Many of the clothes we wear today are made from synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester. Nylon and polyester are made from petrochemicals, which are very polluting to the environment, causing global warming. They are also non-biodegradable, which means they don’t break down easily and so are difficult to dispose of. In order to manufacture nylon, nitrous oxide is released as part of the process. Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas that is 310 times stronger than carbon dioxide and causes global warming.
Natural fibres have their problems, too. Conventional, non-organic cotton uses more pesticide per cotton plant than almost any other crop in the world. This has serious impacts, causing illness and even death amongst cotton farmers who are exposed to dangerous pesticides every day. These pesticides also affect local eco-systems, killing certain plants and animals and causing an imbalance.
And certain textile dyes are thought to cause cancer. In many parts of the world, garments are dyed or bleached using toxic chemicals without proper precautions; the chemicals used can then affect workers and flow into sewers and rivers, damaging local ecosystems.
Energy, waste and water usage also are significant factors in the environmental impact of the textile and apparel industry. Although most waste, energy and water consumption is produced in the consumer use phase of a garment, better manufacturing and processing can lead to some serious environmental improvements across the industry.
As part of this year’s SOURCE Expo 2012, we present an essential review of suppliers that are leading the way in reducing their environmental impacts – from fibre to frock. We focus on three key areas:
- Use of natural and AZO-free dyes
- Use of organic fibres
- Minimising carbon footprint, waste and water use
1. USE OF NATURAL AND AZO-FREE DYES
The textile industry is a large consumer of volatile chemicals and generator of pollutants. The processes that output the most pollutants within the textile industry include the coating, finishing, dyeing and printing processes.
This is an area that many suppliers are tackling through use of natural dyes, water-based inks using natural rather than chemical solvents, and digital printing that minimises both chemicals and waste in the process.
This year at the SOURCE Expo 2012, we’ll be featuring the following pioneering suppliers that are using natural and AZO-free dyes:
Asilli SAC is a Peruvian company leader in manufacturing of hand knitted, GOTS certified, organic cotton yarns. The organic cotton is dyed with extracts of native plants originating from Peru, through a process similar to that used by the ancient pre-Inca culture. When the yarns are dyed they are left to dry naturally in the sun, thus ensuring that the yarn and dyes retain the qualities of the natural and organic product. Finally, the yarns are hand finished.
Ayuvastra is an Irish company specialising in fabrics dyed with medicinal plants, designed to enhance health and well-being. Fabrics are dyed using a controlled mixture of dyes found in herbs like mimosa pudica, cumin seeds, champa flower, turmeric, neem and more. All of herbs and plants used in the dyeing process are grown locally or regionally.
There is no machine processing and no chemical additives in their dyeing process as well as no chemical finishes used in the process of preparing the fibres for spinning and weaving. The final product is 100% organic and biodegradable, which means it is completely free of synthetic chemicals and toxic irritants.
Earth-Tones International is a network of producers of organic dyed, batik, printed woven and knit cottons in Bali. Specialising in indigo stamp batik silk scarves, stamp batik cotton, high-end traditional woven textiles, cotton ikats and silk songkets, sourced from the indigenous textile communities of Indonesia, Earth Tones has become known for their beautiful and unique stamp batiking techniques.
Mehera Shaw is an ethical design house founded in 1999, based in the US with its production studio in India. The company specialises in fine cottons, hand block prints and other highly skilled artisanal textiles. Their patterns are created in a traditional manner, stamped directly onto the fabric (organic silk or cotton) with hand carved blocks made out of teak tree, used in North India for many centuries.
Each colour of the print requires a separate block, with the pattern being stamped individually onto the fabric and left to dry in the sun. Strictly AZO free dyes are used, many of which are vegetable based and made according to traditional recipes. Additionally, many the fabrics on offer are handspun in local villages, produced without the use of electricity.
Tosheka Textiles is USA/Kenya based supplier that specialises in the production of “green textiles” for home, clothing and fashion accessories. The fabrics are printed and tie-dyed with natural pigments and other environmentally-friendly dyes. The company also offers a range of products that include hand woven and knitted apparel and accessories made of natural hand spun cotton yarn.
MARMALADE TEXTILES by A.M.A by srl
Italian-based Marmalade Textiles are dedicated to using and developing a new eco-sustainable dyeing technology using only natural substances such as fruit puree, herbs, flowers, soil and various other substances (for example licorice, coffee, cocoa, wine, paprika, mustard).
Their textiles are characterized by great softness and lightness, and are extremely delicate on the skin. All marmalade textiles are produced with flying shuttle and jacquard looms to guarantee the refinement and the utmost care in the treatment of the yarn.
2. USE OF ORGANIC FIBRES
The organic movement has been popular since the 1970’s, and since the 1990’s the sale of organic products has increased every year.
Unlike most of today’s conventional methods of producing fibres and fabric, organic production does not involve the use of chemicals and other artificial methods. Many organic certification systems have now expanded to address a broad range of environmental criteria, technical quality and human toxicity criteria and minimum social standards.
Many of the suppliers that we’ll be featuring at the SOURCE Expo 2012 are leading suppliers of organic fabrics, and quite often have been certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).
GOTS is recognised as the world’s leading processing standard for textiles made from organic fibres. It defines high-level environmental criteria along the entire organic textiles supply chain and requires compliance with social criteria as well.
AURA HERBAL TEXTILES
Aura Herbal is certified by GOTS standard for their natural, herbal dyeing process as well as for its use of organic fabrics, textiles and yarns. Their innovative process of producing herbal textiles and dyes helps them in impeding pollution and harm caused by regularly dyed textiles.
