What makes textiles sustainable?

September 15, 2018

What makes textiles sustainable?

Last week I had the opportunity to visit one of the leading European textile trade shows, Munich Fabric Start. It is the hub for central European fashion houses and producers to meet up, make orders and get inspiration for the new collections. During my two days at the trade show I got an overall idea about what is in the focus of the textile industry. And as a very nice surprise, it all seems to be about sustainability.  

Inspired by my visit, I wanted to share with you some of the most popular sustainable textiles that are in use. Each of them are sustainable with their own specific way: being natural made from natural organic fibres, having qualities like durability or light maintenance or having recycled components or energy efficient finishing.

 

1. Organic & Fairtrade cotton, silk and wool

When it comes to natural fibres, the questions of how the textile fibres are crown and collected are in the focus. For example cotton is mostly grown in monoculture and is a very pesticide-intensive crop. The working conditions at the cotton field are often very harsh. Introducing Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) and Fairtrade infinitives have raised the conditions of the people and of the environment around cotton production fields. With organic cotton and silk, the cotton plant or the  mulberry trees are grown in a simulated natural environment along with a range of fruit trees and other plant species, rather than in isolation. The employees work in a safe, fair and equal working environment.

Organic wool yarn is wool that is from sheep that have not been exposed to chemicals like pesticides and are kept in humane and good farm conditions. The sheeps have an access to outside at all times. Mulesing, the practice of removing strips of wool-bearing skin from around sheep’s buttocks to prevent flystrike, is prohibited.

Organic wool is the only virgin material that is used in the new autumn 2018 TAUKO collection, Lost Cargo. For the qualities of wool, long lasting (up to 10 years or more), natural, biodegradable, recyclable, organic, soft and warm, we decided to offer this beautiful material to our clients. We have sourced the wool yarns from an Austrian company that handles the spinning of the yarns in Czech Republic. The knits are woven in Tuusula, Finland.

 


2. Recycled PET

Recycled PET (=polyester) is most of the time made from old plastic bottles or plastic waste that is collected from the sea. The fibre is made mechanically from the plastic waste as it is crushed into a smaller and smaller pieces. The manufacturing and processing of the commercial fibre is handled in most cases in Asia. The fibres are used by different knitting companies in Asia and Europe.

Recycled PET is very common and popular material. There are lot of different knits, fabrics and coatings that are now done using recycled PET instead of virgin polyester. Outdoor, swimwear, lingerie, corporate wear… you name it! In theory, at least, 100% recycled PET fabrics are also 100% recyclable. They can be recycled endless amount of times.    

The cons of recycled pet textiles is that by washing it, there are little microplastic particles resolving from the garments to water. The particles are so small that our existing sewing system does not filter them, but instead they end up in to the sea. Eaten by fishes and other marine life, the little plastic particles originating from textiles, can be found in the food we consume. The loose knits, like fleece, are the ones that resolve most microplastics.

Know companies that use recycled textiles in their products are for example, Adidas, Patagonia and Ecoalf.

 

3. Refibra

The recycling process of plant based fibres and animal based fibres is a big challenge for textile industry. Compared to polyester, natural fibres lose a lot of their strength qualities when they are used. As the fibres are biodegradable, they eventually wear out and this is also the reason, why recycled natural fibres do not have so good quality features anymore (compared to the virgin fibres).

At the moment, Lenzing, an Austrian company that is known for its development of tencel (eucalyptus based textile that is produced with very little energy and water) is leading the race to be the first one to introduce a recycled plant based fibre for textile industry. Their newborn, Refibra, is made with similar method as tencel, but it has postconsumer and preconsumer cotton waste in it. The focus is in making the production as sustainable as possible. Usage of water, chemicals, energy and different dyes and toxics is minimized.

Refibra is not as widely spread as recycled polyester, different mixed recycled materials or organic natural textiles. Yet, the presence of Lenzing and especially their main product Tencel, was so prominent in Munich that it is quite probable to hear more about this magical fibre soon. In Finland Refibra was used by Nokian Neulomo and will be seen in the future collections of TAUKO also.


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Approximately 90% of all TAUKO collections are made from reused textiles. We source locally the high quality textiles that are dyed in Finland and in Estonia for the production. By working together with local textile rental companies, we help to reduce the amount of textile waste and give our input into finding new sustainable production methods for textiles industry. The 10% that is not made from reused textiles, is made from surplus textiles, organic cotton and organic merino wool.

 

Photo credits:

Featured photo from Green Showroom curated fashion show, TAUKO SS19 collection

Sheeps, Forest Range Merinos webpage 

Plastic bag in the sea, Textile Santanderina webpage

Refibra fibre, Country Road interview with Tejidos Royo webpage