At Sustain Textiles, we aim to work with fabrics with a minimal impact on our natural environment. Our production and manufacturing processes are designed with sustainability in mind.
We understand that it can be confusing to know what fabrics or threads are the most ethical or sustainable, which is why we’re here to help.
When we first started our journey, we worked under the impression that anything with the word ‘eco’ in front of it as sustainable. However, we soon came to realise that this is not always the case…
Which is why we are continuously researching, learning and growing our knowledge in this area.
Cotton is a natural fibre grown on a plant related to the commonly found garden species hibiscus.
What we’ve discovered about cotton vs organic cotton.
The Impact of Cotton
- Cotton accounts for 16% of global insecticide release – more than any other single crop.
- Almost one kilogram of hazardous pesticides is applied for every hectare under cotton. In India, home to over one-third of the world’s cotton farmers, cotton accounts for 54% of all pesticides used annually – despite occupying just 5% of land under crops.
- Pesticides can poison farm workers, drift into neighbouring communities, contaminate ground and surface water and kill beneficial insects and soil micro-organisms.
- According to a recent publication prepared jointly for the FAO, UNEP and WHO, between 1% and 2% of agricultural workers worldwide suffer from acute pesticide poisoning: with at least 1 million requiring hospitalisation each year.
- Pesticides used in cotton production cause air pollution which can cause diseases such as cancer. Around 43 million tons of pesticide-laden dust is blown into the air every year.
- It takes 10,000 litres of water to produce 1 kilo of cotton, meaning it takes about 2,700 litres to make 1 cotton t-shirt.
The Benefits of Organic Cotton
- Organic cotton production systems replenish and maintain soil fertility, eliminate the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, and build biologically diverse agriculture.
- Textile Exchange found that to produce a T-shirt, conventional cotton would use 2,168 gallons of water compared to 186 for organic (a difference of 1,982 gallons).
- To make a pair of jeans, conventional cotton would take 9,910 gallons of water compared to 932 with organic (a savings of 8,978 gallons).
- According to a 2017 report by the Textiles Exchange, organic cotton uses 91 per cent less ‘blue’ water (from groundwater and surface-water bodies, such as freshwater lakes and rivers) than conventional cotton.
- In fact, 95 per cent of the water used to grow organic cotton is green water (rainwater and water stored in the soil).
- Organic cotton production uses no pesticides and methods like crop rotation, nurturing natural predator population and intercropping are used to halt the development of cotton pest population. In fact, there’s 70 percent less acidification of land and water.
- Growing organic cotton also reduces levels of water pollution by 98 per cent, and doesn’t pollute the air with toxic pesticides particles as synthetic chemicals such as pesticides and fertilisers aren’t used.
- Lack of seed availability: Organic seeds are difficult to procure and distribute to farmers. Even when they are available, getting them to farmers in developing countries where most cotton currently comes from is a challenge.
- Inadequate support: There is not enough support available to the farmers who are planning or trying to switch from conventional to organic cotton farming. The conversion costs for farmers is another significant burden.
Recycled cotton can be generally defined as converting cotton fabric into cotton fibre that can be reused in textile products. Recycled cotton is also commonly referred to as regenerated cotton, reclaimed cotton, or shoddy.
What we’ve learned about recycled cotton.
Where Recycled Cotton Comes From
Textile recycling is generated from two primary sources
- Pre-consumer: These are the remains of yarns and fabrics that are discarded in the process of cutting and making clothing, home textiles and other fashion accessories.
- Post-consumer: includes garments, upholstery, towels, household items, whose cotton fibres will be reused in the development of a new product.
The Benefits of Recycled Cotton
The process of recycling can reduce textile waste by recycling products which usually goes to landfills.
The amount of energy, water, and dye use is reduced from using a product that has already been processed. The savings are achieved through offsetting the production of new materials.
The CO2 and fossil fuel emission savings can be partially offset by using existing materials. However, the collection, processing, and shipping of cotton scraps or clothing can reduce or neutralize some of these savings.
Linen is made from the flax plant. Flax is cultivated both for its fibre, from which linen yarn and fabric are made, and for its nutritious seeds, called flaxseed or linseed, from which linseed oil is obtained.
What we’ve learned about linen.
