Photo: collection of nettle based fashion from Netl .
Since the start of The Talking Thread we have learned a lot about the materials used in fashion. We learned most of the fabrics produced are made of mixed fibers which is hard to recycle. So 100% pure cotton it is? Not really, since cotton is treated with toxics and pesticides. What about 100% organic cotton? Well, that doesn’t solve the high water usage (8000 liters per kg cotton) and the deforestation as cotton plantations take up 2,5% of all (!) usable farming ground.
Polyester seems to beat cotton in terms of water usage and ability to be recycled (according to some sources, not all), it can be washed at very low temperatures and it doesn’t wear out quickly. Yet, with every time it gets washed, polyester loses about 1900 plastic fibers which end up our oceans.
And so I can go on about most of the controversial materials we use for our garments. It can be very complex and confusing. Very.
On our journey towards a sustainable wardrobe we came across alternatives like bamboo, hemp and lyocell. Yet in this blog post I want to inform you about a new player in this sustainable field: nettle.
Nettle grows rapidly and easily. It doesn’t take up as much water as cotton, it doesn’t need as much sunlight, it barely needs pesticides and it takes up colour very easily so not much chemicals are needed during the dyeing process. That sounds great, but how is this little stingy plant transformed into super soft fabric? Carla Wobma, founder of Netl, explains.
The nettle is grown in the Netherlands, and is harvested in August when the plants are about 2 to 3 meters high. After the woody parts of the stem are stripped of, the raw fibers are softened during a bio-fermentation process. The fibers will have a spa day with a softening treatment while plant-remains are being removed. In big bulks, the nettle will be transported throughout Europe where the nettle fibers are spun, dyed and transformed into fabrics. Tadaa.
The big question is though, if it is that simple, why o why don’t we all wear nettle? Well first of all, nettle fibers are super new and not well known yet. And so it is not wanted by buyers. It is hard for a newbie to win it from the big and famous cotton.
Secondly, for full collections made out of nettle, there is simply not enough nettle grown and harvested. Instead, companies like Netl (which unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore) chose to combine the eco-fibers with cotton for example. This way the nettle is as widespread as possible to get as much people as possible familiar with this plant. Carla Wobma, ‘The goal of Netl was to experiment with the endless possibilities of nettle. Clothing is just one example. Eventually, nettle is not going to replace cotton, but instead become an additional fiber. However, every percent of cotton replaced by nettle is a positive step forwards’.
I am convinced and definitely want to try nettle based garments. However it doesn’t mean that fashion pollution will be diminished. The production of every fabric from whatever material is still combined with the use of pesticides or (high) water usage or waste. It is a question of what is the least harmful option and to keep innovating. Until then, keep your eyes open for nettle based textiles in for example a previous mini collection of G-star jeans, isolation materials or interior textiles from the British Camira Fabrics.