By Arwa Lodhi
What makes clothing sustainable? Which fashion brands use eco friendly fabrics? And which fabrics can indeed be classified as ‘eco friendly’? When consumers ask themselves these questions, it’s a good thing. But when fashion buyers ask them, it’s a great thing.
As consumers, what we choose to buy can have some impact, but we are limited to the choices offered to us by stores. Fashion buyers are those who select what we can pick from online shops, boutiques and department stores – and the bigger the retailer they work for, the bigger the difference they can make.
For example, Net-A-Porter is now offering more natural skincare products, and Yoox has a wide selection of eco-friendly brands in their Master and Muse and Vintage Deluxe collections. London’s Selfridges refuses to sell fur of any kind and excludes beauty products with shark squalene and other exotic animal ingredients from its shelves. And this year, they’re turning their attention to sustainability like never before, focusing on the eco-fabrics of fashion, via their #MATERIALWORLD window scheme, in-store and online conversations, retail experiences and new product line-ups.
The department store has selected 8 green textiles, each represented by a chic, young brand or designer leading the way with a responsible, ethical approach to fashion. These talents are working with Selfridges’ visual team to design a window on Oxford Street that will display the materials they work with and tell their story to millions of passersby on London’s most popular shopping street.
“Through #MATERIALWORLD we want to invite consumers and the industry to refashion the way we think about our clothes, and how we talk about sustainability.” says Linda Hewson, Selfridges creative director.
Eight Eco Materials
The eight eco materials chosen to be featured by Selfridges’ project include Tencel viscose, recycled plastic and leather, noble fibres, organic cotton, linen, wool and denim. The store will highlight the benefits of these eco friendly fabrics, whilst displaying examples of fashion made from them, which can be purchased in their increasingly large selection of sustainable goods, either in store or online.
Below is a bit of information about the environmental impact of each material and its brand ambassador for the project.
A whopping 2.4 billion square metres of leather is manufactured each year to make bags, shoes, belts, jackets, furniture and other products. Some of this textile is the result of food industry waste; most is not. With cattle farming responsible for around 14% of global deforestation, we clearly need to start reducing our reliance not only on leather, but on eating red meat. In addition, the leather tanning process is devastating to the environment: chromium salts are used to tan more than 80% of the world’s leather, exposing millions of people to toxic pollution.
Deadwood’s recycled leather program involves gathering outdated vintage leather garments and upcycling the material to produce new pieces using their own designs. This process eliminates waste and gives the garments a beautifully worn-in look they are known for. Deadwood is dead set against fast fashion, ruthless mass production and distorted deals with suppliers – its entire supply chain is fully ethical.
Shop Deadwood here.
2. Luxury Fibres
Cashmere has long been synonymous with luxury. It’s also generally an eco-friendly material, but in Mongolia, where 80% of the world’s cashmere comes from, there’s now an environmental crisis as the commodification of cashmere has led to overgrazing by cashmere goats, leaving nearly 90% of Mongolia’s grassland in danger of desertification.
Historically, Mongolian herdsman grazed a variety of livestock and soft winter coats were combed and harvested from a number of species. Yak in particular is exceptionally soft and luxurious, rivaling cashmere on every level except perhaps in reputation.
Mongolian yak roam semi-wild, often at high altitudes, and endure extreme summers and harsh winter conditions, making their coats a robust and unique natural material. This precious fibre can be sourced only by hand-combing each yak individually once a year, when the animals shed their winter coats. On average, only 100 grammes of fibre is available from each yak. All Tengri yarns, fabrics and garments are made with 100% natural and undyed Mongolian yak
As soft as cashmere and warmer than merino wool, Tengri Noble Fibres are naturally resistant to odours, water and flame, as well as being light, breathable and hypoallergenic.
Shop Tengri here.
3. Organic Cotton
Cotton accounts for about 40% of all textiles produced globally; today, cotton fabrics are a staple in every wardrobe. However the global cotton industry plays a significant role in environmental degradation and resource depletion, from water shortages to toxic pollution. 2.4% of the world’s crop land is used for farming cotton and yet it accounts for 24% of the world’s pesticide usage. The World Health Organisation estimates that 350,000 people a year die from pesticide poisoning. Organic farming prohibits the use of harmful chemical fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides and genetically modified seeds.
Study NYC focuses on every step of their products’ journeys – from field to cutting table, every part of a garment’s process is carefully examined and controlled to be socially and environmentally conscious. The brand supports sustainable techniques and processes to better the fashion industry and the world. Study’s cotton is 100% organic and sourced from China and Turkey, and is fully certified by IMO, Control Union, OCIA, NOP or Ecocert.
Shop Study NYC here.