Another GOTS certified supplier is Coccon UG, a new supplier that specialises in non-violent silk, which allows the caterpillar to pupate, so they can return at the end of metamorphosis as butterflies back into nature without killing it prematurely and respecting natural lifecycles. This material is most suitable for a high-end product.
Not only this but the New Delhi-based company works with rural and underdeveloped communities such as local tribes in Saraikela in the Kharsawa district of Jharkhand to support sustainable livelihoods in the communities.
Based in India and family owned and managed, Fusion Clothing is a supplier of GOTS ertified organic cotton, bamboo, soybean and blended fabrics in jersey, pique, interlock and fleece. Specialising in the middle to higher end markets, Fusion also manufactures garments including t-shirts, polos, tracksuits, shorts and shirts for men, women and children. Lead times are 60-75 days with minimum order of 1,000 pcs for garment production.
Founded in 2010 in Oslo Norway, Green Tex offers all kinds of services and products related to the organic cotton value chain. Green Tex designs and manufactures organic cotton products, textiles and garments made of environmentally friendly components. Part of the products they offer include: organic raw cotton and refined byproducts such as cotton seeds, ginned cotton lint bales, seed oil and seed oil cake. All of the products are of premium quality and made from certified organically grown crops.
Mantis World offers a range of organic cotton clothing called “Tender Loving Clothing” (TLC) made exclusively in Tanzania. The line is GOTS certified and made out of 100% organic African cotton. This fabric uses less water, as it’s naturally rain fed and not artificially irrigated. It’s better for the environment, because it doesn’t use chemical pesticides and fertilisers that would otherwise pollute the land, water and air.
Mantis World produce bespoke garments for a range of well-known brands within its Design-It-Yourself range. The bespoke service comes with a minimum order quantity depending on the custom finishes. A minimum order starts from one dye lot – approximately 500 men’s t-shirts, or from just 300 pieces if you simply want to add your own label into one of our stock products.
ORGANIC TEXTILE COMPANY
UK-supplier Organic Textile Company organic cotton, fair trade cotton, denim & calico, organic cotton fleece, voile, sheeting, cord, velvet, jersey, crossweaves, muslin, and more. Prices start from £2.50 a metre and in-stock materials can be shipped out within 2-3 days stock 2/3 days with commission orders taking from 3 to 6 months.
Turkish supplier Parko Textile was founded in 1999 by two idealist textile engineers and since become known for supplying ready made garments and accessories from GOTS certified organic cotton. Its products include: yarns, noil, knitted and woven fabrics, towels and bathrobes, as well as all kinds of apparel and accessories. Parkotex can work to quick-moving fashion seasons and offers competitive prices with fast delivery times.
3. MINIMISING CARBON FOOTPRINT, WATER USE AND WASTE
According to a study by Blue & Green Tomorrow, one t-shirt results in 3,710g of CO2 during its lifecycle; this is equivalent to a 17 mile car journey.
In another study, sustainable manufacturer Continental Clothing has found that the carbon footprint of their Men’s white T-shirt in size Large would be 6.574kg CO2 using industry standard production methods. Considering the large scale of the apparel industry, this level of emissions contributes to significant environmental detriment.
By eliminating emission of green-house gases as much as is presently possible, through things like ‘low emission’ organic farming and investing in cleaner technology, several fabric suppliers are beginning to reduce their carbon footprint, setting a new industry standard.
Waste and water usage are other hot issues across the textile and apparel sector. The combined waste from clothing and textiles in the UK is about 2.35 million tonnes, 13% going to material recovery (about 300 thousand tonnes), 13% to incineration and 74% (1.8 million tonnes) to landfill, according to the University of Cambridge, Institute of Manufacturing.
With new processes being developed such as Levi’s Water>Less Denim and Continental Clothing’s Earth Positive range, many suppliers working to minimise waste and water use in the production process.
The following suppliers represent a selection of those that are leading the way in reducing carbon footprint, water use and waste:
Aurganik is a line of organic fabrics from Indian company, Yuti Textile Processors and is going a long way to reduce its impacts on the environment. Powering its facilities using solar energy, rain water harvesting and recycled waste water, Aurganik is also committed to zero waste management, which means that all waste is reused, repaired or recycled, and no waste is dumped on the landfill.
India-based Moral Fibre specialises in handspun, handwoven, lower carbon fabrics, using almost no electricity and no harmful chemicals. Using the cradle-to-cradle approach, Moral Fibres offers cotton, silk, wool, blends and organic cotton in a wide range of textures and weights, from whites and neutrals to soft colours using natural dyes and printed patterns. Moral Fibre is also using natural dyes and traditional production techniques, is employing cooperatives mainly women-run and is investing in R&D in order to improve its sustainability agenda.
SLOWCOLOR is a premium, fairly-traded, eco-textile brand based in Boulder, Colorado. By paying artisans in India a living wage, using natural plant and mineral-based dyes and mordants and choosing fibres such as linen that grow naturally pesticide free and are not water intensive, SLOWCOLOR rejuvenates centuries-old fabric dyeing techniques and handlooming traditions that also protect the environment and create fabrics that are healthy for life.
SLOWCOLOR creates finished goods in fashion and home furnishing as well as sources fabrics to designers and companies.
THE SUSTAINABLE ANGLE
Although not a supplier itself, The Sustainable Angle, a not for profit organisation, promotes projects which contribute to minimising the environmental impact of the textile and apparel industry. Their main project is the Future Fabrics Expo, which showcases and promotes innovative and commercially viable fibres, fabrics and products that fulfill the following criteria: reduction of water use and wastage across the textile supply chain, the utilization and reduction of identifiable waste streams for textile production, reduction of the carbon impact across the textile supply chain and preservation and promotion of biodiversity.