Admittedly, when we first started researching eco-fashion labels, we were a little overwhelmed with the terminology and the criticism/support for the various types of materials and practices employed.
So we created this Eco Dictionary to help you dig deeper into the types of fabric, processes and treatments used by our portfolio of designers. There is no one solution to the ecological and social issues created by the fashion industry, but we hope this dictionary will bring clarity and help you make wiser choices as a consumer.
Alcantara is an artificial substitute for suede, developed in Japan in the 70’s and now only produced in Italy, composed of about 68% polyester and 32% polyurethane.
-Alcantara is made from synthetic petrochemicals, hence there is the environmetal impact of using/sourcing non-renewable energy resources.
-Non - biodegradable, therefore unless recycled in a special facility, may end up sitting around long after we are all gone, polluting the environment and damaging natural ecosystems
-Vegan friendly - has the velvety texture of suede that doesn't cost the life of a cow.
-Since 2009, the producers of Alcantara have quantified, reduced and compensated all the CO2 emissions produced by the production processes of its material.
-The company has also supported a number of projects linked to renewable energy and certified by the UN.
Designers: Hien Le
Bamboo is a grass and has been measured growing as fast as one metre (39 inches) in one day! For the last few years it has been touted as the best eco friendly material to date.
-Hard wood takes 30-50 years to mature, while bamboo reaches maturity in 3-5 years.
-The same square footage of bamboo produces more oxygen than many tree varieties.
-Due to the durability of bamboo plants, no pesticides or chemicals are needed to encourage the maturation process, and they require much less water than trees.
-Bamboo products may decompose into a completely reusable and nutrient-rich composted soil.
- In China bamboo fabric industry may be contributing to the replacement of rich eco-systems with mono-cultural stands of bamboo, decreasing habitat capable of sustaining biodiversity.
-Natural bamboo processing will generate textiles with a tough linen-like finish. The soft, tencel-like bamboo is actually a rayon. In order to make bamboo fabric silky soft, it has to be processed with solvents such as caustic soda and carbon disulphide, which have been linked to health problems.
-This heavy chemical dependant process generates water and air emissions. Of particular concern is the emission of zinc and hydrogen sulphide.
Solution? Bamboo fabric can be processed through a closed loop system in which harmful chemicals are either repeatedly reused or treated so that they do not harm the environment and this is starting to happen more often. (Read more at http://green.wikia.com/wiki/Bamboo:_An_Eco-Friendly_Fabric%3F)
Cashllama ™ is the result of a worldwide-patented dehairing process of llamas, making it a completely unique and incredibly soft textile. One factory in the highest peaks of the Andes developed this method of removing all of the course outer layers of llama fleece and leaving only the soft, long strand inner layers.
It is this soft inner layer that contains the softness, strength and thermal qualities unique to llamas and other camelids.This new and sustainable textile is:
The entire process is ecologically sound and environmentally friendly. From the llama, to the hands of local Bolivians who work with it.
The cotton industry is a pretty dirty business that accounts for 25 percent of the global insecticide use, while consuming nearly $2.6 billion worth of pesticides a year, more than any other single crop worldwide. Not to mention that cotton is a very water-dependent crop. 100% Organic cotton is its alternative:
-No toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are used in the production
-Federal regulations prohibit the use of GM seed for organic farming
-Plus organic production systems replenish/maintain soil fertility + aim to build biologically diverse agriculture
-Lower crop yield and industrial efficiency
-Still as thirsty as normal cotton
Designers: Groceries Apparel, Tricotage, Fleabags, The Sway
Cotton recycling does not use any new pesticides or dyes.
-The impact on the environment is reduced (plus it takes less time and money) because the process skips the intensive process of harvesting, spinning and dying of new cotton.
-It extends the life of the fibre preventing more clothes being dumped into landfill
-Difficult to implement on a large scale
-Cotton fibres shorten during the process making weaker threads and reducing the potential for future reuse
Designers: The Sway, Fleabags
The textile industry is heavily dependent on chemicals for dyeing. “During the dyeing process an average t-shirt will use 16-20 litres of water. 80% of the dye is retained by the fabric and the rest is flushed out. The global textile industry discharges 40,000 – 50,000 tons of dye into the water system and Europe discharges 200,000 tons of salt.” Cambridge University, Well Dressed report
-It's the number #1 polluter of clean water (after agriculture)
-The waste in textile mills include formaldehyde, chlorine and heavy metals such as lead and mercury, these have a terrible effect on the environment, polluting whole river beds.
