From the Guru blog

Grey Shades of Sustainable Materials in the Textile Supply Chain

Part 1: What's for dinner, tomorrow?

I can understand that a customer can be completely lost in today’s jungle of labels, certifications, and naming of sustainable materials.

Majors brands are finally communicating in a more transparent way where their clothes are being made, yet it is still not easy to understand where the materials are actually coming fromHarder yet, to understand the impact our clothing choices really do have on the planet. Hopefully, we all want to do good by reduce our footprint on this earth and one way to do that is to choose clothing made only out of responsible fibers.

I, myself, am often surprised to see that when we talk about the environmental impact of materials and clothing, that not the whole Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of a product is assessed. Often only a part of the supply chain is explained, leaving other important parts unexplored especially in the communication towards customers.

Take the example of natural fibers, like wool, hemp, linen, and cotton. Cotton alone has several sustainable options offered, to name some:

  • Better cotton initiative
  • Organic cotton
  • Fairtrade cotton

While it may seem easy to compare the different levels of sustainability within the same material to a industry insider, it may not be so for a customer.

Does a customer understand the difference between organic cotton that is made without pesticides, and Fairtrade cotton that focuses on paying in a fair wage to the workers? Do they know what a better cotton initiative means?

As a consumer, it may seem like entering a labyrinth, get lost in order to find when looking for correct and understandable answers. Sustainable messages that seem to be more about promoting an item, but it hardly ever tells the consumer the real truth.

Take the issue of plastic: We can buy also clothing made of recycled polyester coming from plastic bottles, using less water and claiming to have a lower impact on the environment.

But what is more sustainable: (Better, Fairtrade or Organic) cotton or recycled polyester?

We all know that there are too many plastics in the ocean, on the beaches everywhere, and we have to get rid of it. But not all plastic is recyclable, a cleaned PET is the most recyclable plastic material as is indicated in the blog of the National Geographic.

But can we clean and recycle all used PET bottles? What is the cost and the impact to clean all the plastic we throw away in order to be able to recycle it into recycled polyester yarns?How can we be sure that recycled polyester yarns do not use not virgin PET bottles produced and used, with a lower price, instead of a cleaned PET bottle?

Microbeads for dinner, soon! 

On the top of that, we recently we discovered a new problem… microbeads… while washing clothing made from synthetic materials, recycled or not, very small little plastic fibers are making their way from washing machines into rivers and oceans.

The Guardian called this ‘The biggest environmental problem you’ve never heard of’.

Luckily a group of surfers and outdoor lovers found a solution. The guys from Langbrett, developed a great bag, called a Guppy Bag.

This bag avoids letting this micro waste go from your washing machine into the oceans, rivers and in the stomach of the fish living there. Even more, if we eat these fish, into our stomach. Without this bag, in the end, we will be eating our own recycled plastic clothing!

The choice is yours ! 

Therefore if we look at the overall picture, what do you think is more sustainable? A true organic cotton tee shirt, which as we all know uses loads of water but is biodegradable (if it is organic of course and has no plastisol printing) or a tee shirt from recycled polyester which adds micro waste in the water and takes over 700 years to decompose?

As a textile consultant, I manage different projects while aiming to raise sustainability awareness from top down which positively affects the bottom line while protecting our natural resources. As a Good Brand Guru ambassador, I am a part of a networking group for retail & sustainability experts, where we offer accessible solutions for brands and retailers willing to make a change for good. Join us on our mission to Embed more Good into retail. More info on: https://www.goodbrand.guru/

image: Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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