With the textile industry producing the second largest amount of pollution, there has luckily been a strong movement towards ‘eco-friendly’ fashion. There have been lots of different material names floating around in the press and brand publications so I decided to look into the current and future trends in fabrics. Please keep in mind, textile manufacturing is an incredibly complex process with many moving parts, the below mainly covers the fabric qualities and impact.
Obviously, the ideal situation for the textile industry and the world is to reduce waste from pre and post production, cut harmful effects on the environment (see my article on RIVERBLUE), whilst still keeping costs minimal. Polyester (basically a plastic) and Cotton are the most dominant materials in the industry currently, yet both have disastrous effects on the environment and humans. There are more natural and sustainable materials creeping in to mainstream brand collections, so fingers crossed more investment and interest promotes more alternatives.
Cotton is a natural material which strangely requires a high amount of toxic pesticides, which are harmful to humans, animals and sea life. The manufacturing process for cotton also uses an extraordinarily high amount of water to produce. Organic Cotton has been a suitable alternative for this issue, using no pesticides, no harmful dyes and lower water quantities whilst replenishing the soil and agriculture. All round winner. The only downside is that it requires a more specialised process due to the lack of cheap toxins and therefore can be more expensive.
Polyester is a man made fibre, which can take up to 200 years to breakdown. It is produced from two types of oil and is used as it’s cheap and easy to manufacture. It is manufactured using toxic chemicals which are really harmful for the water systems they pollute and human inhalation. The process also emits a high amount of greenhouse emissions, adding to climate change.
Bamboo has made a big entrance into the fashion world, it’s fast growing and cheap – therefore the perfect addition to the textile industry with a low impact on the environment. It can be added into a blend when softened (bamboo leggings are all the rage don’t ya know!) Currently toxins are generally used during it’s production but companies are starting to look into more natural ways to manufacture it.
Wool like Cotton is a biodegradable fabric that can breakdown in compost, with a production process that is low impact (depending on if chemical dyes or toxins are added).
It looks like the industry is going back to nature and looking to natural textiles from plants, the ocean and food waste to produce sustainable textiles. A large portion of ‘sustainable fashion’ items are using a mix of recycled material i.e polyester and natural fabric. This is an ideal situation as it incorporates fabric that would otherwise be sitting in landfill, as long as the production process is eco friendly.
Hemp is currently being used already in certain types of clothing, however it hasn’t gone mainstream just yet. Made from the Marijuana plant, it’s a versatile plant and similar to Bamboo in that it’s fast growing and has a low impact on the environment. The one thing is being called a ‘hipster’ by all your mates for wearing Hemp clothes.
Chitin Fibre is derived from food waste, predominately from crustaceans shell. It’s super cheap and versatile, incorporating waste from the food industry. It’s already being used for a large variety of manufacturing processes and can decrease the use of artificial dyes due to it’s bonding property. Watch this space.
Seaweed is apparently a very versatile and low environment impact material, however I can’t see it going mainstream…mainly because…it’s seaweed.
Banana Fibre is similar to Bamboo in that it’s versatile when softened and cheap. It has been suggested to be better than Bamboo as it’s one of the strongest fibres, hopefully it can be rolled out to commercial use since it’s environmentally friendly as it’s biodegradable.
Pineapple leather + silk is quite an exciting material, mainly because it’s already been patented. Pinatex is a registered company which produces leather products from pineapple using an environmentally friendly process using pineapple plant waste and natural dyes.
Coconut fibre called Coir is made from coconut husks that have been disregarded (if you’ve been to Sri Lanka you’ll have seen this). It isn’t as versatile as it’s a very rough material, it could be used however for things such as bags, shoes or brushes. It’s already in the works in Sri Lanka.
Corn fibre is a versatile and cheap material, that can have no impact on the environment. Ingeo is a current start-up attempting to use it for manufacturing clothing. They have used the dextrose in corn fibre which can be used in a wide variety of things from electrical to apparel. The corn fibre is taken from crops that have been grown for other purposes.
There are lots more exciting materials out there, this awesome article from 1 Million Women can tell you more. The key point to make is that it’s not just the fibre itself, it’s the way they are manufactured and how they are disposed of. There are lots of exciting processes and strategies out there that large brands have incorporated, we just need more brands to get on board. As consumers YOU have the power.