In an effort to be more environmentally conscious whilst shopping, does it matter about the materials used in the outfit, or just the brand or shop where you look? The answer is yes – materials matter. The brand question shouldn’t be an issue if consumers focus on sustainable fashion manufacturers/designers and shun fast fashion stores, but even if you’re in a High Street shop, you can take note of the garment’s material and consider its origin.
Sustainable fabrics are divided into several different categories: those which have already been recycled or made with waste, fibres from plants, fibres from animals produced in a humane, sustainable way, and some synthetic or part synthetics made in a low impact process.
In the first category you will find recycled cotton, wool, polyester, and nylon, and then products made from bizarre sounding waste materials such as washed up flip flops and plastic bottles. If the garment contains recycled stuff, it should clearly state this on the label … if it doesn’t, it isn’t.
Hemp, linen and organic cotton are from the second category – produced from plants which are grown in an environmentally friendly process, using little or no chemicals and ethically supplied water and labour.
The big tag in the third category – fibres from animals – is ‘responsibility’ in production. Materials sourced from living beings should be not only sustainably grown but humanely harvested. This section contains wool, leather, silk (worms, remember!), alpaca, cashmere and down. Of course, vegans may not want to purchase garments containing these materials in any shape or form, so again, it will be clearly stated on the label if an item of clothing or any part of it is made from one of these animal-derived-products. In the case of leather – the big player in the footwear section of fashion – it must be a by-product of the food industry. Leather obtained any other way is incredibly wasteful of resources, and obviously - as many people agree - inhumane. Nowadays the leather industry as a whole is focusing on reducing the chemicals used in refining the material, and several brands exist which use only organically processed, humane leather.
The last category contains quite a number of materials but there are only a couple that you’re likely to encounter when clothes shopping – Tencel, orange and pineapple fibre, and sustainable viscose. The pineapple fibre you may see will probably be from the patented brand Pinatex, which is made from the offcuts from the fruit industry.