You probably remember Arti from Forage & Sustain, we featured her recently in our Community Profile and she was also one of our models this fall. We engaged her help to do a little primer on fabrics - you know you hear me talk about them all the time - but do you know what they actually are? Here she is in the Anne Circle Blazer & we're excited to be getting more of these comfortable and stylish Bamboo blazers again soon when our new orders for spring arrive.
The Lifecycle of 6 Fabrics
When it comes to environmental action, one of the biggest ways in which we can individually have a positive impact is by choosing fabrics that are earth-friendly. Clothing production and micro-fibres that are released when we wash our clothes are two extremely polluting activities, seriously causing damage to the environment and our waterways. We can circumvent some of these effects by choosing fabrics that have less of an effect on the earth when in production, fabrics that are well-made and have a long life, and fabrics that are easily biodegradable for when they are no longer needed. I’ve outlined 6 fabrics below that rank from most earth-friendly to least, and the impact they have in production, during their lifetime, and in the afterlife.
Hemp is the most versatile plant on the earth, and serves many uses. As a fabric, it’s the top choice for sustainability.
Hemp doesn’t require much water to grow, and it can produce two to three times more fibre per acre than cotton can. It also replenishes the soil as it is growing, rather than taking nutrients away, like most plants do. Hemp is breathable, soft, warm, moisture-wicking, and anti-bacterial. Like linen, hemp is super durable and becomes softer with use. Because it is a wholly natural fibre (when unblended), washing hemp clothing in your machine isn’t cause for concern, as the microfibres that filter into the water supply will easily breakdown with time.
Hemp is biodegradable at the end of its lifetime, meaning you can chuck it in the backyard and use it as garden mulch. From a sustainability perspective, hemp is definitely the best fabric to go with.
Genevieve above is wearing a linen scarf, and we carry a lot of linen in the spring and summer. She's also wearing two layers of closed loop bamboo -the Lea tank and the Emily blazer, both styles we sell year-round as recommended components of a great built to last wardrobe.
On par with hemp, linen remains traditionally and historically one of the best and most sustainable fabrics to date.
Made from the flax plant, linen production uses the plant in its entirety, lessening waste from the get go. Flax is easily grown and quickly replenishable, using far less water than cotton, and no chemical fertilizers or pesticides, making linen production very sustainable (this when dew-retting or enzyme-retting is used, not water-retting).
Linen as a fabric has a very long lifetime, as it’s one of the most durable fabrics out there. With a recent resurrection, linen clothing is coming back as people seek ways to lessen their fashion footprint. Linen is breathable, durable, lightweight, absorbent, antimicrobial, naturally moth-resistant, and cooling, making it perfect for summer days. It also reduces gamma radiation almost by half, protecting us from solar radiation. It’s the only fabric that is stronger when wet, and like hemp, becomes softer with use. Also, like hemp, micro-fibres from linen are of no concern, as they will naturally biodegrade in the water.
Linen pieces that are left undyed or naturally dyed will biodegrade 100% with time, making it sustainable and earth-friendly.
- Bamboo (an eco-friendly alternative to Rayon or Viscose)
A natural fibre made from the bamboo plant, bamboo is quickly rising in the ranks of earth-friendly fabric, but it’s not * always as clean as we think. ( see note below)
Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world, making it an amazing resource. It requires very little water and no fertilizers or pesticides to grow. Despite this, the process of turning bamboo into fabric is actually very chemically-intensive, in order to get it into the soft fabric we all love. Bamboo fibre production produces quite a bit of waste (50% of hazardous waste from production cannot be recaptured and goes into the environment). Also, because so much of the bamboo we use comes from China, it is hard to regulate pesticide use (so many growers do use it to maximize their outputs, but don’t always declare it), so the bamboo waters can be murky and not always as clear as we may think.
Bamboo is naturally highly sweat absorbent, pulling moisture from the skin for evaporation in what is called moisture-wicking. Claims that it is naturally antibacterial or UV resistance are unclear, as the process of making it into a fibre seems to disqualify this. The fabric itself is incredibly soft and feels great on the skin.
