Manual of Sustainable Materials

Rule of thumb

Before we get into this, I want to make one comment. An arsenic tee shirt made in a factory that is local leaves less of a carbon footprint than the occasional organic tee that is offered in Wal-Mart and made abroad. Want to be green? Make and sell locally.

That bit of business out of the way, let’s get dig deeper into the process of picking materials. There is a tremendous variety of sustainable materials. The consumer’s appetite for sustainability is growing, so options abound in this area.

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Linen

Linen is made from flax, a traditional fiber crop that needs few chemical fertilizers and less pesticide than cotton. Linen is distinct is its textured surface that is often desirable. Innovations at Guide Fabrics showcase the length and breadth of linen.

linen

Pros: Works in various weights and takes on color with a distinctive beauty.

Cons: Wrinkles!

Hemp

Hemp is arguably the most sustainable fiber of all. Hemp needs few if any agrochemicals and at the same time binds and enriches the soil with its deep roots. Could you ask for more? Hemp is woven and knitted, so the variety of fabrics is endless. At The Sourcing District, we offer hemp blends in a very pleasing palette of colors.

Hemp is best blended with cotton, recycled poly, and silk. Blended with recycled poly, it produces one of the most interesting fleece fabrics that we know of. Blended with organic cotton, it is spectacular in denim, chambray and cambric.

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Pros: Durable, adapts well to blending other fibers.

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Cons: Can have a rough finish.

Rayon derivatives

Now we get to a category called “rayon derivatives” – bamboo, modal, tencel (lyocell), cupro (cuprammonium), and viscose are all essentially versions of rayon. What is rayon? Rayon is a fiber made out of wood pulp. Bamboo is rayon from the bamboo plant. Modal is from beechwood trees. Domestic knitters like Sextet Fabrics in New York City make a fabric called micro modal with very fine modal yarns. All of these fabrics are man-made from natural materials.

Rayon derivatives can be controversial – not everyone considers fabric from these fibers sustainable because there toxic byproduct in the production of these fibers. Here is my take on it. Fabrics made from yarns produced by the fiber company Lenzing Fibers are manufactured in a closed loop. In other words, the manufacturing is self-contained – residue from it is not being dumped in a river or other parts of the natural environment environment. Lenzing Fibers is very progressive. At The Sourcing District, we offer Lenzing’s tencel in knit and woven fabrics, including an enzyme-washed tencel twill.

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Pros: Soft to the touch, washable, naturally anti-bacterial, and most of these fabrics have a natural moisture management (wicking) characteristic – these fabrics have great “cache” with today’s consumer.

Cons: Like with other wonderful fabrics, beware of cheap and ill-conceived knock offs.

Organic cotton

Organic cotton is the mother of sustainable fibers, most frequently associated with sustainability. How is organic cotton different from conventional cotton? Organic cotton is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Conventional cotton uses four to five times more pesticides than most other agricultural products and organic uses zero! Organic cotton that is certified by GOTS (China, India, and Turkey’s organic certification program) or NOP (USDA’s organic certification program) is the real thing.

We love cotton. It’s in our tees, jeans, khakis, oxford shirts, seersucker dresses and so much more. Cotton is knit and woven. It can be as casual as sweatshirt fleece and as elegant as fine voile prints and lustrous sateen. It is durable and washable.

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Pros: Soft, versatile, great consumer acceptance.

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Cons: Price

Recycled Polyester

This is one of the fastest developing new categories. Recycled polyester first made a splash in the market with the launch of “pop-bottle fleece”. Since then, textile developers incorporated recycled poly into a wide variety of knit and woven fabrics. Recycled poly can take on a softer “hand” or feel than its conventional counterpart. It can also be used for sublimation printing. Look for the latest and greatest from innovators at Carolina Mills and others.

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Pros: High amount of innovation in textile development of this category.

Cons: Consumers may not be emotionally tied to recycled polyester as they are to bamboo, tencel and organic cotton.

Stay tuned

This should be a good outline. Keep your eyes open, as new sustainable materials are constantly appearing. At The Sourcing District, we have seen sales of sustainable fabrics quadruple in the last three years. These and performance fabrics are driving the market. Stay tuned for more on the subject.


 

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