In this article, we will depict how to make our wardrobes sustainable. A sustainable wardrobe is one that lasts for many years and is filled with items that were produced ethically and had a less environmental impact. Unfortunately, we cannot rely on brands that much anymore, because they prefer to omit who makes their clothes and who are their suppliers. But what we can do is educate ourselves about fashion sustainability and make more eco-friendly choices. Where do we start? I think we can start by understanding what fabrics we find in the shops, how they are made and what are the eco-friendly alternatives.
There are three types of fabrics: natural, semisynthetic, and synthetic. Today we will talk about natural materials. I am pretty sure almost everyone has something made out of cotton in their wardrobe. Cotton is a soft, comfortable, and durable fabric. It is also breathable, which helps to keep you cool in summer and warm in winter. But do not get confused, even if it is a natural material, its production is far from eco-friendly. Cotton requires more pesticides than any other crop, accounting for 10% of world-wide pesticides use. Many of those chemicals soak into the ground or run off into the surface water.
Moreover, cotton consumes a tremendous amount of water. It takes 2700L of water to make one cotton t-shirt. Organic cotton might be a better solution. It is grown without chemicals, but it uses even more water and requires more farming land. Clothes that made out of 100% cotton can be recycled, but it's not easy. First, they need to be chopped up and turned back into raw material. And this process shortens the length of the fiber which doesn't make for the stronger and softer cotton we are used to.
Basically, we have three types of cotton: cotton grown with chemicals, organic cotton, and recycled cotton. I would say skip the first kind and go for organic or recycled one, if you have to. Or you can also try linen or hemp, at least as an alternative for summer clothes. Linen is one of the most breathable fabrics, making it especially relaxed and comfortable to wear in the heat.
Actually, wearing linen can make you feel 3 to 4 degrees cooler than cotton or even silk. It also has twice the strength of cotton, which makes it more durable. Linen also has better SPF properties. Hemp is similar to linen in both feel and appearance. Hemp fabric is three times stronger than cotton, so repeated washing will not break the fiber down quickly. It is also breathable and UV resistant. Both linen and hemp are significantly less polluting. They can be grown without pesticides or fertilizers and require less water. Since both of the fabrics are created from natural materials, they are completely biodegradable. Silk is known for its versatility, softness, and comfort. It is the most durable natural fiber and also a natural temperature regulator, helping your body maintain a comfortable, natural temperature.
The environmental impact of producing silk is shallow, although there are some ethical issues associated with silk production. The problem is that most current silk production happens when the silkworms inside their cocoons are put into boiling water to kill them before their pierce and damage the cocoon. This is used to prevent the worms from penetrating the silk, resulting in more quantity and quality in a shorter period. But there is a more ethical alternative, and it's called Peace Silk, where no silkworms are harmed or killed in the production process. Clothes made out of pure silk are biodegradable and often can be upcycled thanks to silk's high durability qualities. Wool is a beautiful fabric and has many great properties. Wool is tough, durable, dirt-resistant and breathable. It's comfortable to wear in both warm and cool climates. Sheep's wool is traditional wool that can be made from any sheep fleece. Merino wool is taken from a merino sheep and it gives the fabric a soft and fine feel. It's the only kind of wool that is resilient to pilling, which makes it a great investment. You can see different prices for merino wool in the stores, that's because not all merino wool is equal.
The smaller the number of microns, the softer and more expensive the wool. Mohair Wool is taken from the Angora goat. It might be soft or really itchy depending on the type of fibers. Usually mohair is blended with wool, to make the fabric even warmer. Angora Wool is made out of Angora rabbit hair. Its main quality is the fluffy texture and its soft touch. Angora wool is fine and more fragile than merino wool or cashmere. Cashmere Wool is a soft and luxurious fabric. We can see cashmere everywhere now: in both mass market and luxury stores. The price difference depends on the quality of the goat's hair. Premium cashmere is made from the long hairs - and it's combed, never sheared.
Cheaper cashmere is sheared. This process shortens the fibres and leads to pilling. Also, look for a tight knit, it's more durable. If the construction feels loose, the garment will most probably lose shape quickly. Alpaca fleece is a silky, soft, super warm and therefore luxurious natural fibre. Alpaca wool has a really light environmental footprint. This funny looking animal eats and drinks very little and treads softly on the ground. Although wool in general is a very nice fabric, the production process doesn't look that good at all. Firstly, sheep produce methane, and 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions from the wool industry come from the sheep themselves. Secondly, sheep farming often uses pesticides and insecticides that are toxic for the sheep and ecosystem. And the third issue is that it is still pretty common that animals are being horribly abused daily and being held in poor conditions. To avoid buying wool from these kind of producers, look for cruelty-free and organic labels.
What might be a sustainable alternative is to choose recycled wool. The wool goes through sorting into different colour categories before shredding. This completely eliminates the dying process, saving water and chemicals. In general, recycled wool contributes to less air, water and soil pollution. Cashmere has roughly 100 times more the environmental impact of wool. The more sustainable options are regenerated or recycled cashmere. Regenerated cashmere is made from post-factory waste and recycled cashmere comes from worn sweaters and usually mixed in with new wool fibers for better durability. As you can see, the production of fabrics might be really tough on nature. Even natural fabrics often require tremendous use of chemicals that pollutes the air, water and soil. But it still can't be compared with the production of synthetics that we will talk about in next week's episode.
Here, at least, we have organic options that have less impact like linen, hemp, silk, alpaca wool or we can go with recycled cotton, wool, and cashmere, which are more sustainable. Still, natural fabrics have one huge advantage, and that is that all of them can be reused, recycled or simply biodegraded. That's why we should be more careful when choosing fabrics and skip the blended ones. Blended fabrics are those that are made from mixing several materials: they cannot be recycled and they won't biodegrade for up to 200 years. Recycling is critical, it's the only way we can reduce our use of raw materials and have less waste. That's it. I hope you found this article useful and informative.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!
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We also aim to develop our product catalog with sustainable clothing in mind. Visit www.familane.com for more products and information.