The Impact of Conventional Linen
- Conventional linen is processed into fibre from the raw flax crop through a process of water-retting. This involves soaking the flax crop in rivers or waterways, and results in a high amount of pollutants making their way into the waterways.
- The pollutants which result from water-retting include residual agrochemicals, as well as natural waste. Excess plant matter in the waterways upsets the eco-system and leads to an imbalance.
The Benefits of Linen
Linen is valued for its strength, lustre, durability, and moisture absorbency and is highly biodegradable.
It is resistant to attack from microorganisms, and its smooth surface repels dirt. It is stronger than cotton, dries more quickly, and is more slowly affected by exposure to sunlight.
The method of producing linen fabric from the flax plant uses far less water than it does to produce the same amount of cotton. This makes it a more sustainable choice. A good proportion of flax plants are grown using rainwater.
Fewer pesticides are used to grow flax than in cotton growing, and linen fibres can also be processed without the use of chemicals.
Flax can also be cultivated or grown on poor soil. Linen is less resource-hungry, and once it has finished its useful life linen fabric will simply biodegrade with no harmful waste or by-products.
TENCEL® is a branded lyocell fiber that comes from the pulp of trees. Tencel is a cellulose fibre, which is made by dissolving wood pulp and using a special drying process called spinning.
What we’ve learned about Tencel.
The Impact of Tencel
- Tencel is more environmentally friendly than other fabrics and is biodegradable. It’s produced on a “closed-loop system”, in which 99% of the chemicals and solvents (non-toxic) used in the process to break down the wood pulp are recovered and recycled with minimal waste and very low emissions.
- Tencel is also made from eucalyptus trees, which do not require pesticides or irrigation according to the Natural Resource Defence Council (NRDC).
The Benefits of Tencel
- TENCEL™ Lyocell fibres are versatile and can be combined with a wide range of textile fibres such as cotton, polyester, acrylic, wool, and silk to enhance the aesthetics and functionality of fabrics.
- Unique physical properties of TENCEL™ Lyocell fibres lead to their great strength, efficient moisture absorption and gentleness to skin.
- Up to 70% less land is required to produce 1 ton of lyocell fibre when compared with other cellulose fibre (such as Viscose) and cotton. Moreover, 1364 litres less water is required to produce a t-shirt using Tencel rather than cotton.
- Tencel can be dyed easily compared to other fibres. It has high dyeing efficiency and significantly reduces the use of dyes, water, alkaline and energy usage.
Polyester is a synthetic fabric that is usually derived from petroleum.
What we’ve learned about Recycled Polyester.
The Impact of Recycled Polyester
It is difficult to make recycled polyester from used garments because most of the garments are not 100 percent made from polyester.
Total energy consumption to produce one tonne of polyester fibre is 3 times more compared to other fibres such as organic cotton and hemp.
It is difficult to get a consistent colour for recycled polyester. Inconsistency of dye uptake makes it hard to get good batch-to-batch colour consistency and this can lead to high levels of re-dyeing, which requires high water, energy, and chemical use.
The Benefits of Recycled Polyester
- Recycled polyester is almost the same as virgin polyester in terms of quality, but its production requires 59 percent less energy compared to virgin polyester, according to a 2017 study by the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment.
- Recycled polyester can contribute to reducing the extraction of crude oil and natural gas from the Earth to make more plastic. Using recycled polyester lessens our dependence on petroleum as a source of raw materials.
- Recycled polyester gives a second life to a material that is not biodegradable and would otherwise end up in landfill or the ocean.
- Garments from recycled polyester aim to be continuously recycled without degradation of quality.
How We Use Our Materials
Generally, natural materials are more sustainable than synthetic, which is why we aim to promote the use of natural materials wherever possible.
All of our Organic Cotton products are GOTS certified. We use this material in our school uniforms and business range, as it is incredibly versatile and adaptable to a range of styles and designs.
Linen is likewise breathable and comfortable to wear in hot weather, whilst also highly attractive and professional looking. This makes it an ideal material for corporate clothing.
Tencel is our alternative to polyester, and we can blend Tencel with other fabrics such as organic cotton. It also has antibacterial properties, which makes it an ideal choice for active wear.
Where the above options are not appropriate, we are able to work with recycled polyester, depending on the preference of each client.
If you have questions or are uncertain about which material will best suit your wholesale clothing needs, we are happy to offer our guidance and provide swatches where necessary.