In the world of sustainability, rayon, silk and polyester just don’t cut it with green-minded designers.
In an effort to help clean up the fashion systems, some are turning to more unexpected choices such as viscose made from Norwegian wood pulp, domestically sourced wool and cotton grown in California with color already embedded it.
Jeanine Ballone, who recently joined Fashion 4 Development, which champions sustainability among apparel companies and brands, said more designers will adopt sustainable fabrics as they become more readily available, and pressure mounts on them to do so. “There are technologies and new materials available now that they can start making changes in and they are just now doing it. Pressure from consumers and policymakers are not pushing hard enough to make them accountable,” she said, adding that a recent survey suggested that one in three people consider social and environmental issues when buying clothes.
Here, WWD asked eco-friendly designers for some of their favorite fabrics and ones they wish they could find. And a few addressed some of the roadblocks they have faced along the way:
Favorite fabric: I have always loved linen. It has been a core material for us since the very first collection. It’s durable, free-flowing and weightless, which is especially useful in the hot summer months — somehow, you always feel put together in it. Our organic linens are also the perfect embodiment of our commitment to sourcing sustainable fibers. For our spring 2019 collection, 99 percent of our linen will be organic, which is a record for us.
Wish-list fabric: The beauty in sourcing materials these days is that there are myriad sustainable options, which has historically been the hurdle. For example, we transitioned from viscose to Tencel to ensure we are utilizing pulp made from sustainably harvested trees. Our remaining challenge is developing a sustainable alternative to spandex as well as creating a variety of trims that have sustainable attributes.
Greatest challenge: The difficulty is still centered around meeting the minimum production volume requirements as well as the fact that suppliers can have extremely long lead times.
Favorite fabric: I love our Eco Drape fabric, because we, as a team, really pushed to create a more responsible version of a core fabric group. Eco Drape is a viscose-based textile that we developed directly in one of our mills. While regular viscose uses higher water consumption and energy, this ecologically responsible version uses a viscose yarn manufactured from a mixture of Norway Spruce and Scots Pine wood pulp, sourced out of certified sustainable forests in Domsjö, Sweden. It is FSC and Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified and REACH compliant. We now not only use the viscose for Eco Drape, but we developed it into other textiles as well, such as mixing it with a linen or weaving it into jacquards, to keep pushing and innovating with the materials. It was a risk that paid off and one that keeps evolving.
Wish-list fabric: I’d love for there to be a responsibly created faux fur option. Right now, the chemicals and processes that go into creating these faux textiles are actually quite harmful to the environment. I’d love to have access to an alternative option, but right now, I’m not happy with how these faux textiles are being made.
Greatest challenge: There are some really incredible, closed-loop solutions to textile and dye creation, such as the amazing work Deakin University in Australia is doing turning fabric scraps into dyes. I just want these innovations to be pushed to market sooner. There are fantastic groups that have created lab-grown leathers or algae-based textiles. We need to get these to the market faster so designers can start to incorporate them into their collections. As a company, we are committed to finding creative ways to reuse fabrication that might otherwise be wasted. It’s good to give textiles a second life and companies such as Deakin, who are using technology to advance responsible design fits in perfectly with our priority of reducing waste, wherever possible. We need more of this.
Woody Blackford, Columbia Sportswear’s vice president of design and innovation
Favorite fabric: We love our OutDry Extreme Eco membrane because it’s ultra-high performance in the wettest weather and super-breathable at the same time. That combination makes it the holy grail for rain shells. That said, it also happens to be made with a process free of PFCs, all fibers including trims are made from 100 percent recycled content, and the jackets aren’t dyed to save 13 gallons of water per jacket compared to conventionally dyed shells. It took us years to develop in our lab and several seasons to test it in the outdoors, and we’re extremely proud that our fabric helps people step outdoors while leaving a very light environmental footprint.
Wish-list fabric: Ultimately, Columbia seeks to innovate around performance and environmental challenges that the outdoor industry tends to struggle with. The greatest challenge we’ve found is identifying the most important problems to be solved and then developing solutions that truly excel in real-world weather conditions. It’s a constant challenge, but fortunately, consumers are beginning to understand that an environmentally sound jacket can perform as well as a traditional shell. It’s a very exciting time and as an industry, we’re just getting started.
Kevin Germanier of Germanier
Favorite fabric: The colored glass pearls I found during an internship in Hong Kong. Because they are individually tinted and sorting them out takes too much time, they can’t all be melted together to make new pieces so they are discarded and buried in the ground as if they were trash. I now use them for our collections: We apply them to our fabric by hand using a silicone mix.