Because of its chemically-intensive production, bamboo isn’t quite as sustainable as we think, and while it may biodegrade, it is considered a fabric falling between naturals and synthetics. It would need to be properly recycled in a facility, rather than simply in your compost, and micro-fibres are a cause for concern with bamboo.
* "Not all bamboo is the same - at Logan & Finley we sell closed loop bamboo and other certified fabrics which means the fabrics are processed with very little waste and the bamboo is sourced in a sustainable way. Miik is an example of a brand designed to last for a very long time and very carefully made with sustainable fibres including bamboo and are the favourites of a lot of your wardrobes for good reason & I included a link to their fabrics & sustainability pages." JS
Note: A similar fabric is on the rise, called lyocell, which is also known by the brand name TENCEL ®. This fabric uses a closed-loop process to recapture and reuse 99% of the chemical solution. It is often made from sustainably farmed eucalyptus trees, making it an increasingly popular green fabric option. ( and one that we carry a lot of at Logan & Finley)
Cotton is a well-known, high in demand fabric, that makes up a quarter of all fabric used in clothing and textiles.
In a process that is quite unsustainable, cotton uses a tremendous amount of water (700 gallons for a t-shirt, which is the same amount a person drinks in 2.5 years), pesticides (35% of the world’s insecticides and pesticides), and arable land. Organic cotton is definitely the better option, but often requires more land because crop yields decrease over time.
Micro-fibres are a huge issue, and with non-organic cotton, they begin to leach into our water systems and environment when we wash our clothes. Most cotton is not wholly biodegradable, if it has been treated or dyed with non-natural dyes, while organic cotton would eventually biodegrade.
Wool is a historical favourite, but not for everyone, especially vegans. It is however, one of the most environmentally-friendly (in terms of the actual fabric) out there, but the reason we’ve listed it as fifth is due to its carbon footprint. The biggest issue with wool comes from the methane gas emissions caused by gassy sheep. 50% of wool’s carbon footprint comes from the sheep themselves, but on the flip side, sheep are usually raised on non-arable land, requiring less resources than some plant-based options.
In terms of the fabric itself, wool is tough, wrinkle-resistant, resilient, and can absorb a ton of moisture before feeling damp. It is warm and can replace many polyester fleeces out there, helping reduce the amount of micro-fibre shedding that occurs. When wool micro-fibres are released into the world, they biodegrade, naturally.
This outfit - Made in Canada merino wool sweater with a linen scarf and layers of bamboo, with an eco-friendly cork purse and tights that are made in a solar powered zero-waste factory from recycled yarns....we work hard to bring you beautiful sustainable options like these.
Polyester is the least sustainable option yet the one that is currently dominating the clothing industry (60% of clothing has polyester in it). The fabric is stretchy, durable, comfortable and easy to take care of however it is a plastic product, manufactured from crude oil. Recycled polyester is better, as it reduces the amount of oil being used (9.5 billion litres of oil yearly for virgin polyester production) and reduces waste, but eventually will also have the same environmental repercussions as new polyester when it comes time for disposal.
Polyester releases a ton of micro-fibres into the water every time it is washed, and there is no way this fabric breaks down or biodegrades easily, as it takes up to 200 years to decompose. Our fish (and eventually us, if you eat meat) consume these micro-fibres, which is dangerous to the health of marine life, ourselves, and the ocean/world’s waterways.
So, while this all may seem daunting, the best practice to reduce your footprint and help the environment is to choose organic and natural fabrics wherever possible. Second-hand shopping, clothing swaps and outfit rental programs help reduce the amount of new products being made. Also, using a Guppy Bag or a Cora Ball when washing your clothes works well to ensure micro-fibres aren’t being released into the water. And as always, monitor your consumption and only buy something if you truly need it.
Thanks Arti for helping us explain these fabrics. We do prioritize sustainability when we are carefully selecting product for Logan & Finley and since I know a lot of you will ask - I already have a few requests out to get the Guppy Bag for your synthetics, but hadn't carried it since we don't really sell much synthetic at the shop. Also, if you'd like to learn more about choosing the right styles for you so you can build a long lasting wardrobe, we have an Wardrobe Event coming up, that you might like to attend!