Denim, the original workwear fabric, has become part of the fabric of everyday life. Over a billion pairs of jeans are sold every year globally, but is this a good thing? According to the World Wildlife Fund, it can take up to 11,000 litres of water to produce the average pair of jeans, and most are created with conventional, pesticide-ridden cotton and dyed with highly toxic colours.
Californian denim label Tortoise came about through a concentrated focus on revolutionizing the most environmentally harmful, but essential, step in the larger process of making jeans – the wash. Tortoise have developed a process in which ozone can create abrasion and de-colorization with less than a cup of water.
Tortoise exposes the back end of the denim washing process, the problem and offer a solution that denim can be washed without the use of any chemicals and with little to no water at all. The label is continually finding and innovating new ways to an old process of washing denim.
Shop the label here.
Linen comes primarily from flax, but can also be created from many other plants, including hemp, nettle, and bamboo. Flax is the only plant fibre used in textile production that grows naturally in European climates, preferring the cold, damp, and rather miserable weather we all suffer here in North Europe. Traditionally in Europe, a family’s linens were prized possessions, handed down from generation to generation – most of these came from Ireland or France.
Luckily, a good proportion of Eastern Europe flax is still grown according to organic principles and genetic modification has not become prevalent in the cultivation of flax. Linen has a much lower water footprint than cotton, too – a recent life cycle analysis suggested that if every Parisian were to buy a linen instead of a cotton shirt, the resulting water savings could supply the city with drinking water for a year.
Inspired by travel and a love for the exotic, luxury brand Kilometre has launched a series of exclusive designs of haute couture 19th century white dress-shirts from the south of France, with exquisite detailed embroideries ethically handcrafted in Mexico and India. The spirit of Kilometre was born from former reporter and fashion journalist Alexandra Senes’ passion to explore hidden places. As a collector of world maps, road maps and hotel stamps, Senes’ vision for Kilometre is to share an aesthetic of tradition and contemporary inventions related to travel.
Shop it here.
6. Recycled Plastic
Almost 100 years ago, it was believed that a ‘throw-away society’ would liberate us from the drudgery of daily chores and lead to a better world. So began ‘the plastic revolution’ – which we know today was an enormous mistake. Not only is plastic poisoning our food chain and killing our wildlife, in fashion, the development of polyester, nylon and acrylic means clothing made from these chemicals takes centuries to biodegrade. It’s rather unfortunate that plastic has still today replaced more noble materials such as wood, bone, horn, and shells for buttons and fastenings, too. We have become the first and only species on the planet to produce mountains, quite literally, of non-biodegradable waste. All we can do is re-use this plague of materials, creating new objects from old.
At Dick Moby, old plastic gets a new life, in the form of eyewear. Everything about these glasses, from their frames to their tiny hinges, has sustainability at its core. Their black frames are 97% recycled using acetate waste, with the other 3% being black ink. For all other colours, Dick Moby use biodegradable acetate. This material is both certified by universities and environmental agencies, and made without crude oil or toxic plasticisers.
Shop Dick Moby here.
Wool has been one of the foundations of Britain’s economic success since medieval times. But sadly, today wool prices are so low, farmers often resort to burning or burying fleeces rather than spending the money and time transporting and selling them. Despite this decline, a small renaissance has taken place over the last five years; the re-birth of knitting as a hobby has gone hand in hand with a renewed interest in provenance; as a result British wool is once again becoming a worthwhile commodity for farmers to consider producing.
Coming from a long line of kilt makers, Samantha McCoach founded Le Kilt in 2014, aiming to add a dash of modernity to her family’s heritage. When she was younger, she would observe her Scottish grandmother tailoring kilts, trousers and other garments made from fine wool tartan, and today she continues her gran’s tradition by making items perfect for the modern wardrobe. A love of tartan and the preservation of traditional techniques are at the heart of Samantha’s brand today.
Shop le Kilt here.
8. Tencel Viscose
Regenerated cellulose has been used in the textile industry for more than 50 years to create Viscose, also known as Rayon. In fact the production of man-made cellulose for fibre is the second largest bio-refinery industry in the world after paper. Viscose generally uses wood pulp for its raw material, but the application of solvents and acids in the production process can result in significant air and water pollution. Tencel was developed as a sustainable alternative to traditional Viscose, using fast growing Eucalyptus trees, which thrive on limited water and poor soil. The patented Tencel production process made it the first textile to achieve European eco label certification.
VYAYAMA was founded with the intention of providing a natural alternative to synthetic yoga wear, with the belief that the products we use should be held to the same standards that we hold for ourselves. We believe that mindfulness should inspire quality, beauty and joy. VYAYAMA pronounced ‘vai-ah’mah’ is a 3000 year old sanskrit word meaning ‘to move’ and ‘to tame the inner breath’. The ancient Ayurvedic texts describe VYAYAMA as movement designed to stabilize and strengthen the body.
Shop the label here.