Green Rocks Fibres

As mentioned in my last post, I’ve broken down my coverage of green fashion into six parts, in order to bring some clarity to the different issues, and to try and disseminate the volumes of information swirling around into digestible chunks.

For the past three weeks, I’ve been researching the fabric industry, with the aim of compiling a table detailing fabrics the eco conscious shopper should look for when purchasing apparel.

I wanted to know myself what I could buy with an easy conscience. Bamboo, of course, would feature highly on the list, as would wool and organic cotton. Or so I thought. It appears, however, that many fabrics I presumed to be green, are in fact not. Not only that, but we as consumers are often being deliberately misled by companies and their clever green washing campaigns.

According to the figures I could unearth, the global clothing industry produces around 80 billion garments annually. That’s a lot! Worldwide fibre production, meanwhile, is said to be around 82 million tonnes, which reportedly requires 145 million tons of coal and around 1.5 trillion gallons of water to produce. All that, so we can strut down the street wearing something not that many people will notice, and that everyone will have forgotten about within a week :/ Hmmmm …

Moreover, the clothes we buy and wear are chock full of known hazardous chemicals, many of which have been found to be hormone disrupting and cancer causing. (I can picture the little green men laughing their non-toxic socks off in some parallel universe right now at the sight of us knowingly and willingly going around poisoning our environment and bodies, and paying through the nose to do so!)

Greenpeace launched a Detox Campaign a while ago, the latest results of which were published in January 2014. Focusing on children’s’ clothing and footwear, it investigated a number of major brands, like Disney, Primark, Zara and Adidas to see what chemicals were present in their clothing lines. The following is a quote from Greenpeace:

“The chemicals found included Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) which can break down to form the toxic, hormone disrupting Nonylphenols (NPs) when released into the environment as well as toxic phthalates and poly- and per- flourinated chemicals (PFCs). All of the tested brands had at least one product containing hazardous chemicals, showing that no matter what clothes you buy, from luxury to budget, they contain these toxic Little Monsters.”

It continues:

“Once released into our environment these chemicals can have adverse effects on wildlife – some have been known to make male fish take on female characteristics – and can contaminate our bodies via food, air or water. These can pose risks to humans and children, a group particularly vulnerable to effects, particularly to our immune, reproductive or hormonal systems … What’s more, the use of these chemicals in manufacturing results in water pollution that affects millions of people around the world.”

Thanks to Greenpeace, companies are slowly beginning to clean up their act. The environmental organisation launched the Detox Catwalk, which profiles various leading apparel companies and their levels of transparency when it comes to hazardous chemicals in their supply chains.

Green Rocks Bamboo?

So what fibres can we wear that won’t detrimentally affect us and our environments? Don’t be fooled into thinking fibres like bamboo or cotton are ok, just because they’re natural. The resources needed to grow the crops, and the methods employed to manufacture them are, more often than not, damaging. There are also serious animal rights concerns over natural fibres like wool and silk. So even when a fibre is labelled “natural”, it will rarely land in your hands in a natural state. Toxic dyes, chemical processes and abused animals will appear, almost certainly, along the supply chain.

What about recycled fibres, like polyester and nylon? Unfortunately, while they’re touted as a fantastic solution for reusing plastic bottles, for example, most of the recycling processes are environmentally-unfriendly (with more toxic substances released into the environment) and the fibres cannot be infinitely recycled, so they’ll eventually end up in a landfill or the incinerator. Plus, they are full of hazardous chemicals, even after recycling.

And perversely, it’s been claimed that since demand from some suppliers for used plastic bottles, from which recycled polyester fibre is made, is outstripping supply, the suppliers are buying new plastic bottles directly from bottle producing companies so they can make polyester textile fibre that can be called recycled!

What can we do?

I have to admit, I’ve been shocked by the information I’ve found about the fibres I’ve been purchasing for years, believing them to be environmentally sound. And a little deflated. My research has led me to conclude we shouldn’t be, and definitely don’t have to be, buying new. However, if we do, our choices are limited and probably more expensive than we’re used to. And this is the crux – if we’re going to change the industry, we also need to change our mentality, away from fast, throw-away fashion.

Organic fibres are available, and if treated with organic dyes, can be great alternatives to non-organic ones. Look for those fibres with GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certification. Hemp is most definitely the unsung hero of the fibre industry. It’s said to be the most useful crop on earth and has a negative carbon footprint. Rumour has it the first pair of Levis were made from hemp! Flax is also a great, green fibre.

My rant is over. The following tables have been devised to provide an overview of the current so-called “green” fabric industry. As I discovered, many are not actually green at all. However, some are better than others. The first table provides a quick overview of the fibres while the second goes into more detail in terms of production processes and energy consumption. I’m not claiming they’re comprehensive, or the very best they could be, but hopefully you’ll find some use in them!

Feel free to leave your thoughts below.

Green Rocks Fibres: Brief Overview

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Green Rocks Fibres: Full Overview

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