Indulgent yet responsible fabrics


O Ecotextiles (and Two Sisters Ecotextiles)

Welcome to our blog.

I’m Leigh Anne, one of the founding partners of O Ecotextiles and I have to come clean: I wasn’t particularly green when I started this, and certainly no expert in fabrics. But that’s a long story, and maybe all you want to know is how this company got started.

Four years ago, when I couldn’t find beautiful, safe, natural fiber fabrics to cover my sofa, I realized someone somewhere should be doing this. So I teamed up with my MBA, business-savvy sister and we decided to make fabrics we would love to own in ways that won’t hurt the planet – fabrics that are soft and beautiful and free of synthetic chemical residues.

It’s been a real eye opening experience. And I’ve become a green crusader.

When we started out in 2002, people thought we were more than a bit crazy. We were told that nobody gave a “rat’s ass” about whether a fabric was “green” or not; nobody ever asked for a green fabric, or whether it was made of organic material…nada. The only thing that mattered was whether the fabric worked in a design scheme.

But the more we found out, the greater our conviction that people would come to care. The problems created by the industry were too ubiquitous, the health dangers too urgent. It just didn’t seem to us that this problem would simply go away.

During our journey we’ve made mistakes. But we regrouped each time because we found others (mills, dye houses, fiber brokers, spinners) who share our conviction that we can offer something better. They would always show us a way around obstacles. And now we’re poised to begin selling our first collection of fabrics – our hard won, lovingly grown collection.

We want to share all the information we learned. There’s a lot of misinformation and greenwashing and out there. We’d like this blog to be an online connection point where we all work together to find answers.

I’ll get into that in my next submission.

12 thoughts on “ONE

  1. Steve McGrath says:

    “When we started out in 2002, people thought we were more than a bit crazy. We were told that nobody gave a “rat’s ass” about whether a fabric was “green” or not; nobody ever asked for a green fabric, or whether it was made of organic material…nada. The only thing that mattered was whether the fabric worked in a design scheme.”

    I love this idea, but I don’t think people have stopped caring about the design scheme. My experience with green materials such as hemp is that they are abrasive and unsightly. Won’t it be hard to sell fabrics of this nature even if they are green?

    1. oecotextiles says:

      Hi Steve; Those are exactly the problems we think we’ve solved. Our hemp is lovely to the touch – a very soft hand.

  2. Chris says:

    I am looking for organic cotton flannel or hemp that is low impact dyed to make a baby quilt. I just want something safe and soft but am having a very difficult time finding anything. There are some color grown fabrics out there, but is there anything more colorful but still safe for baby?

  3. oecotextiles says:

    Hi Chris: I know it’s frustrating to find the fabrics you’d like that are both colorful, soft and non toxic. That’s how we got started! Our fabrics are not intended for clothing because we have to engineer them to stand up to the rigors of heavy use, or to be colorfast (for example) so our price points probably aren’t what you’d consider. But then again, our first sale ever was to a children’s clothing boutique in Paris, so go figure.

    There are some companies in Europe that are beginning to produce finished products for babies – clothing and bedding for example. The laws in the EU are much stricter than the US in terms of what is allowed to be used in textiles, so more companies are producing to those standards. Products that are Oeko Tex Standard 100 certified have been tested for over 100 chemicals that are harmful to humans, and a baby could happily play on (even suck on) fabrics that are Oeko Tex 100 certified. Hanna Andersson (www.hannaandersson.com) in this country sells some products which are Oeko Tex 100 certified – not all of their products are Oeko Tex certified so you’ll have to inquire.

    But you’re looking for just the fabrics. I would suggest trying the Green China Textile Group (http://www.greenchinagroup.com) for apparel weight fabrics. I know that they have hemp and organic cotton fabrics in many weights and they are trying to use heavy metal free dyes, and they’re honestly trying to green the processes. I also don’t know the minimums they have just now, but you could inquire. Another possiblity in the US is Harmony Art (http://www.harmonyart.com). Harmony Susulla has been producing organic cotton fabrics that are produced to Global Organic Textile Standards and she has beautiful prints which are available as cut goods. If you’re in the UK, Greenfibres (http://www.greenfibres.com) has been staple reading for me for years; I really admire their committment and the information they can give you on their web site. I hope that gives you some direction.

