Which textile materials are more sustainable?
All this news about the climate crisis makes us want to make sustainable choices when buying clothes and prioritise sustainable textile materials. But what exactly are sustainable materials? That’s the million-dollar question! The truth is that determining a raw material’s sustainability isn’t a black-and-white matter. There’re a variety of factors to consider, including those we’re going to talk about here.
Sustainable materials definition
Sustainable materials are those that are produced in an environmentally, economically, and socially responsible manner. Its production aims to protect natural resources, the environment, animals, and people's health, as well as being economically viable and fair trade.
We must consider the big picture
The first things that may come to mind when we think about sustainable materials are that they should consist of natural fibres or be recycled, they should be organic and biological, without harmful pesticides and chemicals in their production.
But a garment made from 100% natural fibres or from recycled materials, for e.g., may not be truly sustainable. The issue is more complicated. To assess a raw material’s impact, it’s important to do so in a holistic and comprehensive manner that considers the full lifecycle of a product.
What questions should we ask?
When we try to assess whether a raw material is sustainable, we must consider some questions and criteria, such as:
Integrity: What is the material composition? Is it fossil fuel-based or natural? Is it made from recycled or virgin materials?
Land impacts: What impacts does the creation of this raw material have on the environment? How does extracting this raw material affect biodiversity? Does it contribute to deforestation?
Processing and manufacturing: What natural resources are used in converting this raw material into a finished product? How many greenhouse gas emissions are being generated? What chemicals are used? How are they being managed to protect the environment?
Packaging and distribution: What materials are used in the packaging of the product? How many miles do the raw materials and the finished product travel until they reach the customer? What are the shipping emissions?
Durability: How long will this raw material last?
Carbon footprint per use: How carbon-intensive is it to make this raw material? What are the CO2 emissions per wear?
Care: How does caring for this raw material (e.g., washing, drying, maintenance) impact the planet?
Animal welfare: Is it a product of animal origin? How are the animals in the supply chain treated? Is it a byproduct or coproduct of another industry?
Fair trade and social standards: Does the fairtrade seal guarantee fair wages and humane working conditions for workers?
- Circularity and post-use product lifecycle: Is this raw material repairable? If it isn’t, how should it be disposed of? Is it upcyclable, recyclable, biodegradable, or compostable?
You can also check out our article about the different types of fabrics to understand their advantages and disadvantages.
And how can we find answers to these questions?
Research. Check the product label or the seller's website and look for compositions, production methods, and certifications. Research the brand. Dig into their website, social media, or through third-party sources to learn more about their sustainability practices.
And run away from greenwashing! Unfortunately, some companies make us believe that they are environmentally friendly or have a greater positive environmental, economic, and social impact, when in fact they aren’t.
Is being sustainable easy? No. But is it important? Hell yes!
Why should we care about sustainability?
The fashion industry is notorious for being one of the biggest contributors to environmental pollution worldwide. The production of clothing requires vast amounts of resources, including water, energy, and chemicals. So, at the end of the day, the most important thing is to consume less and bet on high-quality and durable materials.
The most sustainable garment is the one already in your wardrobe.
Orsola de Castro, Co-founder of the Fashion Revolution and author
From the day we arrive on the planet, we’re creating an impact on him, so what we can and should do is take advantage of this era where access to information is at our fingertips. Ask a lot of questions, and with the information you get, try to reduce your footprint as much as possible, within your capabilities.