Enough with fast fashion
We know that the fashion industry is one of the least virtuous in the world because of the massive use of raw materials transformed from petroleum (to make the synthetic fibres we know: polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc.), and also because of the chemical treatments it requires to manufacture the synthetic fibres (even of natural origin like cotton) and its enormous water requirements at all stages of production, from growing plants (often GMOs) to the production of the fibres and their transformation into final textile… not to mention its carbon footprint (it’s done!).
Far from being inevitable, a number of innovative companies are trying to change the situation and in recent years we have seen the emergence of new textiles which are expanding the offer of ecological clothing.: organic cotton, linen, lyocell, modal, bamboo, hemp … Let’s start with a quick update on these more or less virtuous material.
Vegetable textile fibres
We know that the cotton industry is a large consumer of water, pesticides and insecticides, that it contributes to the depletion of our resources and their pollution and that it generates enormous quantities of greenhouse gases. In addition, the majority of the world’s cotton crops are established from genetically modified seeds. For all its reasons, cotton is therefore, along with synthetic materials derived from petroleum, the textile to be banned from our lives.
In response, industrialists have developed for several years an organic sector supposed to be more virtuous. The arguments put forward by the sector being the lower needs in water and chemicals, the use of non-GMO cotton seeds and the concern for the working conditions of farmers.
In 2020, organic cotton cultivation represents less than 1% of world cotton production. It is mainly cultivated in India and China and its production is carried out mainly in Turkey (43%) and India (28%) so we can still have some doubts concerning the working conditions of the labourers. You should then favour labelled organic cottons (Fairtrade / Max Havelaar, GOTS, OEKO-TEX®) to identify the products that are the most respectful of your health and of those who manufacture them.
If we could choose, we will rather support organic cotton than non-organic cotton, but the carbon impact is still remaining and the use of water even reduced is still significant, turning to organic cotton is therefore more of an activist act of support for the sector (fair trade) than a purely ecological act.
In addition, organic cotton has a higher production cost, it is common practice to mix it with traditional cotton so that the price of the finished product does not soar high. We must therefore ensure the percentage of organic cotton in the final textile and favour alternative blends (recycled cotton, linen, hemp, etc.) in order to avoid any purely marketing product (greenwashing).
The advantages of organic cotton: it is smoother, softer, thicker, more resistant and hypoallergenic (free from allergenic chemicals).
Linen is a fast growing herbaceous plant with blue flowers native to the Middle East but which has adapted to many temperate regions. It is with hemp, one of the rare vegetable textile fibres cultivated in Europe and of which France is the leading producer (world No. 1 for linen), it is mainly exported to the United States, Italy and Japan. Linen is one of the crops that uses the least phytosanitary products.
Non-woven linen is an inexpensive, lightweight and recyclable material with a structure quite similar to that of cotton. It can be produced by dry spinning like cotton, or wet spinning which makes the yarn finer. Like cotton, linen can be bleached, dyed or printed. Its characteristics: it makes a flexible, comfortable and very pleasant fabric in warm weather.
“Industrial” hemp (Cannabis sativa sp. Sativa) is a herbaceous plant native to Central Asia whose fibres are used to make resistant fabrics and paper, it is also used as insulation in ecological habitats. Its undemanding and low parasite cultivation (without phytopharmaceutical product, without irrigation, without GMOs and with high biomass) is beneficial because hemp stores CO2 and helps to cleanse the soil by absorbing nitrates.
Today, the need to produce healthy, safe, sustainable and accessible to all, brings the cultivation of this plant up to date. France is the largest producer of hemp in Europe with more than half of the surfaces.
Particularity of hemp fibre clothing: the fibre is resistant and antibacterial, but does not have the reputation of being very soft and inexpensive so it is often combined with other textile fibres. It will therefore be necessary to check the ecological nature of the other fibres.
Soy fibre is an artificial fibre obtained from the seed after extrusion. The main flaw in soy is that half of world production comes from the United States and the other half from South America and Asia, and we know the position of these countries on transgenic culture.
The properties of soy fibre: antibacterial and thermoregulatory.
Clothing made from bamboo is often associated with eco-friendly textiles. If the real natural bamboo fibre is indeed “natural”, it is on the other hand too rough and brittle to be used in ready-to-wear. Manufacturers prefer bamboo viscose, which is in fact an artificial fibre regenerated by a chemical transformation process that requires a lot of water, generates chemical pollution and health risks for the Asian workers who make them. We are therefore far from the virtuous cycle that can be achieved with a product presented as ecological. Only bamboo Lyocell can boast of being more virtuous because it is produced following a short circuit with non-toxic and recyclable solvents.
The properties of bamboo fibre (viscose): soft, its biodegradability, bacteriostatic, anti-odour, hydrophilic. The fibre is 3 to 5 times more absorbent than cotton and lyocell.
Nettle (ramie fibre)
The Chinese Nettle or Ramie is a textile plant of the urticaceae family, native to the Far East, it is mainly cultivated in China and Brazil.
As the manufacture of ramie fibre is complex, it is quite expensive, so it is not easy to find clothes made of pure ramie, so you will have to pay attention to the blended fabric of the finished product to avoid polyester-based supplements or of non-organic cotton, for example. Its cultivation requires less water and pesticides than the cultivation of cotton or linen.
Extremely resistant and antibacterial, ramie fibre is well known for remaining cool to the touch, a benefit in hot climates.