    I know how frustrating the search can be, especially now when we could produce just about anything so it is non toxic and environmentally benign. It just takes us to push the producers outside their comfort zone and encourage them to do things differently. Good luck. We’ll post more finds for those of you looking for apparel fabrics as we discover them, so check back occasionally.
    Best, Leigh Anne

  4. Hi Leigh Ann and Patty-
    I just found your site courtesy of Elinor from LEAF certifications. I have been working with Elinor on getting an organic textile certification for bamboo (the main fabric in my clothing line). You are just the people I have been looking for! I have spent countless hours searching for a true eco-friendly bamboo fiber and it sounds like you may be on to something. I have even been researching going to India and China to check things out first hand. If you could please share with me what you know about bamboo and if there is anything I can do to help make certified organic bamboo fabric a reality, please let me know! I am a part of a large network of green fashion designers/retailers who want to feel good about using bamboo fabric.


  5. oecotextiles says:

    Hi April: We’re glad you and LEAF are looking into bamboo!
    As you probably know, the two ways to process bamboo into fiber are mechanically and chemcially. Since the mechanical process produces a coarser yarn, I’m assuming the bamboo that you and everybody else is interested in is the silky bamboo viscose. That’s the chemically produced fiber. There’s a great explanation of the process on the Organic_Clothing blog (www.organicclothing.blogs.com) entitled “Bamboo: Facts behing the fiber.” In a nutshell: bamboo is crushed and soaked in sodium hydroxide, then the pulp is forced thru spinnerets into a vat of sulfuric acid, to harden into fiber. The use of the sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid are both problematic and the worst part is that most manufacturers don’t properly treat the wastewater, so the chemicals are released into the environment.

    There are some producers who do properly treat the effluent; in some cases the sodium hydroxide can be replaced by a more benign chemical (N-methylmorpholine-N-oxide). And some manufacturers treat the sulfuric acid to neutralize it so the wastewater meets drinking water standards.

    Some manufacturers claim that a third party certification, such as Oeko Tex , ensures that the process is green. But the fiber that is produced has no chemical residues from the processing so it passes all tests, such as those done by Oeko Tex, with flying colors. (I have to make another point here: Oeko Tex is product specific, that is they test the product but don’t care to investigate how it was produced.) Bamboo viscose is a wonderful fiber with many great attributes but unfortunately the process used to create it leaves a lot to be desired.

    So the questions to ask are: how do you dispose of the effluent, and how is it treated? Do you carefully monitor emissions (as the sulfuric acid evaporates)? Have you made any improvements to the standard chemical mixture – for example, do you use N-methylmorpholine-N-oxide rather than sodium hydroxide? As for certifying organic bamboo fiber: I think you need to determine how and where it was grown and harvested, as well as how it was produced, what procedures were followed, what chemicals were used and what actions were taken to neutralize or negate the effects of the chemicals used. I’m of the school that thinks you can’t separate the product from the production. Leigh Anne
    Leigh Anne

  6. Patty Grossman says:

    Hi April;

    I think Leigh Anne (My sister) missed your main point, which is where do you get your bamboo yarn and will you sell it to us? Sure, we can look into it. (We can buy the yarn together). Email me at patty@oecotextiles.com and we’ll chat. I must warn you that these fabrics are our very most expensive. Just the yarn to produce one meter would run you upwards of $12/yard – that’s before milling, dyeing, finishing, taxes, duty ( yes – into the US the duty is just under 15%- freight, etc. But contact me and let’s talk. Please give me time to answer – we’re pretty swamped these days, as I’m sure you may be too.

