If you run a fashion business or are thinking about starting one and want to do it in a sustainable way, there are many strategies you can implement in your company. But one of the most important factors (and probably the one that can make the biggest difference) in your sustainable practice is the choice of materials for your products. Committing to seek alternative and sustainable fabrics for garment production is a decision that will benefit both the environment and your fashion business. More specifically, this choice will have an impact on all three dimensions of sustainable development:
1. Environmental:The environmental factor is probably the most crucial element in encouraging the use of alternative textiles, because the choice of your fabric directly affects raw material sourcing (farming and petroleum drilling impact), material processing (chemicals needed to turn it into fiber), and end-of-life prospects (ways a garment can be disposed, for example, if it can be recycled or composted). The type of fabric used to make your product will determine how much environmental degradation it ends up causing. Furthermore, the materials used to make the fabrics have a direct impact on and contribute to: water consumption, micro-plastic pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, soil degradation, rainforest destruction, and, finally, massive landfill waste. Not to mention the impact that animal-derived fabrics have on the treatment of the animals from which they are derived; just as the food industry, the fashion industry is still tainted with many crimes involving animal cruelty.
2. Social: For both environmental and social reasons, more and more emphasis is being placed on raw material sourcing and production to be done in an ethical manner – without the use of pesticides and with fair labor conditions. In this way, first, the land remains productive and not barren; and second, replacing chemical dyes with natural dyes will help improve the health of the workers who handle these dyes and are involved in the manufacturing process. Traditional cotton sourcing, for example, has been linked for centuries to worker exploitation, but new standards have arisen to monitorize these practices
3. Economical: Using eco-friendly materials will also have a significant impact on economic conditions. Even though the quantity of raw materials produced by a natural process is limited, the quality remains high. This means that, although the process of producing natural raw materials may take longer, resulting in a higher product cost, the materials, being natural and eco-friendly, the final products will last longer. A higher cost would logically imply lower consumption, thereby slowing the fast fashion movement. As a result of the lower consumption, dumping in landfills will be lower, and the costs of environmental protection will be significantly lower. But the higher price will also have several beneficial effects on the supply chain because it gives back more to the workers and allows manufacturers to invest more in innovative production processes.
On the other hand, choosing sustainable materials and more sustainable production processes will benefit your business due to society’s increased concern around environmental issues, and consumers are looking for products that are both environmentally friendly and long-lasting. As a result, consumers will be attracted to a product that has a positive environmental and social impact. It’s a win-win!
Innovation vs availability
Since society and the fashion industry realized that it is no longer possible to ignore the environmental impact of the fashion industry research for new material alternatives that would reduce or eliminate the environmental impact have arisen. At the moment, there are many tested and available alternatives on the market, but the search for ever more sustainable materials is constantly evolving.
More and more innovative materials are being discovered to replace those currently in use, some of which are quite bizarre (one time we even saw a girl wearing a homemade sweater made completely of human hair! I mean whaaat?!). Materials that we would’ve never thought of as resources for making clothes, but which are still difficult to get, require more complex processing, or require advanced procedures that are not yet accessible to everyone. I’m referring for example to the discovery of novel materials such as Algae leather or microsilk derived from spider’s web. These are all interesting options that may become mainstream in the fashion world in the future, but for the time being, they are still in a development phase as producing them on a large scale and making them accessible is still an issue without a solution yet. But don’t lose hope! There are already a variety of easily accessible alternative materials on the market that are already used by many fashion brands, we’ll talk about them in our next article.