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EFF SOURCE Fashion business success without compromise

15 February 2012

Sustainable fibres and fabrics: The options for designers

Contributor Patsy Perry

With advances in technology being made every day, the choices for designers about which sustainable fibres to choose are constantly multiplying. Patsy Perry talks SOURCE readers through the variety of options, and flags up strengths, opportunities and challenges in each case. Image: Raffauf

As oil and cotton prices reach record levels, it is high time to consider sustainability in terms of embracing material diversity and using more resource-efficient alternatives to cotton and polyester. To embrace material diversity and make environmentally responsible fabric selection decisions, fashion designers need an understanding of how fabrics are made and an awareness of the range of renewable, sustainable sources which are available in the marketplace. As well as traditional sustainable fabrics like hemp and bamboo, recent advances in bio-engineering technology mean there is now a whole host of innovative regenerated protein and plant fabrics that are sustainable and suitable for clothing.

Material diversity in fashion can be seen in US eco-conscious designer Nina Valenti’s naturevsfuture’ label, launched in 2002. She incorporates organic, sustainable, renewable, biodegradable and recycled materials in her collections. Fabrics include organic cotton, organic wool, hemp, soy fibre, bamboo, seacell® (from seaweed), lyocell (from wood pulp), Ingeo™ (created from corn starch), along with recycled technological fabrics such as Polartec’s recycled polyesters (made from plastic drink bottles and industry waste).

Although we may be familiar with the benefits of organic cotton, what are the other sustainable fabric options available on the market today for fashion designers that want to embrace material diversity? This article offers a concise summary of the strengths and challenges associated with a range of fabrics and fibres, from banana fibre to bamboo, hemp, crab, milk, soy, crab shell, corn, and more, including examples of businesses and ranges using each fibre.

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