- The final product, finished dyed textiles still contain traces of chemicals, that have been shown to be carcinogenic for humans. Of particular concern are the Azo dyes, used to give some garments their vibrant yellow, reds, and orange colors, which have been linked to cancer.
-Chemical dyes are cheap
-Precise in producing correct colors
Natural dyes are dyes derived from animal or plant material without any synthetic chemical treatment. They are obtained from sources like flowers, leaves, insects, bark roots and even minerals
-The majority of the time they require extra amount of fixatives (so called mordants) to make the colour stay on the fabric. These mordants are toxic and high impact, reducing the positive aspect of natural dyes.
-Natural dyes normally require much greater energy in the dyeing process as they usually need high temperature baths for longer periods of time than synthetic dyes.
-They can be grown organically and are carbon neutral and their use brings great benefits at an artisanal level.
A low-impact dye is a dye that has been classified by the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 (an international certification process) as eco-friendly. Fibre-reactive dyes are low-impact synthetic dyes that directly bond with the garment fibres rather than merely remaining as an independent chemical entity within the fibre.
Designer: Groceries Apparel
- like other environmentally damaging dyes, reactive dyes are made from synthetic petrochemicals.
- the process requires very high concentrations of salt (0%-80% of the weight of the goods dyed), alkali and water.
- it's quite expensive, whereas conventional dye is cheap.
- contain no heavy metals or other known toxic substances, and do not need mordants.
- fixation or absorption rate of low-impact dyes is at least 70%, creating less waste water runoff than conventional dyeing processes.
- applied at relatively low temperatures (30ºC compared to the 100ºC needed for direct dyes), saving energy
- the high cost of this dye becomes an environmental advantage, as it is cheaper to reclaim dye from its effluent rather than discharge it all and start from scratch.
- the dye cycle is shorter than it is for other dye processes, meaning less water, salt and chemicals are needed.
Designers: Groceries Apparel
Just like any industrial process, conventional textile printing requires raw materials, consumes energy and produces waste. Yet, there is considerable scope for reducing the impact of the process. One the best alternatives to plate based printing that has emerged in the last few years is digital printing.
-Digital Printing uses cleaner consumables,
-Is a more efficient printing process that is urea-free,
-Uses less water, less energy and much less chemicals,
- Any printing companies who implement digital printing technology use Dry Toner Ink, these produce virtually no hazardous Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and do not require chemicals for clean up.
Lyocell is a man-made fibre derived from cellulose, better known under the brand name Tencel.
-Though it is related to rayon and modal, a revolutionary aspect of Tencel® manufacturing is the recovery and reuse of up to 99.8 percent of the solvent with the remaining emissions are broken down in biological water treatment plants.
-Processing of Tencel® requires less energy and water than that of cotton
-The trees used are usually grown without pesticides
-Shipping the raw materials needed to make Tencel® throughout the world requires quite a lot of energy, as does the production process
Designers: Isaebell De Hillerin
Modal a semi-synthetic cellulose fibre made by spinning reconstituted cellulose usually from beech trees.
-Modal's texture is similar to silk or cotton and the material stays soft through repeated washings
-biodegradable + 50% more water-absorbent than cotton, dyes just as well, holds colour fast, and is resistant to fading.
-Prone to stretching and pilling + requires a lot of ironing
-Similar to tencel, shipping the raw materials needed to make modal throughout the world requires quite a lot of energy, as does the production process
Designers: Isabell de Hillerin, Partimi
The leather tanning industry has been ranked as the fifth worse polluting industry by the New York based NGO, Blacksmith Institute. Take Bangladesh, one of the leather capitals of the world: from asthma to cancer, more than 90 percent of tannery workers in the country suffer from some kind of disease because of chemical exposure, reveals a report by AFP. In the Hazaribag district of Dhaka alone, hundreds of tanneries dump 22,000 cubic liters of toxic waste—including cancer-causing chromium—into the Buriganga, the region’s main river and a central water supply. (See www.ecouterre.com for a full report).
What are the alternatives? A consumer can either choose to wear vegan leather or look into up-cycled leather.
Up-cycled (re-cycled) leather, usually comes from two sources. Leather waste (excesses) that is the result of the inefficient manufacturing processes (rather common) or vintage leather pieces/old leather pieces that would probably end up in landfill, both sources provide rich inspiration for designers allowing them to take the materials and remodel them into brand new pieces.
-Saving energy, decreasing the use of chemicals and hence the environmental pollution, as well as reducing the need to slaughter new animals, while extending the lifespan of a textile.
-Durability, good quality leather remains one of the most age-defying materials and only gets better with time.
-Prevents more clothes from being dumped into the landfill
Designers: Fleabags, The Sway