Sensuede is, according to its website, an elegant, supple, high performance textile made with recycled fibers. But Sensuede is not a fabric we’d be excited about selling, and let us tell you why: Sensuade is just a brand name for a polyester microfiber. Ultrasuede was the first of its type. But all microfibers are made in the same way:
Polyester microfibers are spun and cut into short staple lengths, then are bound in a polyurethane base (88% recycled polyester, 12% polyurethane).
- Polyester is made from crude oil, and is the terminal product in a chain of very reactive and toxic precursors. Most are carcinogens: all are poisonous. The manufacturing process requires workers and our environment to be exposed to some or all of the chemicals produced during the manufacturing process. There is no doubt that the manufacture of polyester is an environmental and public health burden that we would be better off without. Polyesters contain many hormone disrupting chemicals that have been more in the news lately.
- Polyurethane used in this process is usually made from toluene diisocyante (TDI) which is highly toxic. It is, in fact, the most toxic plastic known next to PVC. Polyurethane manufacture creates numerous hazardous by-products, including phosgene (used as a lethal gas during WWII), isosyanates (known carcinogens), toluene (teratogenic and embryotoxic) and ozone depleting gases methylene chloride and CFC’s. From Wikipedia: No exposure limits have been established by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) or ACGIH (American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists). It is not regulated by OSHA for carcinogenicity. Polyurethane polymer is a combustible solid and can be ignited if exposed to an open flame. Decomposition from fire can produce mainly carbon monoxide, and trace nitrogen oxides and hydrogen cyanide.
The production of polyester uses antimony as a catalyst, which has been classified as a carcinogen in the State of California since 1990 and a class 3 carcinogen by the EU.
Sensuade’s claim to being eco is that it takes 84% less energy to use recycled polyester than to use virgin polyester. That still leaves energy requirements which are higher than most natural fibers:
|FIBER||energy use in MJ per KG of fiber:|
|cotton, organic, India||12|
|cotton, organic, USA||14|
|Cotton, conventional, USA||55|
|SENSUADE – (uses 84% less energy than virgin poly)||20|
What is not mentioned by Sensuade is that polyester production produces a large quantity of CO2 emissions: the production of polyester generates particulates, CO2, N2O, hydrocarbons, sulphur oxides and carbon monoxide,acetaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane (also potentially carcinogenic).
The major water-borne emissions from polyester production include dissolved solids, acids, iron and ammonia. Water treatment throughout the production process would be essential for any polyester product to make a claim to being green. But Oeko-Tex 100 has no such requirements at all. Oeko-Tex 100 was a decent start when it was first introdcued twenty years ago, but fabric certifications have come a long way since then in recognizing the envirnomental costs and harm in textile production. Oeko-Tex 1000 is a good standard, but there are very very few mills in the world so certifed.
Also please keep in mind, that if, you choose a synthetic, then you bypass the benefits you’d get from supporting organic agriculture, which may be one of our most potent weapons in fighting climate change, because:
- It acts as a carbon sink: new research has shown that what is IN the soil itself (microbes and other soil organisms in healthy soil) is more important in sequestering carbon that what grows ON the soil. And compared to forests, agricultural soils may be a more secure sink for atmospheric carbon, since they are not vulnerable to logging and wildfire. The Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial (FST) soil carbon data (which covers 30 years) demonstrates that improved global terrestrial stewardship–specifically including regenerative organic agricultural practices–can be the most effective currently available strategy for mitigating CO2 emissions. 
- It eliminates the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) which is an improvement in human health and agrobiodiversity
- It conserves water (making the soil more friable so rainwater is absorbed better – lessening irrigation requirements and erosion)
- It ensures sustained biodiversity
And remember, Sensuade is still . . .plastic. Burgeoning evidence about the disastrous consequences of using plastic in our environment continues to mount. A new compilation of peer reviewed articles, representing over 60 scientists from around the world, aims to assess the impact of plastics on the environment and human health and they found:
- Chemicals added to plastics are absorbed by human bodies. Some of these compounds have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects.
- Synthetics do not decompose: in landfills they release heavy metals, including antimony, and other additives into soil and groundwater. If they are burned for energy, the chemicals are released into the air.
But Sensuade is Oeko Tex 100 certified? How can that be?
Because Oeko Tex 100 tests the finished fabric only – and only for process chemicals which are normally used in textile production and which may remain residue in the fabric, not having been washed out in the production steps. Many fabrics made of synthetic fibers can be Oeko Tex 100 certified because the list of chemicals tested for doesn’t include the chemicals found in the fibers. So the dyes used in Sensuade are benign, but the fibers (polyester and polyurethane) are not. And Oeko Tex doesn’t require water treatment, which is critically needed to prevent the water borne emissions from polyester and polyurethane production from entering our groundwaters. And Sensuade doesn’t mention anything about capturing emissions.
Is it safe because of the Oeko Tex certification? Remember, each time you sit down microscopic particles abrade and fly into the air, so you can breathe them in. So you’re not eating the fabrics, but your body is porous – the environment isus.
From our blog post on 9.9.2011:
The Global Recycle Standard (GRS), originated by Control Union and now administered by Textile Exchange (formerly Organic Exchange), is intended to establish independently verified claims as to the amount of recycled content in a yarn, with the important added dimension of prohibiting certain chemicals, requiring water treatment and upholding workers rights, holding the weaver to standards similar to those found in the Global Organic Textile Standard:
- Companies must keep full records of the use of chemicals, energy, water consumption and waste water treatment including the disposal of sludge;
- All prohibitied chemicals listed in GOTS are also prohibited in the GRS;
- All wastewater must be treated for pH, temperature, COD and BOD before disposal;
- There is an extensive section related to worker’s rights.
