By Chere Di Boscio
What makes a fabric luxurious? It’s subjective, but there are a few defining characteristics. It should be light as a cloud, for example. As soft as a baby’s hair. It should drape well, and allow your own skin to breathe. It should be of a durable weave, meant to withstand some wear and tear. For me, it should also be fully natural: biodegradable and free of toxic dyes and finishes.
For all those reasons, many people adore and value cashmere, silk and angora, and vicuña still ranks as the most expensive fabric in the world.
But what about vegan fabrics? Sure, organic cotton and bamboo can be woven into exquisite fabrics, but the latter needs a lot of chemicals for this. Luckily, an ancient textile making technique is being revived by a few conscious companies, and the result is the production of the most luxurious vegan fabric in the world.
Is This The Most Luxurious Vegan Fabric In The World?
One such company is Moyadi. Founded by Nancy M Shalala in 2017, Moyadi was named after the Burmese word for the monsoon season, which in Myanmar is considered to be a time for deep inner contemplation and spiritual renewal. Coincidentally, it’s during the rainy season that the lotus flower thrives – and that’s exactly the plant based material used to create the brand’s ultra-luxurious products.
Rooted deep in the mud, the lotus plant begins its upward journey through muddied water. Eventually, it breaks the surface to blossom in a state of absolute beauty. The lotus flower embodies the potential of the human spirit to attain enlightenment, and it is this potential that inspires Moyadi.
Lotus thread is one of the world’s rarest -and most sacred – threads, and its natural colours range from café latte to deeper mocha, with wonderfully subtle variations in both hue and texture, guaranteeing the uniqueness of each garment that uses them.
Lotus fabric has unique properties: it is naturally soft and light. It’s very breathable, and unlike silk or linen, it’s difficult to wrinkle. It’s also a highly eco-friendly, as it needs no finishing chemicals or toxic products to produce. In fact, it’s probably the most ecological fabric in the world, and as mentioned above, it’s nothing new: thousands of years ago, lotus fabric was widely known in South East Asia, but the art of creating it was soon forgotten.
Lotus flowers, however, are still highly popular commercially – but the flower’s stems are left behind after the blossoms are cut. Moyadi transforms those stems, which would otherwise go to waste, into luxe textiles. This is a highly laborious process, with some 6,500 lotus stems required to make a single length of hand woven fabric.
And since they’re using a plant that is considered to be sacred by Buddhists, Moyadi ensures they provide an ethical luxury experience for their customers. All the ingredients used to create and present their collections are selected with intent and uphold the highest ecological standards. For example, they package their products sustainably in reusable glass jars, plant-based certified compostable pouches, and use unbleached sugarcane labels.
A Fascinating Journey
Founder Nancy M Shalala told Eluxe: “I founded Moyadi to better understand to what extent we are complicit in supply chain abuses through our choices as consumers. And to explore the role that ethical brands can play in social and economic transformation”
Her journey towards founding Moyadi makes for a fascinating story. One day, many years ago, she was part of a U.S. Government team looking into conflict minerals in an artisanal gold mining community in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which was controlled by a notorious warlord. She observed the number of children who were using their wee, bare hands to mix a toxic mercury solution with gold-filled sediment.
She noted that dozens of small children were engaging in this activity, and instinctively, she moved her hand to the thick gold necklace around her neck, and was deeply disturbed. She wondered if the gold she was wearing may have been the result of child labour and toxic practices.
This disquiet nagged her for weeks, for months. She began to ask herself how she, as a consumer, was contributing to what she saw in DRC. What could be done to change consumers’ options so that such exploitation wasn’t necessary in the creation of luxury goods?
A few months later, she resigned from her job as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer and decided to launch Moyadi as a means to explore the role that ethical brands can play in the social and economic transformation of developing countries.
Today, Moyadi is working hard with skilled artisans around the world to bring their clients wraps and scarves that are rich in both history and quality. They pair beautifully with dresses, jeans and can even be worn as sarongs. The fabric has a fine grain running through it, and looks rough in texture but is, in fact, disconcertingly soft to the touch.
Not wanting to waste any part of the lotus plant, the brand has also come up with a range of beauty products, including botanical oils, bathing salts and eye masks. Their Lotus Stillness scent is a refined aroma designed to promote inner tranquility and spiritual renewal. Moyadi custom blends all of their holistic herbs and essential oils in small batches to create this signature scent.
As Nancy says, with pride: “We offer you exquisite indulgence when you experience our products. But above all, we offer you the inner peace that comes with knowing that the environment and the people associated with the production were respected all along the supply chain.”
A Growing Market
But growing demand for sustainable fibres means Moyadi isn’t the only brand that’s using lotus silk to make luxury vegan fashion.
The rare fabric is also produced by Awen Delavel and his Fair Trade mill, Samatoa. Since 2003, Delavel’s team has been directly working with Cambodian women’s co-ops to provide them with quality training, work and a regular income.
This ethical brand takes around 32,000 lotus stems to make a little over 90 m of fabric. The flower stems are cut and gathered by local women in the morning with any rough edges and knobs removed. Over the course of three days, the stems are bunched, trimmed and sliced in order to extract the 20 to 30 threads that lie inside. After extraction, the threads are then pulled and hung to dry. Once dry, the fiber is laid on a spinning frame for a warping process, and then it’s wound on bamboo bobbins into yarn. While it’s still moist, the yarn is woven on looms into 90 m batches by hand. This process takes six weeks to complete, hence the high price of the fabric.
Once created, the fabric is incredibly soft, stain resistant and waterproof. As one of the pioneers in the field, Samatoa was even given the ‘Award of Excellence ’ by the United Nations’ sub-branch, UNESCO back in 2012. But not only does Samatoa create fabric from the lotus: they also from banana peel fibres and other vegetable waste. What’s most exciting for us is the fact that they’ve also created a type of vegan microfibre that acts as a wonderful leather substitute.
This innovative company seems to have inspired a bigger brand: in 2009, Italian luxury fabric and garment maker, Loro Piana began collaborating with local Burmese villagers to transform lotus flowers into a fabric. The whole process, from the gathering of fiber to the spinning and weaving, is done by hand, before returning the yarn to Loro Piana factories in Italy for weaving. From here, the luxury cloth becomes a scarf or blazer that sells for some $5,600 under the highly prestigious Loro Piana label.
These three companies indicate that there is certainly more demand for luxurious vegan textiles. Meanwhile, other it would be well worthwhile for other firms to spend time researching more efficient methods of producing lotus flower yarn. We hope it’s only a matter of time before more luxury fashion brands build their collections around the strength and beauty of the lotus flower.
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