Sustainable Home: Fabrics and Textiles

Sustainable Home: Fabrics and Textiles

Second to perhaps our dietary choices, how we clothe ourselves could be the most impactful way to benefit the environment. It may seem like we don't have much of a choice when it comes to our textile usage, especially if some fabrics are not exacty 'fashionable,' but in this day and age, more manufacturers are becoming conscious of their output, giving us more choices than ever.

However, there is still much misinformation out there and it can get pretty overwhelming trying to sort through the virtual racks of fast fashion. I turned to a leading voice in the sustainability movement, Dr. Richard Blackburn, associate professor of sustainable materials at the University of Leeds and Co-Founder of Keracol Ltd & Dr. Craft Cosmetics, to help tease out truth from fiction in the textile industry.

The Microplastic Problem

Dry wall

You may not realize it but you're likely covered in plastic. Unless you choose natural fibers as your everyday clothing, such as wool, hemp, or flax, chances are those yoga leggings and fleece hoodies are basically plastic. That would be ok if the plastic stayed put. But it doesn't. Every time you wash your clothes in a washing machine, millions of microfibers are released into the water system and make their way into the oceans. These microfibers are tiny strands of plastic that shed off synthetic fabrics like polyester, rayon and nylon. In 2017, the International Union for Conservation of Nature report estimated that about 35% of the microplastics that enter our ocean are due to the laundry of synthetic textiles, followed closely by the erosion of tires while driving. If we're going to avoid synthetic textiles, are all of the natural choices the same?

On Cotton

I think it's safe to say that the cotton industry has historically been an aggressive one. Regardless of its storied past, much of the fabric in our lives is still pure cotton or a cotton blend. Let's just say it's reaaallly hard to get away from cotton. But if you're looking to make conscious home choices this decade, this could be a great place to start making changes. According to Dr. Blackburn, organic cotton is not much better than regular cotton. And it turns out both are pretty terrible for the environment. He states,

In order to make just one kilo of cotton (say two pairs of jeans), it requires about a lifetime's worth of water.

And since organic cotton is not as productive a crop as regular cotton, it sucks up even more water. Given the state of our global water supply, we should create a demand for another natural fiber that doesn't require so much water and land. Enter Lyocell.

Lyocell: The most sustainable fabric?

Minimal eucalyptus leaves

Our sustainabily expert states that the most sustainable fabric is Lyocell. So what is lyocell anyway? First developed in North Carolina in the 70s, it is a fabric made from wood pulp now commonly known by its trademark name, Tencel. As an alternative to synthetic, petroleum-based fabrics like polyester, it made from the wood of eucalyptus trees, or oak and birch to a lesser extent. The reason it is seen as more sustainable than the cotton, is that managed eucalyptus forests can be grown in many more areas around the world (as cotton crops are tropical), and do not require nearly as much water as cotton. On top of that, these trees don't need the fertilizer and specialized land that cotton farms do. And who doesn't want more trees?

It is chemically similar to Rayon, but in terms of the production process, it is much more minimally processed than rayon - and 99.5% of the dissolving agent can be used repeatedly. So overall, it is much more sustainable than synthetic fibers like rayon. Below is a quick recap of the production process.

As a fabric, it really is pretty nice. Hypoallergenic, 50% more absorbent than cotton, and versatile enough to make it stretchy or super silky, it is a fabric many manufacturers are producing with a fashionable spin.

For those following my pregnancy series, check out Boob Design clothing, spearheading sustainable maternity clothing for over twenty years.

Ways to reduce your impact

It may be worth your while to have a quick glance at the materials on the clothing label next time you're shopping around. However, there are also some other ways to reduce your carbon footprint, pollution and water usage when it comes to choosing fabrics and textiles:

  • Buy fewer clothes
  • Wash on colder, shorter cycles to minimize microplastic pollution - another tip from Dr. Blackburn
  • Use a front loading washer
  • Swap the synthetic fibers for natural fibers - obviously go for sustainable farming and humane shearing practices
  • Rent, don't buy - à la Rent the Runway
  • Look for upcycled clothing - polyester is durable enough to be used and reused, we may as well use what we have instead of creating new waste.
  • Look out for new plant-based materials in the future (although the processing still needs refinement to be truly sustainable) such as MycoTEX from mushrooms and Piñatex® from pineapples.

This month I have partnered with Ettitude, an Australian home essentials brand built on comfort and sustainability (read: super comfy CleanBamboo™ bedding that will keep you cool and collected for a great night's sleep). RSVP here for the free event and collect your free Ettitude eye mask, along with sleep saving tips from me. See you there!