  7. Dear Mam,
    i wouldl ike to know the dyes list which are banned to use based on EU-Eco label and Oeco Textiles and ofcourse GOTS.. kindly let me know the information…

    How ever the standard manuals are describing the substances and their allowable units.. but i could not able to figure out the list of dyes banned / not allowed to use – to get the said certifications…

  8. keith agar says:

    Hi ladies
    Congratulations on your efforts, I hope you have a distributor in Australia.

    I produce a mag called THE ARCHITECT and this issue we are discussing TEXTILES.
    My question is related to wool. Have you researched wool and Eco wool in particular?
    As you know Australia is a huge producer of wool and there seems to be a swing to holistic farming of sheep to alleviate the problems associated with sheep farming

    1. oecotextiles says:

      Hi Keith; Yes, we have been researching wool. Wool is an interesting case. Of all the hundreds of steps in textile prodcuiont the scouring of wool is perhaps one of the two most polluting. Wool is just an incredibly difficult fiber to tame – to clean. Here’s the part of our current doc, Why and How to Green Your Textile Choices on wool: The scouring of wool is one of the most toxic steps in fabric production. Wool is a particularly difficult fiber to clean and prepare for spinning and, therefore, multiple chemicals and pesticides are used for the scouring of wool. There is absolutely nothing environmentally benign about the scouring of wool. Care must be taken to assure that the scouring water is cleaned and not returned untreated to the eco-system. This step is not usually attended to.

      Wool fiber is usually also de-scaled and shrink proofed. De-scaling wool modifies the scales on the wool fibers to prevent shrinkage and to reduce itchiness. This step usually involves application of organochlorines followed by application of some sort of synthetic polymer. Organochlorines are a class of chemicals with a toxic profile to be assiduously avoided.
      The use of polymers on wool yarn is also to be avoided.

      There are also numerous animal husbandry and land use issues (pasture management) which are important environmental issues unique to wool. One of the animal husbandry issues (Consumers of organic wool presumably desire a product from animals treated humanely) unique to sheep is the practice of mulesing. Sheep who are raised in certain climates (much of Australia) are susceptible to a condition called “fly-strike.” What is fly-strike? A certain type of fly, blow flies, are attracted to and lay eggs on sheep’s’ back legs when the sheep are less than clean. When the flies hatch, these maggots burrow in any slightly raw or inflamed area and literally eat their victim alive. To control this condition, fly strike, herders “mules” the sheep, which means cutting away large swaths of their skin. Since mulesing is traditionally done without anesthetics, it is considered (not much of an argument from me) inhumane. Several large stores in Europe, including Marks and Spencer and H&M, refuse to use wool from sheep that are mulesed.

  9. I am considering cotton/bamboo blend sheets and am concerned about the chemical processing of the bamboo leaving residues in the fabric. Can you comment on this? Thank you

    1. oecotextiles says:

      Yes, that new sheet smell which Leigh learned to love so much is formaldehyde or other aldehyde class chemicals. And the vast majority of printing inks contain phalalates, the class of chemicals just outlawed in toys in California. They have been forbidden in Europe since 2005. They are much harder to get rid of. So just don’t get printed sheets right now. Please note that these concerns are independent of the type of fiber used in the sheet. Step one of fabric production is the fiber growing and preparation. But that is just step one. You can start with organic cotton, but if the fabric and the sheet is produced conventionally – meaning the fiber prep, spinning, bleaching, softening, weaving, dyeing and or finishing, etc., are not toxin free, nasty chemicaals can persist in the fabric. Or, even when they do not persist in the fabric they persist in the environment to enter your body or our environment through having been dissolved in water from prodcuti plants with no water treatment. This is the very example I use to illustrate what we need to watch out for and insist on – organic cotton sheets. Most sheets that claim to be eco friendly have just he anemic a claim that they are made with organic cotton. Now that’s a great first step, but it is only a first step. It does not mean that you are buying a product that is safe to bring into your home. Coyuchi sheets are most likely good choices. Ask them specific questions. People make their own sheets out of our fabric as well.

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