Sustainable Fabrics: Your Wholesale Buying Guide
Mon Sep 19 2022
Coffee & cornetto
Five Eco-friendly Fabrics to Make Your Store Collection More Sustainable
Conscious fashion consumption is (luckily) a more and more widespread practice. Many customers are moving away from fast fashion, buying into sustainable brands and demanding sustainable clothing from their trusted retail stores. If you’re committed to a more conscious wholesale buying and want to equip your boutique with eco-friendly options, this little guide on the most sustainable fabrics is what you need.
What makes a fabric sustainable?
When choosing the brands and products to have in store, you might run into greenwashing strategies and have a hard time understanding which materials are genuinely sustainable. The first thing to clarify is that the ultimate sustainable fabric doesn’t exist: there’s no hero that can solve all issues. Instead, it’s important to consider the entire life-cycle of material, taking into consideration different factors.
Source: Where does the fabric come from? Is it plant-derived or animal-derived? Was it grown organically?
Production: What kind of processes did the fabric go through? How much water consumption did those processes require? Were chemical treatments involved?
End-of-life: How long will the fabric last? Where does it go when it’s not usable anymore? Can it be recycled? Is it biodegradable?
These are just some of the questions worth asking when it comes to sustainable textiles and materials. Each fabric will have its strengths and weaknesses, but that’s okay— sustainability is an ever-evolving subject, and becoming conscious buyers will allow you to do some good to the planet while keeping up with your conscious customers.
Cotton is a natural fiber, light, versatile, and one of the most used fabrics for clothing production. However, conventional cotton is well known for being a water-intensive and chemical-intensive crop, requiring an enormous quantity of water to grow and a lot of pesticides, harmful to the planet. The alternative? Organic cotton.
The preferred choice of sustainable fabric suppliers, organic cotton is grown free from chemicals and pesticides, minimizing the impact on the environment. The GOTS certification is a great way to ensure cotton is truly organic, and produced with respect not only for the planet but also for the people who are working in the cotton fields and along the production chain.
Hemp is a zero-waste plant that is extremely versatile and therefore used as a sustainable alternative to intoxicating materials in many different fields— building construction, cosmetics, fossil fuels, and clothing for women and men. It is actually one of the oldest fabrics in the world, very durable and breathable, and gentle on the skin.
If you’re asking around what is the most sustainable fabric, then you’ll probably receive hemp as an answer, since its benefits are really impressive. It is grown easily everywhere in the world, requiring very little water (four times less water than non-organic cotton) and no pesticides, as it is naturally resistant to insect pests. Furthermore, it purifies the soil it grows in, absorbing and storing its pollutants. Also, every part of the plant, from roots to seeds can be put to use, guaranteeing no waste.
Another eco-friendly fabric that produces no waste and has been used for centuries as a clothing material is linen. It derives from the flax plant— a versatile crop that can grow in arid soil where nothing else would grow, with minimal water consumption and no chemicals involved.
Great sustainable fabric for clothing, linen is durable, breathable, strong yet light on the skin, and naturally resistant to moths and dirt.
Tencel or Lyocell (the first one being the branded name, the latter the general name) is a type of rayon derived from cellulose fibers obtained from wood pulp. Thanks to the closed-loop production process, Tencel is produced with a very low impact on the planet and using minimal resources. It requires less energy and water than cotton to be produced and it’s also naturally white, so it doesn’t need any chemical bleaching. Furthermore, it is biodegradable.
Today, Tencel is very popular among eco-friendly clothing materials also for its incredible benefits. It is very breathable, absorbing 50% more than cotton, and it has anti-bacterial properties, becoming a perfect choice for sportswear.
Different from the natural textiles above, ECONYL® is a type of recycled fiber. It is made from regenerated synthetic nylon waste, which might come from waste fabric, fishing nets, or other types of plastics. Thanks to the closed-loop production process, ECONYL® can be produced with no waste of water and energy.
Being much more sustainable than conventional nylon, ECONYL® preserves though many of the nylon yard properties, becoming a great option for activewear and swimwear. A downside? It remains a synthetic material, so it still emits microfibres into the environment.
Recycled polyester is obtained from used plastic water bottles, through a process that allows to break them down into fibers. Among the different sustainable clothing materials, recycled polyester is the one that most can represent a solution to plastic waste in landfills and seas. Thanks to minor CO2 emissions and reduced wastage of petroleum fuels, recycled polyester has way less impact on the environment in comparison to virgin polyester.
In addition to the above benefits, recycled polyester still holds all the properties of virgin fiber. It is durable and resistant, lightweight, crease-resistant and stain-resistant, and cheaper than other sustainable fabrics. It can also be recycled many times.
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