Slowly but surely, fashion is changing. We know more about the impact fashion has on our beloved planet earth, and finally realize things have to change. We start to realize that traditional cotton, the main supplier of fabrics, is not necessarily the way to go anymore. If you are new to the complex world of sustainable fashion and are surprised by this statement; let me state some figures about cotton. After that, you may want to look at the alternatives I will list for you.
Cotton is by far the most popular ingredient for garments: it is being used for about 5000 years already and it has grown to an industry so huge that, according to the documentary The True Cost, 1 of every 6 people works in the cotton industry. That means that an incredibly amount of households depend on the fluffy flower. And not necessarily satisfied families. Cotton farmers and workers are underpaid and suicide is a common death cause. The farmers have to work with highly toxic chemicals and pesticides, causing diseases which often lead to death due to lack of proper healthcare. 16% of all the pesticides used in the world is for cotton farming. Not only does that affect the cotton farmers, but also the soil and earth. Not even mentioning it gets into the fabric that we wear on our skins.
The impact on the environment ends not there. Cotton is a very thirsty plant. For one outfit, say jeans and a shirt, 10.000 liters of water is needed for growing the cotton alone. This cannot be supplied by rain alone. Water shortages, empty lakes and dried soils as result.
I could go on, but I believe you’ll get it. Oh, did I mention cotton clothes are very hard to recycle or degrade? Cotton is in ⅔ of all our clothes. So if you go for cotton, try to shop organic cotton and/or fairtrade or recycled cotton. There are various labels and certificates to recognize all of the types of cotton.
As being said before, we realize more and more we should look for alternatives and that challenges the industry to come with more environmentally friendly solutions. With current technology, it seems like we can make fashion from nearly everything! I heard about garments from milk, mushrooms, nettle, fruits, seaweed, coffee and what not. Super interesting developments, but I will list some of my favorite alternatives for you, which you find in stores already!
Lyocell / Tencel
Lyocell is definitely my favorite (Tencel is the brand name of this material). As a matter of fact, I am wearing a Tencel dress in the picture. My brother likes to refer to it as ‘The Tree’. Understandably, as Lyocell is made from wood coming from sustainable forests, mostly eucalyptus. It is processed without any chemicals in a closed system, so there will be no loss of materials and the material is biodegradable.
Moreover, the fabric is so super soft, yet super strong. Now I want to make a joke about treehuggers, but can’t come up with a good one.
Bamboo / Monocel
Bamboo as material is a tricky one. Let me explain. Bamboo grows fast, some even one meter per day! Therefor it is labeled as sustainable. However, bamboo is rigid and needs a lot of chemicals to be transformed to fabric. Instead, look for bio-certified bamboo or Monocel. Monocel is bamboo produced in a closed system.
Bamboo fabric is soft, much softer than cotton and breathable.
Not to be mistaken with regular polyester, which is a synthetic fabric made from raw oil and takes a lot of toxics, energy and water.
Recycled polyester is also synthetic, but made from recycled plastic like PET-bottles. The result is very durable and strong. However, PET-bottles contains toxins that were never meant to touch our skin and when the fabric is washed, it will give off micro-plastics that cannot be filtered.
As a conclusion, I like recycled polyester in my fight against plastic waste. But I look for this material when shopping for bags or raincoats for example: fashion you don’t have to wash often.
Linen is made from a plant called flax and is very strong. The fibers don’t need much pesticides. Choose a bio-variant if you want to eliminate all toxins. The advantage of linen is that is often high quality and looks luxurious, the disadvantage is that it wrinkles rather quickly.
(Fruit) leather / Piñatex
I have to commit that I love leather. I love the durability and how it ages. I don’t love the fact that many animals are killed just for their skin. Therefor I prefer brands that use leather that was a by product from the meat industry or brands that use leftover leather.
Current technologies allows entrepreneurs to make vegan leather. GASP. Amazing. It has the same look and feel as regular leather, for example the picture below. This boot is made from leftover fruit peels from the food industry. Can it get any better?