Wish-list fabric: You could find anything as long as you are a good detective. The only limit is yourself. The biggest and most interesting challenge about sustainability is sourcing in my opinion. This is also the biggest strength because you never know what you will find. It will only make your work more valuable and unique.
Greatest challenge: People have a preconceived idea of what sustainability is and what a sustainable brand should look like. I really enjoy proving to people that sustainability can be exciting, shiny, dazzling.
Anaïs Dautais Warmel of Les Récupérables
Favorite fabric: Linen and hemp, two fabrics that require a lot less water to be made and are produced in Europe.
Wish-list fabric: A fabric that doesn’t need any water to be produced, and one that you could bury in your garden to give your flowers an organic boost.
Greatest challenge: To rethink the whole economy as circular, so that at each step it benefits the environment and helps people’s integration into society. We also need to address quantities that are produced: Too often, clothes end up being stocked, burnt or exported. So we need to think about creating products in a sustainable manner, so that they can be easily dealt with at the end of their life. Fashion is recoverable, and it’s up to people in the industry to use their common sense.
Favorite fabric: My favorite fabric is wool sourced domestically from American Woolen. I like to work with mills that tend their sheep or grow their plants not too far from where I live and work. I also enjoy the creative process of coming up with textiles made out of scraps and leftovers. If the cotton is from a good place, such as Vreseis, even better. There, Sally Fox grows the fiber with the color already embedded in the process, which conserves water, eliminates that nasty metal used in industrial dyeing, and offers many other benefits.
Wish-list fabric: I wish someone could do the same with silk, like feed the worms with beets and carrots to get red, to get orange. That would be so much fun.
Greatest challenge: The difficulty of producing anything beautiful and of world-class quality is in itself, challenging. Taking the sustainable route just adds another element to the equation, but one that brings loads of return. But running any business remains pesky. The adjustment to choose the slower, less convenient path — for the sake of the greater good — can pose behavioral resistance. But as I mentioned, the ROI is pretty incredible.
Favorite and wish-list fabrics: I’m researching the perfect sustainable coating fabric. There are many suppliers that call themselves “eco-friendly,” but some are infinitely better than others. Finding the right material for cold and wet winter weather is something that will take some time, but there are constant new innovations in the textile industry as the demand for sustainable products grow, presenting more and more options.
Greatest challenge: When I changed my business to on-demand, one of the greatest challenges I faced was finding a partner who shared the same vision as me and a scalable production model. It’s so much more than just the fabric of the product: The method behind how the clothes are made need to be taken into consideration, the working conditions of the factory, the packaging. It’s a big undertaking.
Favorite fabric: “My favorite material is comfortable, drapes, is washable and travels well, sustainable because of how well it wears and how long it lasts.
Wish-list fabric: Looking for a cotton fabric, knit or stretch, that is washable, comes in several weights and is constructed tightly enough that it does not lose its form or distort. I’d like to be able to grow a fabric onto a mold for clothes that are gender fluid and universal.
Greatest challenge: The greatest challenge of developing sustainable products is building customer awareness and appreciation.
Alabama Chanin’s Natalie Chanin
Favorite fabric: Our brand has been built on cotton jersey. It’s been part of the vernacular of my community for 100-plus years so Alabama Chanin is working to create new stories around this material. Today, we’re also loving to work with organic chambray, flannel, canvas and denim as these are great companions to our organic cotton jersey, waffle and terry cloth.
Wish-list fabric: We wish that there were more organic mills in the U.S. producing these fabrications.
Greatest challenge: There are now — and always have been — three main areas of concern for us: 1) the sourcing of materials and supply chain; 2) the difficulty of manufacturing in the USA and rebuilding manufacturing skills; 3) the bridge between our brand and the customer. The eternal question of how we better inform and connect.
Rebekah Carter, global senior designer, snow, at Quiksilver
Favorite fabric: There is still a lot of development that needs to be done within sustainable fabrics for the snow industry. There are options, but you need to do your research and make sure that it really is a sustainable and ecological way to work. For example, making sure the fabric doesn’t travel round the world three times to have a recyclable code. At Quiksilver, we really take this into account. Solution-dying fabrics is a great innovation, and is being pushed now by many factories which is great. It reduces water pollution in the dying process which is a real bonus, as the textile industry is accountable for a lot of water wastage.
Wish-list fabric: Lots of the higher-end fabric brands are late to the game to develop ecological, sustainable fabric solutions. It’s tough, because it can minimize the level of performance. But in the world we are living in today, we need to adapt and push development into sustainable fabrics as far as we can.