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Materials & Textures

Textiles are fabulous but can be quite tricky to understand. There are three types of fibers - Natural fibers, Regenerated fibers and Synthetic fibers - that we generally use for textile production.  We hope this small guide can unravel some of the basics, such as characteristics, main suppliers, manufacturing process and the environmental impact, regarding the most common textiles one come across when buying clothes.

Conventional / Non-Organic Cotton

Characteristics: Is soft, has good absorbency, is strong and biodegradable.

Main suppliers: China, India, United States .

Manufacturing: The fiber is harvested, cleaned and separated from the plant seed by machines. Conventional cotton (with GMO fibres) stands for about 50 percent of the world’s fiber production and roughly 25 million tonnes are produced each year.

Environmental impact - Very high: Conventional cotton need fungicides, insecticides, herbicides and other scary pesticides and fertilizers to intense the production process. It take up three percent of the world’s arable land, which is highly damageable for biodiversity. Demand huge amounts of fresh water, i.e one cotton t-shirt demands nearly 20 000 litres.

Washing: Washing machine, 40 degrees. Hang to dry.


Organic cotton

Characteristics: Same as conventional cotton.

Main suppliers: Turkey, Syria, Tanzania, Brazil.

Manufacturing: The crop is grown with natural compost instead of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Weeds are removed with innovative machinery or hand labor. More time consuming, don’t deliver as much and demand more skill than conventional cotton.  

Environmental impact - Relatively low: Don’t completely reduce the need for water, but better than conventional cotton.  The absence of toxic chemicals make work considerably more safe for labourers.  The final organic fabric may be dyed using heavy metals and toxic substances. Look for products certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), which requires the use of certified organic cotton manufactured according to low-impact processes.

Washing: Washing machine, 40 degrees. Hang to dry.


linen & hemp

Characteristics: Same as conventional cotton.

Main suppliers: Turkey, Syria, Tanzania, Brazil.

Manufacturing: The crop is grown with natural compost instead of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Weeds are removed with innovative machinery or hand labor. More time consuming, don’t deliver as much and demand more skill than conventional cotton.  

Environmental impact - Relatively low: Don’t completely reduce the need for water, but better than conventional cotton.  The absence of toxic chemicals make work considerably more safe for labourers.  The final organic fabric may be dyed using heavy metals and toxic substances. Look for products certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), which requires the use of certified organic cotton manufactured according to low-impact processes.

Washing: Washing machine, 40-60 degrees (read washing label). Hang to dry.


silk

Characteristics: Strongest natural fiber, high elasticity, drapes beautifully, feels light and breathes, good absorbency, non-conductor of heat similar to wool, not machine-washable, normal shrinkage, recyclable.

Main supplier: China, India.

Manufacturing: Protein/ or animal fiber made by the silkworm. The worm feeds on mulberry leaves until it spins a cocoon of silk threads around itself. The cocoons are then boiled, which makes it possible for machines to unravel the silk threads. Since the process is time-consuming as well as complex, the silk fabric tends to be more expensive than other textiles. About 0,15 percent of the world’s fiber production consist of silk.

Environmental impact -  Relatively low: Since the production process creates less waste than any other textile, need minimal chemicals and is recyclable, the textile is regarded as one of the most sustainable materials in the fashion industry. However, the production process is unpleasant since it kills the wild worms alive. Peace Silk however is made from the cocoons of semi-wild and wild worms in India that have emerged from their cocoons naturally. Wild-crafted silk also helps maintain the forest habitat of worm by linking the livelihood of tribal spinners and weavers to the existence of these trees. 

Washing: Click schampo in washing machine (delicate or wool program) or handwash. Hang to dry.


Wool

Characteristics: Strong and durable, good absorbency, naturally fireproof, non-conductor of heat similar to silk, naturally elastic causing rapid wrinkle recovery, preferably not machine-washable, relatively recyclable. Variants such as lambswool, cashmere, mohair, alpaca etc.

Main suppliers: Australia, New Zealand, China, Argentina, Russia.

Manufacturing: Protein fibers that comes from sheeps, goats, llamas etcetera. Stands for circa 3% of the world’s fiber production

Environmental impact: Conventional wool = High, Organic wool = low:
The general production of conventional wool compared to a conventional cotton knit use 228 percent worse chemistry, 249 percent more energy and 8 percent more water. However, it is not nearly as resource-intensive as cotton. On the plus side,  wool last long and requires less washing compared to other textiles.  Organic wool producers use no chemical pesticides or insecticides on their sheep, and follow the same standards set for USDA organic meat, dairy and other animal-fiber products.

Washing: Click schampo in washing machine (delicate or wool program) or handwash. Lay flat to dry.

 
 

polyester, elastane, acrylic, polypropylene, polyurethane, faux leather

Characteristics: Can adapt different desirable qualities because of it's modified and manufactured origin. Strong, shrink-resistant, low absorbency, machine-washable, easily available, cheap, no wrinkles, does not breath and can have a feel of wearing plastic.

Main suppliers: China, India.

Manufacturing: Are made from chemically produced fibers, which are derived from coal, oil, or natural gas. Near 50 percent of all fiber production in the world is made in this type of fiber.

Environmental impact - Controversial: Polyester and other synthetics rely on nonrenewable resources (oil) for fiber production, which have harmful effects on the environment, wildlife and people's health. On the plus side, synthetic fibers are easier on the environment compared to conventional cotton and wool when it comes to water and chemistry demand.

Washing: Washing machine, generally 40 degrees (read washing label). Hang to dry.

Sources and further read: NRDC, WWF, GLOBAL ORGANIC TEXTILE STANDARD (GOTS), CLEAN BY DESIGN, NIKE’S sustainability app “MAKING”.


viscose

Characteristics: Soft, breathes, dyed and printed extremely well,  silk-like brightness, good absorbency, reduce static electricity, shrink, machine-washable.

Main suppliers: China, Western Europe, India, Indonesia.

Manufacturing: Shredded pieces of bamboo or another plant gets soaked in chemicals to make a pulp mass. The pulp is then forced through a machine similar to forcing spaghetti through a nozzle. The chemicals harden the cellulose fibers so it can be spun into the yarns that we later use for our clothes.

Environmental impact - High: The production of viscose is slowly declining because of the heavy use of chemical in the  manufacturing process and in the dyeing-mill after. The disturbing deforestation of ancient and endangered forests have put an extra pressure on the largest manufacturing companies, forcing them to take action.

Washing: Washing machine, generally 30 degrees. Hang to dry.


lyocell / tencell

Characteristics: Strong, soft, breathes, drapes beautifully,  silk-like brightness, good absorbency, shrink-resistant, preferably not machine-washable, hang to dry.

Main suppliers: South Africa,  Europe, North America.

Manufacturing: Made from cellulose in wood pulp, i.e eucalyptus, which is harvested from tree-farm trees and then manufactured in an advanced “closed loop” solvent spinning process.  

Environmental impact - Low: This type of fiber is considered to be one of the most sustainable materials because of the manufacturing process that demands minimal energy, water and chemicals. The solvent used in the process is toxic but 99 percent is recovered and continually recycled. Production plant emissions are significantly lower in comparison to many other man-made fiber operations.

Washing: Washing machine, generally 30 degrees. Hang to dry.