If you’ve paid any attention to fashion recently, you’ll have noticed that fashion is fully embracing sustainability. Earlier this month, Zara pledged to produce all its clothes from 100% sustainable cotton, linen and polyester by 2025. Inditex, the world’s third largest clothing company, also announced that the rest of its brands, including Massimo Dutti, Bershka and Stradivarius, will follow suit.
And it’s not just fast-fashion picking things up: luxury fashion house, Prada, also recently introduced Re-Nylon, its ambitious sustainability initiative using recycled Econyl® nylon.
Evidently, it’s becoming easier to access sustainable fashion products. And with options more available than ever, it can get quite confusing to know what’s what. We’ve listed three essential things to factor before deciding which sustainable fabrics to choose for your sartorial needs.
What garment do you need?
Always begin with considering what type of garment you’re considering to buy and identify the need or occasion. Break the habit of buying things compulsively and making countless, unnecessary justifications for something you’ll end up not wearing.
When and where are you buying?
Only after you’ve identified the need for a garment, decide with when and where you’re going to buy it. Do you have the headspace to look online? Or are you just picking it up after work? Perhaps you want to try on some options at the store to see how they fit?
What are my fabric options?
It’s also important to know the characteristic of the fabric and how to care for it daily.
For example, if you’re getting a T-shirt for some unforeseen hot, busy day out, you’ll need one that’s light, breathable, and is not too thin, so that you can wear it without outerwear. And you want one that you can wash yourself.
100% organic cotton is an obvious search, but consider an organic cotton-hemp blend instead. Hemp adds the durability you need: its tensile strength is three times tensile to that of cotton, and is weather-resistant, UV-protective and breathable. But it’s not a commonly found fibre in Singapore, yet—your best bet is to look online. That allows you some time to search more intensively.
Alpaca: Cashmere production has become notoriously destructive. It’s reason why some of the high fashion brands have resorted to alpaca, the production of which remains centralized in Peru. Its fibres are longer, lighter and warmer; it pills less than cashmere and is hypoallergenic. Naturally, alpaca come in a variation of 22 colours and is available at various price ranges.
Cupro: It is a by-product of cotton production, specifically from cotton linter. Cupro is an ethical and durable alternative to silk, which is usually made by extracting cocoons of certain insects by boiling it, in order to retain maximum silk thread length. Unlike silk, however, it’s machine-washable!
Econyl: A fibre made from the re-extraction of polyamide 6, a.k.a nylon. It’s created by shredding up recycled material—typically fishing nets—depolymerising it in a factory and then repolymerising it. H&M, Adidas and La Perla have already used the material for swimwear, while Prada, known for its iconic nylon bags, produced a range with Econyl and will move away from virgin nylon.
Ecovero: Another Lenzing innovation which serves as a viscose alternative.Its manufacturing requires 50% lower emissions and water impact than generic viscose. Ecovero is, traceable thanks to supply chain transparency, so that the branded fibres can be identified in the final product. While comfortably and luxuriously soft, viscose absorbs body oils and sweat, leaving marks and discoloration.
Tencel™/ Lyocell: The semi-synthetic material is a variation of silky-smooth rayon that feels great on the skin. Derived from eucalyptus trees, its farming does not require toxic pesticides nor a huge amount of water. However, it still requires chemicals to break down the fibers. It’s a favourite among manufacturers because it absorbs dye really well.
Organic Cotton: This remains as the world’s favourite fibre. Light, breathable and gentle to the skin, organic cotton makes great innerwear and underwear. Organic cotton is 75% less environmentally impactful compared to regular cotton. Always look out for various labelling to ensure that a product is both ecological and sustainable, like the OCS (Organic Content Standard) and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard).
Organic Linen: Made of flax, a resilient plant whose bi-product is linseed oil, linen is one of the most biodegradable fabrics. Particularly in France and Belgium, the fibres are broken down naturally with only rain and sun—turning flax into linen is chemical-free. Its natural beauty is immediately visible, and its breathability is great for use in our warm climate.
Organic Hemp: Hemp produces two to three times more fibre per acre than cotton and replenishes soil, rather than robbing its nutrients. That’s because the plant grows very quickly and can be grown anywhere in the world. Plenty of outdoor clothing uses hemp due to its resilience, insulation properties and water absorbency.
Wool: Unfortunately, wool has a controversial reputation because of the unethical treatment of sheep. Nonetheless, it is still a sustainable fibre because it is an animal by-product and therefore biodegradable. Keep an eye out for the Responsible Wool Standard, which maintains ethical practice from farming to end product.