The fashion industry just might be the second most polluting right after the oil industry. The business has evolved around a supply chain that is difficult to grasp at once; it includes finding raw materials, manufacturing textiles, clothing processing, and logistics. Without a doubt, pesticides used in cotton farming and toxic dyes used in producing clothes amount to tons of waste that the industry leaves behind. The industry also uses a large amount of natural resources. For example, thousands of liters of water are needed to manufacture a t-shirt and a pair of jeans, and the manufacturing and dyeing of fabrics is chemically intensive, which in turn has a significant impact on the environment. Naturally, the use of sustainable materials helps reduce environmental impact compared with other synthetics, especially materials used in the fast fashion industry.
Today, we’re continuously warned of the effects of pollution. Positively though, a growing amount of awareness throughout industries is picking up, including the fashion industry, that are trying to focus on more sustainable production and development methods. Accordingly, the fashion industry is slowly moving towards sustainable design by using sustainable materials in the hope of minimizing environmental impact.
Why is the use of sustainable materials important for designer?
As consumers are more aware of the impacts that their decisions have on the environment, clothes made of sustainable materials have gained huge popularity. As an example, natural fibers like cotton and bamboo have lower environmental impact than synthetic ones, like spandex and polyester. By using sustainable materials in clothing, it increases the lifetime of the apparel and minimizes wear and tear and the need for special cleaning. Selecting green materials also means less toxic inks and dyes and more natural ones. Interestingly though, the ratio 50/50 of cotton and polyester mixes may last even twice as long as 100% cotton, so in terms of water used for washing the clothes, this alternative might reduce environmental impact.
Selecting sustainable materials for a design is not only a good way to make a lasting design but it also generates goodwill among customers who want to make a positive impact on the environment.
Tips for choosing the right materials
In general, materials used in clothing can be categorized into three types: natural, semisynthetic and synthetic. Natural materials originate from nature, and are extracted from plants and animals. Plant-based materials include cotton, linen, hemp and raffia. Meanwhile, common animal-based materials include wool, silk and cashmere that come from sheep, silk worms or goats.
Synthetic materials include polyester, nylon and acrylic. These materials don’t exist naturally; they are made in factories through an industrial manufacturing process in which petroleum is extracted from the earth and mechanically transformed into fibers for our clothing. Although synthetic fibers are soft and feel even silky, they are actually plastic. You know, polyester is made of the same materials used to make plastic bottles.
Semi-synthetic materials are a mixture of natural and synthetic materials. However, they are processed and chemically converted into fibers that are then used in clothing. These materials include rayon, modal, or bamboo.
What to wear in different occasions
For summer clothing, ditch cotton. Choose linen, hemp, and organic cotton instead. Why? Because although cotton is a natural fiber, it is still one of the most environmentally intensive materials as it requires a lot of pesticides and fertilizers to grow. It consumes a lot of water, and a majority of cotton is grown by using genetically modified seeds. These genetically modified crops present a whole new wave of environmental issues, such as soil and water pollution and threatens biodiversity. On the other hand, organic cotton is a better option as it’s grown without using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and uses non-genetically modified seeds. Linen and hemp are also much less polluting. They are considered extremely sustainable materials since they don’t require pesticides or fertilizers to grow; they also need less water. Organic cotton is a better option as a sustainable material as it is grown without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and using non-genetically modified seeds.
For the winter, choose alpaca over cashmere, if you want to decrease your environmental footprint.
For athletic wear and other clothing that require synthetic materials, pass on polyester in favor of recycled post-consumer PET, as the plastic waste we generate can be then recycled to form polyester fibers for new clothing. Using the recycled post-consumer PET can help reduce plastic waste and decrease our reliance on fossil fuels.
For evening wear, choose silk because it’s natural, durable and doesn’t have a significant impact on the environment, unlike polyester that is most often used for evening dresses.
However, there isn’t one perfectly sustainable material. But it’s good to be aware of the different alternatives while selecting materials for a design properly.
FactoryFinder and sustainable material
Are you a fashion designer? Or are you starting your career as a fashion designer but have no idea of what types of sustainable materials can be used in your designs? FactoryFinder can help you with that. We help designers connect with sustainable suppliers. Factoryfinder’s local team always checks the material and quality of the production in order to ensure the manufacturing process is sustainable and responsible.
We offer a full service ranging from sourcing to selecting suitable materials all the way to helping you get to final production. We also support you with logistics and customs issues. You’re always welcome to contact us, because at Factoryfinder we’re always ready to help you.