Eco-Friendly Fashion – Part 1 of 2

Fabrics for Eco-Fashion

 

It used to be that eco-fashion meant rustic, itchy fabrics and earthy, drab colours.  But today’s Green fashion is high quality, luxurious, soft fabrics in cutting edge, designer styles – and usually with superior characteristics and a lower cost than traditional fabrics.

Eco-fashion, also known as ‘sustainable fashion’, is defined by the Sustainable Technology Education Project (STEP) as clothes “that take into account the environment, the health of consumers and the working conditions of people in the fashion industry”.

Here are some of the friendly eco-fashion fabrics you might find, although some are friendlier than others.

 

Bamboo

Bamboo is a grass, so it is biodegradable and has the ability to breathe.  As the fastest growing plant in the world, it is also highly renewable.  It has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.  The fabric is soft, luxurious, stretchy, comfortable, and strong – great for daily wear and active wear.

 

Banana

The stem and leaves are processed to make a type of rayon.  The left-over rayon from processing is also reclaimed and made into yarns for knitting.  Banana fabric is made in SouthEast Asia, particularly Nepal.

 

Corn

The starch and sugars are extracted from corn, and processed to make a fibre called Natureworks PLA.  This process is currently being done by Cargill Dow Polymers, and the resulting fabric is called Ingeo.  The fabrics are comfortable and can resemble cotton, silk and wool, but with a lower cost, easier care, higher durability and superior wicking capabilities.

 

Cotton -Organic

Non-organic cotton accounts for approximately 10 percent of the world’s pesticides, and 25 percent of the world’s insecticides.  These chemicals are associated with health consequences such as cancer, birth defects, and asthma.  Non-natural bleaches and dyes release further toxins.  Organic cotton is from non-genetically modified plants that are grown chemical-free. The textiles are often dyed with natural dyes.

 

Fish Skin

After the inside of the fish is removed for consumption, the fish skin is dried, bleached, and made into leather.  Fish skin is more luxurious and more durable than cow or goat skin.

 

Flax

Linen is obtained from fibers of the flax plant, and so it is biodegradable and recyclable.  The production takes less water and energy than cotton.  The fabric can range from very fine to very coarse.

 

Hemp

Hemp plants grow quickly and densely.  They require only an average amount of water and are pest-resistant.  They do not require herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers.  Hemp can be spun into yarns with minimum processing.  The fibres are more durable, absorbent, and insulating than cotton.

 

Jute

Jute is a fiber taken from the skin of a plant grown in South-East Asia.   Because it is coarse and strong it is used for durable products such as sacks, rugs and rope.

 

Milk

Now you can get the near-effect of a milk bath in your clothing.  The milk proteins are extracted from dried milk, put into a chemical solution, and then whirled to make the fibers.  The resulting soft fabric helps maintain the skin’s moisture.

 

Nettle

Stinging Nettle plants are highly resistant to parasites and vermin, and grow in temperate climates.  The fabric is similar to hemp and linen.  The nettle fiber is unique in that it is hollow, making it highly insulating.

 

Peace Silk

Conventional silk requires that the silkworms are killed.  To make peace silk, the silkworms leave the cocoon, and the silk filament is spun.  The fabric is lighter than regular silk.

 

Ramie

Ramie is the fiber taken from the bark of a nettle plant grown in Eastern Asia, particularly China.  Ramie is strong, but not resilient.  It has industrial uses (fishing nets, for example), although it also used for garments, particularly when combined with another fiber.

 

Recycled Plastic

The polymer from recycled soft drink bottles is melted and extruded as a new fibre.  It reduces energy consumption and saves raw materials.  The polyester is more fire-retardant, easy to clean, and inexpensive.  A particular brand of polyester is a warm and durable eco-fashion fleece popular among back-packers.

 

Seaweed

We know it’s healthy to ingest, but apparently it’s also healthy to wear.  SeaCell, the fiber made from seaweed, is soft, breathable, and luxurious.  The high nutrient content, combined with anti-inflammatory properties, contribute to the well-being that people experience when the fiber is next to the skin.

 

Soy

Soy fabric is made from the by-products of tofu.  The liquid is extruded into fibres, which are dried and then spun into yarns.  The high protein content allows it to easily absorb natural dyes.  The fabric is soft, luxurious and breathable, as well as durable and washable.  It is often referred to as “vegetable cashmere”.

 

Spiders in Goat Milk

Goats’ eggs are mixed with genetic material from spiders, so that the female goats produce milk that contains silk fibres.  The resulting fibre is biodegradable and durable.  The downside:  it’s genetic engineering, and kind of gross.

 

Tussah Silk

Tussah silk is wild, as opposed to cultivated, and is found in tropical areas.  The silk is gathered after the moth leaves the cocoon.

 

Wood Pulp

Rayon and rayon-viscose are fabrics that are made from wood pulp.  Lyocell is a type of rayon, but with different properties.  Lyocell is made from wood pulp cellulose, which is broken down chemically and then extruded through a spinneret into fibers.  The  biodegradable fabric comes in a variety of brand names.  Each brand uses the cellulose from specific trees, such as oak, birch, eucalyptus, spruce, white pine and white fir.  The fabric properties depend on the type of tree used; for example, lyocell from eucalyptus is anti-bacterial.

 

Wool – Organic

The downside:  1. Sheep manure leaches into the water supply.  2. Bleaching and dyeing creates toxins which are released into the air and water.  The upside:  Wool is a renewable resource, and natural dyes can be used.  For organic wool, the livestock’s food is organic, and no growth hormones or synthetic insecticides are used.

 

Karen Brunger, BHEC, AICI CIP is President of International Image Institute Inc. and Past-President of the Association of Image Consultants International