Many of us are up for the challenge of living life in the slow lane, ditching the single-use plastics and shopping organically. When it comes to making changes to our wardrobe choices it can be a little confusing.
Dressing and shopping sustainably isn’t as easy as checking the label. So many brands and businesses are describing themselves as sustainable these days that it is important you do your research on who you’re shopping with.
At UCM, we want to help break down the jargon, so we have put together a guide on the most common used fabrics in fashion and how sustainable they are. The first thing to note is that it isn’t so cut and dry… No fabric is without its impact.
It’s fashions favourite fibre because of its light, soft, breathable and absorbent characteristics. It’s a fabric we use on a daily basis from our clothing to our bedding.
It’s a natural fibre unlike other common clothing fibres such as synthetic polyester, however its production is haunted by pollution, exploitation and slavery. Conventional cotton farming has a huge impact on the environment as explained below.
Cotton is a thirsty crop, it needs a lot of irrigation so it uses huge amounts of water. You also need to consider the water pollution caused during the chemical/dyeing process within cotton production.
Another issue is it’s use of artificial and toxic pesticides. Not only do they cause further pollution in local waterways, they also prove harmful to the farmers and pickers that come into contact with the crop.
By switching to organic cotton the whole supply chain has a lower environmental impact, from how it’s grown to the dyeing and finishing processes. Choosing organic means the system is regulated so it can decompose easily.
Make sure when looking for organic alternatives you search for Soil Association–certified or clothing which adheres to the Global Organic Textile Standard as that means it's fully traceable.
Polyester is a synthetic fibre. It’s a common plastic whose application stretches beyond the fashion industry. It’s not a fibre that’s been around forever, advances in the 40s meant man-made fibres were introduced as an alternative to cotton, wool and linen.
It’s made using fossil fuels, a limited resource, and the production itself is very polluting.
During it’s lifecycle polyester contributes to microfiber pollution in our oceans (it sheds every time you wash it!). Also polyester isn’t biodegradable.
Recycled polyester uses PET (polyethylene terephthalate) as the raw material. This is the same material that is used in clear plastic water bottles. Recycling it to create this fabric prevents it from going to landfill. Recycled polyester takes on properties of water-resistant materials
Recycled polyester still has it’s footprint however, and like with regular polyester it still contributes to microfibre pollution.
It seems like hemp is everywhere at the moment. Marijuana’s ‘sober cousin’ is extremely versatile: it’s used as a food, a building material, in cosmetics, and it has been cultivated and used for hundreds of years as a fabric.
It’s often paired with more old school sustainability and the ‘unwashed hipped’ ideals which hasn’t necessarily boosted the image of hemp, but it seems to be making a comeback now that big name brands are beginning to adopt more sustainable practices.
The great thing about hemp is that it’s grown all around the world and it requires very little water, no pesticides, and naturally fertilises the soil it grows in, all of which make it much better for the environment than other crops.
Above image is figure 1: Photo by Mari Helin on Unsplash