Journal #12

Textile’s matter: how to choose

We live in our clothes, yet we’re not completely educated on the materials we are wearing and their environmental impacts. For those of us learning to balance our interest in fashion with conscious consumption, the right information can guide us toward more sustainable purchasing decisions. Let’s take a closer look at the three broad categories of materials: natural, synthetic and semi-synthetic.

Natural materials.
Plant-based materials, including cotton, linen, hemp, and raffia, are the fruits and vegetables of our wardrobe. Animal-based materials, like wool (from sheep), silk (from silkworms), cashmere (from goats) and alpaca are the protein of our closets. Meat eaters can opt for organic, cage-free eggs and grass-fed beef versus the alternative options from industrial farms, right? Well, the same goes for animal-based materials. The way that farm animals interact with the land has significant environmental implications.

Semi-synthetic materials.
Semi-synthetic materials have a natural source, but require processing to transform that natural source into a fiber that can be used for clothing. These include rayon (aka viscose), modal, lyocell (aka TENCEL®) and bamboo.

Synthetic materials.
Synthetic materials, like polyester, nylon, and acrylic, don’t exist naturally but are made in factories. Synthetics are created through an industrial manu-facturing process in which petroleum, a fossil fuel, is extracted from the earth and mechanically transformed into fibers for clothing. The resulting fiber, al-though soft and even silky, is actually a plastic. In fact, polyester is made of the same exact material used to make plastic bottles: polyethylene terephtha-late, or PET.

How do we translate this knowledge into practice? Use these 5 steps:

1. Know your materials, see above. Choose natural materials and opt for organic. Your choice has significant environmental implications.

2. Choose silk.
Here’s why: Silk is a natural, durable, yet biodegradable material that has a very low environmental impact. As the technology to spin polyester fibers improves, polyester is making its way more and more into our evening wear — but we don’t need plastic in our evening gowns. Choose pieces made of 100% silk instead, even if that means buying vintage or second-hand. If you’re concerned about the ethical issues associated with silk production, consider peace silk.

3. Skip cotton and choose linen, hemp, and organic cotton instead.
Here’s why: cotton, although a natural fiber, is one of the most environmentally intensive materials in our closets. Linen, hemp, and organic cotton are significantly less polluting. Linen and hemp, in particular, are highly sustainable materials that don’t need pesticides or fertilizers to grow and require little water. (P.S. Jungmaven has great hemp tees). Organic cotton is a more sustainable option as well because it is grown without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and using non-GM seeds.

4. Pass on cashmere in favor of alpaca.
Here’s why: It’s probably been a while since you thought about the eating habits of goats. Well, in Mongolia, one of the world’s top producers of cashmere, overeating goats are severely altering the ecosystem. When goats graze, they pull grasses from the root, whereas sheep and alpaca only eat the grass at the surface, preserving the root system.
When land is overgrazed, the soil can’t store water or nutrients so it becomes unhealthy, which slowly transforms previously fertile land into a desert. Due in large part to overgrazing for cashmere production, 90% of the land in Mongolia is experiencing some form of this transition to desert land. To be clear, it’s not that cashmere is inherently unsustainable, it’s that these unprecedented volumes of cashmere production are. So, until cashmere can be produced more sustainably, choose alpaca instead. Alpaca have a really light environmental footprint. They eat and drink very little and tread softly on the ground. If you choose alpaca that’s fair trade or from a cooperative, you also support development in Peru’s remote alpaca growing communities.

5. Recycle or donate your clothes when you’re ready to move on from them.
Here’s why: once in a landfill, plastic-based materials are essentially never going to budge because the sturdy chemical properties of plastic polymers means they won’t break down. Even though natural fibers could hypothetically decompose, landfills don’t provide the ideal conditions for that, so those fibers are effectively not breaking down either. So send a little love a landfill’s way and always donate or recycle your clothes.

When it comes to materials, taking a moderate approach is key. There is no perfectly sustainable material. The goal is to be more aware of the ways in which our material decisions matter in places far beyond our closets.

Our materials:

We use the finest Italian silks coming from our trusted local suppliers, in the area of Como and Cernobbio, two small towns in the north of Italy famous all over the world for the manufacturing of silk since the beginning of the century. Silk is, in fact, an ancient textile, it was invented in China as long as 8.500 years ago. It is made from the cocoon of silkworms. The most common kind is called Mulberry Silkworm, which is also the one locally breed. Silk is a natural protein fiber, some forms of which can be woven into textiles. The shimmering appearance of silk is due to the triangular prism-like structure of the silk fibre, which allows silk cloth to refract incoming light at different angles, thus producing different colors.

The fabric linen is made from flax and comes from the stem of the flower of the plant. It’s a pretty stiff fabric and looks similar to the fabric made from hemp. From an environmental point of view, linen is the second-best material after hemp. We chose the finest Italian linen, renowned also for its remarkable dyeing capabilities. Linen opens up to an infinite spectrum of colours. European mills favour low environmental impact dyes and comply with the strictest environmental regulations.

Hemp is the most sustainable and environmentally friendly option for textiles. Growing it is easy as it doesn’t need that much nutrition in the soil, and there’s no need for pesticides either. It can even be good for the land to grow the material as it binds the soil with its long roots, helping to prevent soil erosion. It’s also a natural fiber that is completely biodegradable and requires very little chemicals to create the fabric. The material is stronger than cotton and resembles linen is aesthetics.

When speaking of wool it is from the sheep, other wools normally go under other names, like Angora from the Angora Rabbit or Cashmere from the goats originating from the area Kashmir in India. It’s the perfect fabric for varying outdoor conditions when you need to stay warm in a cold climate or stay cool in a warm climate. The wool also absorbs moisture without feeling wet or cold. When buying a product in wool, make sure to chose mulesinf free wool, for a fair treatment of animals and in respect of the environment.