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A guide to sustainable fabrics for buyers and brands

August 18, 2021

Global warming has been on the rise making sustainability an increasingly hot topic across the world.

Did you know the fashion industry is responsible for about 10% of global carbon emissions and almost 20% of wastewater? To make just one pair of jeans, 33.4 kilograms of greenhouse carbon is emitted while 2,700 liters of water is required to make one cotton t-shirt. As one of the most polluting industries in the world, the time to make a change is now. 

Brands from the high end to high street are placing sustainability as a key priority in their corporate strategies. With one of the major contributors to pollution being the way clothes are made - from the chemicals used in the treatment and dyeing process, to the amount of water wasted - a great way for brands to be more sustainable is to source for fabrics that are made in an ecologically-responsible way. 

 

What are sustainable fabrics?

Sustainable fabrics are often made from natural or recycled materials with the aim to reduce environmental harm and impact through a responsible production process. This can include reducing waste material, conserving water and lowering emissions. While no production process can be completely sustainable, the goal is to be more responsible to protect the environment for future generations and life on earth.  

Common sustainable fabrics

So how do you choose the most suitable sustainable fabric for your business? Below is a list of common sustainable fabrics that are readily available on the market. 

Recycled polyester

Polyester (PET) is the most widely used fibre in the apparel industry and it’s made from a finite resource, petroleum, so recycling it makes sense. Recycled polyester (rPET) is made from recycled plastic bottles that have been broken down into fibers. The manufacturing process generates 79% lower carbon dioxide emissions than PET and keeps plastics out of landfills and oceans. The finished material is durable, abrasion resistant, good at shape retention and insulates well making recycled polyester great for outwear. 

Organic Cotton

Conventional cotton is the second most used fibre in the apparel industry, but it takes huge amounts of water and fertilizer to produce. Growing organic cotton uses 88% less water and 62% less energy than conventional cotton, while no synthetic fertilizers or toxic pesticides are used. It doesn’t damage the soil nor pollute the air and third-party certification organisations ensure that the producers meet strict regulations. Currently, India is the largest producer of organic cotton, contributing to 51% of worldwide production.

Linen

Linen is made from flax. The plant can be grown without fertilizer, pesticides, and minimal water, making it a plant that can be grown where others cannot survive. In addition, flax can be fully utilised (seed and oil) so there is no wastage. Keep your eye out for organically-grown linen and fair trade linen which has not been produced with the use of synthetic chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides.

Lyocell

Many people assume there are two categories of fibres, natural fibres like cotton and linen and artificial fibres like polyester. But Lyocell falls between the two. The raw ingredient is wood, which is chemically broken down to cellulose and spun into a fibre. The semi-synthetic fibre is similar to viscose but uses more environmentally friendly solvents in the production process. It is an ideal material to replace cotton but without the environmental impact.

Deadstock

Deadstock is fabric is another word for leftover fabric. The fabric may have been rejected because of over-ordering, or because it came with the wrong colours or prints. It can also mean vintage material or any unused fabric purchased second-hand, which would have otherwise end up in a landfill or burned in an incinerator. Using deadstock is a wonderful way to reuse and recycle fabric.



Emerging sustainable fabrics

Increasing consumer demand for sustainable fabrics has also seen the emergence of innovative materials made from sources as diverse as mushroom mycelium, pineapple leaves, or silk made from mixing spider's genes with microbes. 

 

Certifications

 There are as many sustainability standards as there are types of sustainable fabrics, here are a few of the major players so that you know what to look out for to determine the authenticity of any sustainable fabric. 

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

GOTS is the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibres, backed up by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain.

http://global-standard.org/the-standard.html

Oeko-Tex

EKO-TEX® offers companies in the textile and leather industry certificates that verify the safety of products and their production processes for health and the environment.

https://www.oeko-tex.com/en/apply-here

Bluesign 

The Bluesign® label means that fabric and apparel producers have optimized their manufacturing chain for sustainability according to Bluesign® systems.

http://www.bluesign.com

Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)

BCI is a global not-for-profit organisation and the largest cotton sustainability programme in the world.

http://bettercotton.org

Textile Exchange

Textile Exchange develops and manages a suite of standards that are developed through a multi-stakeholder approach to address gaps in available verification tools. 

https://textileexchange.org/standards/ 


Find sustainable fabrics on Serai 

If you want to start looking for sustainable fabrics, there is no better place to start than Serai. With over 3000 sustainable fabric suppliers from over 35 countries on our platform, you are sure to be able to find one that matches your requirements. 

You can also use our Request for Quotation (RFQ) function. Post your quotation requests on the platform and let our vast network of suppliers find you. 

On the other hand, you can always let our team of experts take care of sourcing for you with a Private Sourcing Session. Simply let us know your requirements and we will match you with four top suppliers that are best suited to your needs.

Looking for sustainable fabrics? Join our platform today and get connected to reliable eco-friendly suppliers.

Join Serai

Sources:

- “UN Alliance aims to put fashion on path to sustainability |  UNECE.” 12 July 2018.

https://unece.org/forestry/press/un-alliance-aims-put-fashion-path-sustainability. Accessed 17 Aug 2021

- “What are the environmental costs of our wardrobes? | Greensand.”, https://www.greensand.com/carbonremoval/greensand-certificates/clothes. Accessed 17 Aug 2021

- “The Impact of a Cotton T-Shirt| World Widelife.” 16 Jan. 2013, https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/the-impact-of-a-cotton-t-shirt. Accessed 17 Aug 2021