is to reduce the environmental footprint and ensure the lowest impact on people and the planet. They analyze raw materials to chemical component.
OEKO-TEX has a number of certifications within their portfolio. The certifications are intended to enable consumers to make responsible sustainable purchasing decisions.
The Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX and Leather Standard by OEKO-TEX are for textile and leather products. These standards ensure that the materials have been tested for harmful substances and are safe from a human-ecological perspective.
Made in Green by OEKO-TEX certification verifies that textiles have been tested for harmful substances and that they were manufactured under sustainable working conditions. The SteP by OEKO-TEX certification and Detox to Zero analysis optimize manufacturing for ecological and socially responsible textile and leather productions. Lastly, the ECO Passport by OEKO-TEX identifies environmentally friendly chemicals, auxiliaries and colourants that are not harmful to human health and that are environmentally friendly.
When I first started doing research, as with most of my other sustainable living research, I felt slightly overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed because I realized a lot of the clothing in my closet was not made from sustainable fabrics.
As with everything, it takes time to make changes and things do not happen overnight. All that being said, what steps can you start to take?
There’s one really easy step you can take, which does not include completely replacing your wardrobe (lol). You can wash your clothing and utilize a Guppyfriend washing bag. What does this do? It prevents the release of microplastics in our water streams by cumulating those fibers that are shedded during the washing process.
This will enable you to properly dispose of the fibers rather than have them end up in our water streams which is harmful to the environment.
It is not ideal to have landfill waste, but it is better than having it end up in our water streams. It’s not a race to make lifelong, sustainable changes. Small steps are better than no steps.
As you make future purchases, you can ensure that you are purchasing sustainable fabrics. This is something you can be mindful of and can be intentional with your purchases. Sustainable fabrics mean you are purchasing fabrics that have a better impact on the environment and they can be recycled.
An upcoming post will dive deeper into the best sustainable fabrics, and ones that you should avoid, so stay tuned for that! As a start, here are a few ethically-made clothing brands you can check out!
What tips do you have for selecting sustainable fabrics? Was any of this information new to you?