 “Ecological Footprint and Water Analysis of Cotton, Hemp and Polyester”, by Cherrett et al, Stockholm Environment Institute
Gruttner, Henrik, Handbook of Sustainable Textile Purchasing, EcoForum, Denmark, August 2006.
“Plastics, the environment and human health”, Thompson, et al, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences, July 27, 2009
10 thoughts on “What is Sensuede?”
You’re amazing… great article.
Thank you for your article on the polyester fibre. I have posted here before, I taught quilting in Toronto for nine years, during the nineteen-seventies. The only cloth available to quilters during this decade was the polycotton broadcloth. I taught three classes a week, ten months of the year, plus. I stood over a hot steam iron trying to press plastic cloth basically and inhaling the fumes from the steam coming off the cloth. I slowly began not feeling well, trembling by the end of my classes, instinctively walking outside for a half hour in fresher air after each class, slowly began having digestive issues and other reactions I did not understand. In 1985, while under anaesthetics for emergency surgery, I came close to leaving this earth, then and immediately following the operation. I was suffering from toxicity from working with the polyester fibre in my cotton cloth. The late Jeffery Gutcheon, a textile converter, remarked to me after I began inquiring about the chemicals used in the finishing of textiles, and I quote: “Cloth is one big chemical bath from beginning to end”. I had an Elissa test. One of the chemicals found in my blood, toluene.
Sandy Small Proudfoot, Canada
excellent Marie-Paule Nougaret http://cityofplants.tumblr.com
hello!! can I ask you a question about dyes for kombucha-derived cellulose? what do you think? Hope responding to your last o-ecotextiles note will get to you… best, Rachel
Someone from the edgeryders community wants to know more, and recently posted this note:
A friend of mine is a fashion designer and he suggested these dyes6 for kombucha, as they are very durable and can be applied cold, fixating to cellulose. He said it’s the best he has found for colouring in a nature friendly way as he calculated you would need a lot of food to colour on a big scale with beets or onions eg.I know in this he didn’t consider dyes also could be made of food waste. Anyway these are *dichlorotriazine dyes*, on which i found this3 . But I have no idea what that means in terms of impact on the environment/ecological footprint.
Does any of you know more about this or how to research this? *Is the chemical process worse than the food use or is it safe to say that these dyes are nature friendly?*
So…what can I use for the soles of my dance shoes? (Indoor dancing on a wood floor.) I don’t use animal leather (also a toxic production process PLUS cruelty issues…I’m vegan and just won’t use animal-derived products) and have been using heavy suede fabric instead.
Hi Wendy. Apologies for taking 9 months to answer! This is a difficult situation right now. All of the non-leather substitutes that are truly shoe-sole-useable are bad, worse and worst. If we used plastic only for shoe soles and a few other applications, we would be ecstatic. Just minimize your use of plastic, not just single use.
Thanks for tthis
Thank YOU for caring, Joyce
Hi – I work as an assistant to an interior designer. She loves using performance fabrics. I don’t want to upset her but it breaks my heart that we are putting these horrible chemicals into people’s homes. Are there any “performance fabrics” that are safe to use? I try to stick with natural fibers unless she specifically requests otherwise. Thank you
There is good news about the staining, which I will get to. I know you are trying – thank you very much. We also work hard to get people to rank safety as the most important fabric “performance” attribute. We really thought, when we started selling, that interior designers would embrace learning about this area because they have a professional obligation to the safety of the clients. But reaction has been depressingly uninterested. And here is our text about the safe anti stain spray on:
There is now an Oeko-Tex 100 certified stain repellent (Oeko-Tex is a trust-worthy European third party certification that
assures the safety of use of final products), which you might want to try: it is called protectME:
( https://www.protectmeproducts.com.au/ ). The active ingredient is food grade silicon dioxide, a benign chemical. You spray it
on. We have tried it and it works well. It does not change the “hand” (feeling of the fabric to the touch) or the softness, drape-ability
The company is based in Australia, and their company site only ships within Australia, but their products are available on Amazon.
Another brand is Nano4Life, also available on Amazon. ANY of the Nano4Life products will work.
The spray does use nanotechnology. If you can accept the nano portion it may be something to consider. You can wash the fabric
Leigh Anne is not bothered by nano particles and uses protectME or Nano4Life. Patty has just recently been convinced by two
extended year (8) studies that it is safe to use. Patty’s reservations about nano-particles included concerns that the particles are so
small that they can enter our bodies easily; the chemical properties of a nano sized particle are different from the larger molecule;
and because not enough research has been conducted proving safety. But in the previous eight years, it has become clearer that
chemicals that are non-toxic as the macro molecule can remain non-toxic in the nano state – at least so far; that nano particles do not
stay in the body; and that no particularly worrisome issue has arisen in the ten years or so that we have been using ourselves as
guinea pigs in this experiment since nano particles are in many thousands of products including most personal care products. But
because we do not know and we believe in complete transparency and safety, we reveal if we ever use or recommend anything
using nano particles.
Anyway, if you hate stains that is one solution when choosing a light-colored fabric.