As part of our core values, we believe in supporting artists who share our passion for environmentally friendly products. When it comes to the world of textiles, it can be hard to know what fabrics are ethical and eco-friendly with so many to choose from, so we thought we would put together this guide to help you make sustainable choices.
The textile industry is sadly responsible for the unsustainable consumption of water, use of harsh chemicals and emission of polluting substances, not to mention terrible working conditions for labourers in the industry in many cases.
At Florence + Blank, we are constantly trying to better our understanding and improve our approach to sourcing and selling beautiful hand-crafted items that don’t put additional strain on the planet and its resources. As part of this, we love repurposing vintage materials and using natural fibres which mean that fewer raw materials are needed and more of what we sell will eventually biodegrade.
Here’s our buyers guide to making more sustainable choices when it comes to textiles.
Sustainable Natural Fibres
The best sorts of fibres in our opinion! Here are some great examples of fabrics which don’t have to weigh on your conscience:
Organic cotton – cotton is a wonderfully versatile fabric with tonnes of desirable properties like breathability, strength and is soft to the touch. It does however come with a caveat; its cultivation requires A LOT of water, which if re-used responsibly can make this thirsty crop a sustainable one. The key here is the “organic” stamp, which means that the water used in crop irrigation is not contaminated with pesticides and toxic chemicals.
- Organic Linen – linen is another natural fibre and is made from the flax plant. People have been weaving flax fibres for thousands of years. Much like cotton, linen is biodegradable and offers brilliant durability and a beautiful drape. It’s the perfect textile choice for our 100% organic linen zipper pouch.
Organic bamboo – things get a little bamboozling when it comes to the eco-status of bamboo fabrics. Bamboo as a crop grows extremely quickly – it is in fact the fastest growing plant on Earth. It also absorbs more carbon dioxide during its growth than most trees and doesn’t typically require pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers to grow. It’s the processing of the fibres that throws the sustainability of this textile into question. There are two ways of processing bamboo fibres. The first is mechanical, by which the cellulose fibres are crushed into a pulp and then woven into a coarse fabric resembling linen or hemp. This is a labour-intensive process and the resulting fabric is expensive to create. The super supple and soft bamboo fabrics available on the market, used for undergarments, towels and bed linen are processed using chemicals, many of which are hazardous to human health and the environment. This chemically processed bamboo is essentially the same as Rayon / Viscose and unfortunately isn’t as healthy for the environment as consumers are led to believe. Read on to learn more about TENCEL™ Lyocell – a viscose substitute with an environmental conscience.
Wool – there are a wide variety of wool materials available including cashmere, sheep’s wool, alpaca wool and even camel wool. The beauty of wool (aside from its cosy heat-regulating and non-allergenic properties) is that it can be a sustainable resource, growing back again and again, and requiring minimal processing. It is also more flame retardant than cotton and many synthetic textiles. Take a look at our wool origami tote bag, handmade in London using 100% wool.
- Silk – Silk is a luxurious material made from the saliva of silkworms. The worms feed on the leaves of the Mulberry tree which is easy to cultivate and resistant to pollution. Light as a feather, silky soft and antimicrobial, silk has been a desirable fabric for thousands of years. As it is a natural fibre, it is fully biodegradable, however it is not considered a vegan product. Peace Silk®, grown in India is harvested in a more ethical way whereby the top of the cocoon is gently cut open to allow the developing silkworm to escape before processing.
Recycled natural fibres go one step further. By reusing textiles that are already in circulation, fewer resources are needed. Check out our vintage cotton napkin set and these wonderful round check cushions, made from repurposed check and vintage Liberty fabric and filled with eco-friendly and sustainably sourced British sheep’s wool.
Sustainable Semi-Synthetic Fibres
Semi-synthetic textiles are certainly worth a mention. Often greater processing is involved to manufacture these fabrics, but their cellular structure is of organic origin and therefore they come from a sustainable source and will eventually biodegrade.
- TENCEL™ Lyocell – These fibres are manufactured from sustainably sourced natural wood material which is dissolved and then pushed through small holes to form threads which are in turn woven into fabrics. As with conventional Rayon Viscose fabrics, Lyocell has brilliant moisture wicking properties and is useful for many applications. However, the solvents used to turn the wood pulp into fibres are less toxic than those used in Rayon Viscose production and are re-used in a closed loop production process, minimising harmful waste.
Recycled Synthetic Fibres
Synthetic fibres like nylon and polyester are unsustainable as they are manufactured from fossil fuels, which unfortunately means that they are also non-biodegradable. They can however be recycled!
Recycled polyester – Also known as rPET, recycled polyester is made by melting existing plastic and re-spinning it into new polyester fibres. Because of its stretchy characteristics, polyester fabrics are very popular, particularly in the athleisure industry, however virgin polyester requires the use of finite petrochemicals. Buying products that use recycled polyester helps to reroute discarded polyester materials from landfill and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Recycled polyester does still have its downfalls though as it can release microplastics into the environment and unfortunately, fabrics which contain a mix of polyester and other fibres such as cotton are unlikely to be recycled at all.
- Recycled nylon (ECONYL) – Recycled nylon has the same benefits as recycled polyester in that it’s reuse diverts waste from landfills and its production uses less water, energy and fossil fuels than virgin nylon. ECONYL is regenerated nylon made from 100% waste products like fishing nets and old carpets!
Sustainable Interior Design
We like to remind ourselves of the three R’s from time to time: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Buying long lasting items which have been handcrafted to the highest quality is a great way to reduce the number of things you will inevitably buy in the long run and choosing items which are upcycled, vintage or made from recycled materials cuts down the consumption of natural resources and keeps unnecessary waste out of landfill.
Thanks for reading! Keep an eye on our blog for more buyers guides and industry insights.
Written by Millie Sephton