Today I would like to attract attention to the materials our clothes are made of and focus on the sustainable and ethical options out there.
Nowadays, public awareness of how much contamination the fashion industry makes is increasing. In fact, if you Google it, the first thing you’ll find is that the textile and fashion industry is the world’s second most polluting industry, only behind the oil industry. This is just horrendous, isn’t it?
But, it’s not all bad news. This increased awareness is creating a change in the way people shop, meaning that a demand for eco-conscious and sustainable textiles in fashion is rising as well. Thankfully, we have pioneers in ethical clothing who are already investing all their efforts into reducing the impact the fashion industry has on our planet, creating new clothes made from more sustainable materials that are higher quality, longer-lasting, chemical-free, and which, importantly, bring no harm to the people involved in their manufacture.
Let’s have a look at some of these materials and why we should swap to them.
Why is organic cotton one of the best alternative materials for ethical, sustainable fashion?
First you need to know a few facts about conventional cotton and what’s involved in its growth and production. Conventional cotton uses tons of chemicals in its production every year. To give you a shocking example, cotton production is responsible for the consumption of more than 15% of the world’s total production of pesticides and more than 25% of insecticides. And the result of this? These toxic ingredients are extremely harmful for the farmers who grow the cotton and the workers who manufacture the clothes made with it. These people working to make the clothes we are wearing are in contact with these dangerous chemicals every day, breathing in their toxic fumes, exposing their skin to irritants, and, to put it simply, putting their health and lives at risk for fashion.
I recently watched the Netflix documentary “The True Cost” (a fantastic, in-depth documentary that explores the modern fast-fashion industry and its planetary consequences) and one of the things that shocked me the most was discovering how much damage the harvesting and production of cotton has on people’s health. I mean, farmers and workers are developing life-threatening health problems as terrible as cancer simply from being involved in the production of conventional cotton. When you start to think of the sheer quantity of chemicals, dangerous substances and victims involved in the whole process of producing something as day-to-day as cotton, it’s clear to see why we need to bring about a radical change in the fashion industry for good. In addition to the human impact, there are also the environmental damages with entire eco-systems poisoned. As always, they only ones who really benefit are those interested in profit at all costs. And what better way to see profits increase than invest in the rapid, toxic, cheap labour produced conventional cotton.
As sad a picture as conventional cotton production paints, organic cotton offers significant hope. But what is it about organic cotton that makes it so different? Well, the main and most important thing is that there are no chemicals used in organic cotton production AT ALL. The crops are not genetically modified and at no point are they treated with pesticides or insecticides, not while they are being grown, nor while they are being harvested. Chemicals are also absent in the manufacturing process of the clothes and in the post-production phases of the garments. Organic cotton is a completely natural, 100% plant-based fibre which is harmless for human health and the environment. It is also safer for the workers involved in its production because it is much more regulated than conventional cotton which means better working conditions for workers and zero exposure at work to dangerous chemicals or hazardous substances.
Last but not least, it is a skin-friendly, super soft and soothing material. While conventional cotton can cause skin irritation and rashes (don’t forget, it’s full of horrible chemicals that are in contact with your skin all the time), organic cotton is just wonderful on your skin and believe me once you try it you won’t be able to go back to the conventional variety. Simply impossible. And yet, despite all these huge benefits, less than 1% of all cotton grown is organic. Quite sad…
People Tree (I don’t think I’ll ever stop singing their praises) is one of many brands using certified organic cotton for its clothes. All of their t-shirts are made with organic cotton and I am absolutely in love with them. They feel amazing and they are also super stylish. The ones I’ve bought so far are fabulous to wear to the office with chino trousers and also perfect with jeans for a more casual look. I can’t stop wearing them 🙂
TENCEL has been awarded with the European Community Eco-Label flower for products and services which reduce environmental impact. But what is TENCEL? That was the question that came to my mind the first time I heard about it; what was it and why was it more sustainable than other materials?
Firstly, TENCEL is only the brand name for a fibre which is also called lyocell. This cellulose fibre comes from eucalyptus trees that are grown on sustainable farms and forest plantations. These plantations must be FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified to guarantee that their production entails socially and environmentally responsible forestry. So what’s the process involved in its production? TENCEL is made by an environmentally conscious process which involves dissolving and spinning the eucalyptus wood pulp. What makes this such a sustainable process is that its production involves absolutely no toxic substances and produces barely any waste whatsoever. It’s created in what we call a ‘closed loop’ in which the solvents used to dissolve the pulp are recycled again and again with a recovery rate of 99%. Of the 1% not recovered and the minute amount of waste leftover, it’s spread over soil and decomposed by biological purification plants. Wow!
After reading all these things about TENCEL I was very curious. I wanted to know how it looked and felt as a fabric. I looked online and I finally decided to buy this lovely floral-print blue dress from People Tree. I haven’t wore it yet as it’s still too cold, but I can’t wait for the good weather to arrive and put it on! The texture feels very soft and delicate and the shape of the dress is gorgeous.
Hemp is a plant famously known for being part of the cannabis’ family. However not a lot of people know that Hemp has been cultivated and used in the creation of items of clothing for thousand of years and it is actually a sustainable fibre from which to make clothes.
This plant naturally repels pests so no pesticides or insecticides are needed and it gives back to the soil 60-70% of the nutrients it takes from it. It is therefore naturally very friendly to the environment and it’s cultivation helps to maintain healthy soil. We also mustn’t forget that it’s one of those plants that absorbs as much CO2 while it grows as it emits making it carbon-neutral. The other really cool thing about Hemp is that it doesn’t need as much water as cotton, takes up less space, and grows in a wide variety of climates and soil types. All wonderful farming benefits.
The process used to turn Hemp from a plant to fabric is called “retting’ and it can be done perfectly well organically and without the use of chemicals. Sadly some companies are using chemicals in order to get more product in as little time as possible. This, of course, damages the environment and the health of the workers so we need to be extra careful and ask our brands how and where they are making the fabrics used to make our clothes. If there is one thing I have learned from writing this blog, it’s that every link in the fashion industry’s production chain is important. From the seeds right through to when the clothes reach the stores, every step matters. There are people involved all throughout the process of making our clothes and we must never forget that.
I have bought this lovely hemp pink blouse from the brand Thought. This brand only uses sustainable and natural materials so you can trust there haven’t been any chemicals involved in the production of its Hemp clothing. The blouse is perfect for spring and summer as it feels light and it is very comfortable to wear, ideal for the warmer seasons. The design is also pretty timeless…made to be worn year after year 🙂
I know there are more materials and fibres out there just waiting to be found. If you feel like it, help me out and let me know which other clothing materials you have found which are sustainable and ethical?