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Know your materials: What each one means for sustainable fashion
In 2021, shoppers are more eco-friendly than ever. As the younger generations become more aware of the environmental impact of climate change and carbon footprints, one study suggests that there has been a 47% rise in internet searches for sustainable fashion.
Although fashion might not immediately spring to mind when it comes to identifying the biggest culprits of negative environmental impact, it does contribute 10% of all global emissions. This is a sizable chunk, and it's no wonder that environmentally-conscious people are trying to think of more sustainable ways to shop. What this ultimately boils down to is the fabrics they are opting for. With an estimated 80 billion pieces of clothing being produced every year, making informed choices about the type of materials we use is going to make a difference.
What do you need to know when it comes to understanding the various materials used to make clothes and their impact on sustainability and the environment?
What makes a fabric sustainable?
Sustainable fabric comes in a number of guises, and you can shop in an eco-friendly manner in lots of different ways. For example, opting for fabrics that are crafted from natural or recycled materials is a great start. Making clothes by hand rather than choosing mass-produced products is also a good way to reduce the amount of pollution involved in the factories that create this type of "fast fashion". Shopping with longevity in mind is also a great way to adorn your wardrobe with high-quality, durable products that will stand the test of time. Vintage clothes stores in particular tend to stock a vast array of retro fashion from a time when clothes were built to last.
What are the most sustainable natural fabrics?
Cotton is one of the most popular fabrics in the fashion industry, thanks largely to its comfortable, breathable nature, which is particularly useful in the summertime. It is also a natural fiber originating from a plant. However, the growing process isn't particularly eco-friendly as it involves a high level of chemicals and pesticides to complete the crop. Organic cotton, as used in this Azalea Pink Men's Organic Cotton T-Shirt, aims to reduce the amount of chemicals used in growing cotton, which leaves consumers with all of the benefits and less of the carbon footprint.
Organic hemp is another product that is on the rise. It is an incredibly versatile material that can be used in cooking, cosmetics and clothing. Like cotton, it's popular because it keeps you cool in the summer and becomes softer the more times you wash it. Unlike cotton, however, it doesn't require a lot of chemicals to grow successfully and even naturally fertilizes the soil that it grows in. This makes it one of the most sustainable and environmentally friendly fabrics on the market.
Are there any man-made sustainable fabrics?
It might sound like a counterproductive notion, but man-made, sustainable fabrics are rapidly growing in popularity, with some even outdoing natural fibers on the eco-friendly scale. Tencel, for example, is an innovative product crafted from dissolved wood pulp. It is thought to require much less energy and water to produce than cotton and also has a number of benefits - such as anti-wicking and anti-bacterial properties that make it ideal for using in sportswear.
Econyl is another great product that checks the eco-friendly boxes in more ways than one. It is created from synthetic waste products gathered from the ocean (things like plastic, fabric and nets), which are then recycled in an elaborate process into a nylon-like fabric. The idea is revolutionary but does come with a few warnings. For example, the fabric can disintegrate and shed plastic particles if overwashed, so it may be better to consider using it for items that aren't washed often, like handbags.
It might sound like something out of a fairytale, but Quomos uses spider silk to create one of the strongest, most durable fibers in the natural world. By fusing the genes and microbes together, the process creates a fabric that could be compared to silk or nylon. It doesn't harm the spider and is entirely sustainable.
Of course, any recycled fabrics are great for the environment. These Illuminating Yellow Women's Track Pants are made from a blend of recycled and organic cotton. Opting for any of these fabrics keeps additional waste out of landfills and cuts down on the pollution and waste needed for the constant manufacture of new goods. When you are out shopping for a new wardrobe, keep all of these points in mind if you want to help the environment.