How can we be sure that the clothing we are buying is 'sustainable' or 'eco'? The truth is that these buzz words are super subjective so we thought we would clear a few things up by publicly answering the most frequent questions we get asked.
This week and number 1 on the hit list is - How can you claim to be sustainable when you use synthetic fabrics?
'Sustainability' is a very subjective word used by many as a blanket term to describe eco, ethical, vegan, zero waste, plastic free, recycled, bio-degradable etc etc, the ideal answer to this completely depends what cause an individual aligns with. For A.C.F we aim to be as 'conscious' as possible only using recycled dead-stock fabrics, not using any animal derived materials or testing processes and ensuring our manufacturing is fair-trade and supports local communities. Much of how we do all of this will be explained in subsequent blogs, for now we would like to focus on the synthetic/natural fabric dilemma and how we use recycled/dead-stock fabrics with the aim to somewhat offset our eco footprint.
First things first, the synthetic vs natural fibre dilemma, in truth we use both but full stop do NOT use any animal derived fibres.
Both plant based natural and synthetic fibres are surprisingly similar regarding environmental impacts. Both types of materials are manufactured in factory plants, where they go under multiple chemical procedures which involve additives—such as detergents, chemical softeners, and bleaches—that are often toxic to the human body and can pollute the environment.
Natural fibres require a lot of water and land to grow, as well as additional power for machinery used for harvesting. About 2,700 litres of water is needed to make enough cotton for one t-shirt, though the necessary water is less than the average crop. And the amount of pesticides used has decreased over time, however it is still the highest amount used out of any crop. Synthetic fibres are harmful as they are made from fossil fuels and other chemicals, destroying habitats during the process of extracting these non-renewable resources.
Natural fibres are also biodegradable and will eventually breakdown after discarded. But the fabric can also be reused, which requires 97% less energy than brand-new material requires in manufacturing. Garments created from synthetic fibres are non-biodegradable, spending about 30 or more years in a landfill before they start to decompose. Though polyester can be made of recyclable materials such as plastic bottles which will reduce waste in other ways; polyester production rates are continually increasing, vastly exceeding the decomposition time after disposal—inescapably creating more waste on our planet.
Depending on your concern, both fibres are roughly even when it comes to environmental impacts and consequences so we had to be creative in order to justify introducing another product to our saturated planet. As aforementioned our solution is to simply not contribute at all to the production of new synthetic or natural materials but to instead support and encourage the dead-stock industry. The reuse of dead-stock fabric causes only a fraction of the environmental, health and social damage caused by manufacturing the same amount of textiles from raw materials. Reclaiming fibres from textile waste avoids many of the polluting and energy intensive processes needed to make textiles from virgin materials.
What is dead-stock fabric?
Dead-stock textiles are materials that are no longer useful for other factories and companies, utilising this textile waste saves doomed fabrics from ending up in landfill. These rolls can be sold off due to various reasons:
- The textiles are no longer useful for the company's designs
- The company/factory had overstock of materials.
- Fabric rolls that had slight damages that weren't worthwhile for a larger company to 'cut around'
- Custom textiles that were ordered from overseas didn't meet color matching requirements for a company
- The color/textile is no longer 'in season' for the company and not worthwhile to keep in stock
- End of roll remnant
Now there are some issues with this process, A lack of equipment, technology & storage are all barriers textile manufacturers face when deciding to re-sell or dispose, moreover low landfill costs do not encourage producers to seek new waste management solutions. For us as buyers the key challenges lie in dead-stock availability, recycling pre-consumer fabric is not common even though all contemporary waste management systems consider landfill disposal as the worst option, they remain the preferred manner of textile waste removal. We also navigate problems in consistency of dead-stock supply, and a fluctuating market of supply vs demand for recycled materials.
As textiles are almost 100% recyclable, in an ideal world, nothing in the textile and apparel industry should be wasted. Recycling and reuse are therefore particularly important and should be addressed along the whole fashion supply chain. Pre-consumer textile waste is easier to reuse than post-consumer waste because it does not have the same hygiene and collection challenges.