Lotus is an aquatic plant from Asia whose textile fibre is created from the stems of the flower. It is mainly cultivated in the countries of South-East Asia (Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam…). As lotus fibre is cultivated in limited quantities, it remains limited to the luxury sector.
The qualities of lotus fibre are: softness to the touch, great impermeability, an anti-perspirant fabric practically crease-free.
Milk casein fibre is made from milk that is unfit for consumption. Depending on the source, its production has more or less impact on the environment and remains very expensive to produce, which makes it a niche market. Milk fibre clothes are advertised as compostable at the end of their life because they are biodegradable, we will assume only in the case of a 100% milk fiber fabric.
Its qualities are: softness to the touch, lightness, non-allergenic, antibacterial, anti-UV, heat resistance… The fabric warms in winter and keeps summer cool.
Lyocell is an artificial fibre of plant origin obtained from cellulose of eucalyptus wood from South Africa or European beech from sustainably managed forests. Unlike the intensive irrigation systems that cotton needs to grow, the production of Lyocell requires very little water (eucalyptus being a plant that does not require much water and pesticides and European forests are naturally irrigated by rain water). Lyocell is the generic name for the fiber, Tencel® is a specialty brand of a type of Lyocell fibre.
Modal® is also made from beech wood pulp but through a slightly different manufacturing process. It shares many properties with Lyocell: softness, comfort, breathability, moisture absorption, the difference being a more delicate texture feel to the touch and a thinner and lighter fabric than Lyocell.
Modal® is also made from beech wood pulp but through a slightly different manufacturing process. It shares many properties with Lyocell: softness, comfort, breathability, moisture absorption, the difference being a soft skin to the touch and a thinner and lighter fabric than Lyocell.
The name Hempcel® is a specialized brand of fibre using the Lyocell process (wood cellulose) with a mixture of hemp (approximately 55%). It is used to make shirts, dresses or pants but also interior decoration fabrics.
SeaCell® fibre is a Lyocell-type cellulose fibre (see above), therefore an eco-friendly short-circuit production without chemical rejection, to which is added powder of brown seaweed (4 %). The added value compared to a standard Lyocell fiber being that this textile provides the benefits of the algae that compose it: anti-inflammatory, healing, anti-irritation properties…
The sustainable approach of industrial waste recovery
Lenpur®, often called “vegetale cashmere”, is part of the family of artificial fibres made from cellulose of plant origin (white pine), made from waste from the forestry industry (branches). Canadian white pine crops are grown primarily in China and Canada. Its characteristics are its softness, its capacity to absorb and release moisture, thermo-regulating and deodorant qualities.
Cupro is an artificial fibre obtained from cotton residues (cottonseed fluff) not used by the conventional sector. The waste produced during Cupro’s creation processes is fully recycled at a rate close to 100%. Cupro is also fully biodegradable.
The characteristics of Cupro fiber: an ability to quickly absorb and reject moisture, a smooth and pleasant touch, non-electrostatic. Cupro is very easy to maintain, can be washed and ironed without difficulty.
We are dealing here with another type of artificial fibre, partly of animal origin: chitin (a strong and flexible material that is found in abundance in the shell of crabs). Chitin has antibacterial properties and eliminates odors from sweat. We can be satisfied with the recovery of waste from the agri-food industry, but some will argue that it is not very vegan. In addition, the chitin powder being only one constituent of the final textile fibre, it can vary in concentrations ranging from 1 to 99%, which implies a supplement based on cellulosic viscose (wood) to reach 100% to become our final Crabyon® fibre.
Our Crabyon® fibre is then mixed with another type of fibre (cotton, wool, etc.) to constitute our final textile. It would therefore be necessary to know the level of chitin concentration in our Crabyon® as well as the percentage of Crabyon® and the percentage and nature of the other complementary fibres (cotton, wool, etc.) in the composition of our garment to be sure that we are not dealing with a simple marketing product and greenwashing.
Sasawashi is an innovative textile made from the weaving of Washi (traditional Japanese paper made from mulberry fibres) and Kumazasa (a rustic plant with antibacterial properties). This linen-like textile has antibacterial, anti-odor, anti-allergenic, absorbent and anti-UV properties. We have not found any information regarding the virtuosity of the manufacturing process but this textile is 100% natural.
Sefía, Mylithe, eco²sy®, Airnest™
Sefía ™ fiber, an artificial fibre of natural origin derived from (Lyocell type) wood cellulose combined with yarn made from coffee bean residues (S.Café®) collected from suppliers in the sector (such as Starbucks).
Mylithe fibre, from the same manufacturer (Singtex), is an evolution of coffee fibre (S.Café®) which mimics the softness to the touch of cotton. This fibre also has anti-odor, anti-UV and quick-drying properties. Eco²sy® is a fibre made from the recycling of plastic bottles and coffee fibre (S.Café®). It has water and wind insulating properties while being breathable. And finally, Singtex has also developed a foam (Airnest ™), an alternative to products from the petrochemical industry, which is made from coffee oil.
In conclusion, since the production of organic cotton, soy and wood cellulose takes place on the other side of the planet, in an approach to reduce the carbon impact and support the French sector, it would be better to focus on local textiles made from linen or hemp fibres, France being the leader in Europe in these 2 crops.
More generally, read the labels carefully and move instead towards biodegradable products made from Lyocell fibres, avoid non-organic cotton and products made from viscose (even bamboo) and look for ecological labels such as Oeko-Tex, GOTS …