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30 thoughts on “O ecostories”
I find your web site very interesting.
I am a English designer who has just left my MA (Master of Arts) in fashion and wanting to set up my own women’s fashion label. I want to start on the right foot. I believe that it is important if I plan to produce my clothing in a world full of over production that I must start but using organic and fair trade fabrics. Also work with no impact fabric dyes ( if these even exist) . Within my work color is important and in the past I have worked at home with dylon dyes to dye my own colors.
Where would I go to find more ecologically sound dyes?
Also when looking online for organic and fair-trade fabrics it is very overwhelming. Where shall I look, and what are the key elements I must look for when considering using company’s products.
I hope you can give my some advice.
Right now the only supplier of truly organic fabrics where the fabric – every step of the production – that we know of that are appropriate for apparel is Harmony Arts. Harmony Susalla of Harmony Arts is genuinely a thorough-going eco choice – she’s a leader. Our fabrics have been used by fashion people, but we have engineered our fabric to withstand the rigors in interiors applications. That kind of endurance and colorfastness, crocking behavior etc etc is not necessary in apparel, so the price points can be a lot lower for fashion fabrics. Most everyone else currently we have seen is either not understanding the green issues or they are intentionally misrepresenting their green claims. Sadly, there is far too much of that. Also check Near Sea Naturals. Right now the scene is incredibly irritating because there just is not much choice. But keep demanding and there will be lots more. Stay tuned to our site as in mid 2009 we will be offering apparel weight 100% GOTS certified fabric for fashion etc.
Hi, Claudia! I’m on a similar mission. For dyeing most any fabric, check out Terehinsa/Wild Colours in the UK at: http://www.wildcolours.co.uk/index.html
Also, for silk, see Cheryl Kolander/Aurora Silk: http://www.aurorasilk.com/natural_dyes/dyes/index.html
Use of recycled poly helps reduce waste and allows land and water to be used for food production. Another question is, what to do about the water and energy used to dye and print those fabrics? A technology now exists for dyeing and printing textiles, AirDye, that dramatically reduces the water and energy needed and thus the water pollution and GHG resulting from traditional processes.
Water is another culprit that doesn’t get enough attention from the mainstream media. Providing eco-friendly, water-minimizing clothing choices like AirDye (http://blog.airdye.com/goodforwater/tag/apparel/?21) can only help.
Hi Guy: Thanks for bringing up the points about AirDye. I was not aware of the company but gave their website a quick tour, and I am not sure it has convinced me. Why is it eco friendly aside from reducing water use? Please don’t think I am downgrading the importance of water use (which I’ve said in the past is a critical component and certainly should be one of our most pressing concerns). But the technology already exists in polymer production to add the dye directly to the polymer during manufacture (called dope dyeing). This eliminates all use of water, as does AirDye, but it also eliminates the entire separate steps of doing the AirDye process, which I’m sure uses lots of energy. In addition, the AirDye website didn’t mention the chemical composition of the inks (except that they were non-plastisol based) so we don’t know that they’re heavy metal, etc., free, nor is there any environmental certification by a third party on their web site.
As to your point that use of recycled poly helps reduce waste – again I don’t buy that argument if we’re talking about fibers. Most PET production (900 mmlbs in 2007) is used to make fibers – according to Wikipedia, 60% goes to make fibers and 40% for bottles. Of the bottles, only 25% get recycled (2007 data from National Association for PET Container Resources, NAPCOR). So 25% of the 360 mmlbs goes to recycling plants = 90 mmlbs. A not insignificant amount, but we think the industry needs to start from ground zero and develop an entirely new synthetic, one not built on fossil fuels. The whole premise of recycled poly is off kilter: Important to remember that even though recycled poly reduces the amount of energy needed to produce the fiber by about one third from virgin polyester, energy requirements are still much higher than even conventionally produced natural fibers. Once the recycled PET is spun into yarns, the resulting fibers are normally mixed with other fibers: cotton/poly blends are one of the most popular fabric blends in both clothing and interiors applications, while poly is blended with a wide array of synthetics – and blending renders the fabric non-recyclable. So even if 90 mmlbs of rPET being used for fibers makes an appearance as a fabric, it’s basically just a stop on the way to the landfill – where it will be incinerated and release a variety of greenhouse gasses. Or not – and will contribute to plastic contamination of our environment.
Use of polymer based fibers also precludes the use of organically raised fiber crops (which can thrive on marginal lands not being used for food crops) so we don’t get the benefits from organic farming, which we’ve talked about in other posts.
do you have an opion onGreensofascom’s products….are they truley good for people with MCS? I haveMCS and asthma so i need to be sure ! tHANKS FOR ALL YOUR HARD WORK LADIES! Great blog!
Hi Cheri: If you have MCS, then I’m quite sure they’d send you samples of their foam and fabrics so you can test them – especially since they’re called “Green Sofas”!
HI again, Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I think that always a good touchstone is this piece by Gail Baugh with an insightful, well-researched position on polyester versus cotton as a sustainable product.
Today most polyester fiber is actually not blended with other fibers. And polyester is now nearly 70% of all fiber used. In addition, the fastest growing segment in apparel is active wear where poly and micro fiber just performs better (moisture management). There’s no reason to think this type of apparel won’t continue to gain a larger market share. It’s also important to note that solution dyed poly, while using no water, requires very large quantities of the material. This means it is almost always used in industrial applications – not used in apparel and other textiles. We also know that solution dyed poly doesn’t satisfy designers’ needs for print, vibrant colors and patterns. So, poly and other fibers are going to be dyed and printed.
In our experience, where we work with many major manufacturers and designers, 100 percent poly is also required in many cases. For example, in commercial buildings and hotels for fire retardancy (harder to treat cotton successfully). There are other performance features which can be achieved with poly like stain release (important for uniforms, commercial table cloths, etc.) that you can’t get from natural fibers.
The question is whether the fibers are colored responsibly or not. Since most is done not in a 100 year-old mill, but in huge factories in China and India with little regard for the environmental or worker’s health impacts. We think the best, sustainable solution is to solve the problem by eliminating the water based process.
AirDye uses disperse dye with no heavy metals. It is completely inert and recyclable. The AirDye Environmental Profile / Life Cycle Assessment (posted on http://airdye.com main page) shows that AirDye actually reduces energy consumption by up to 86 percent compared to the best available alternative technologies in the world. Why? Because we don’t have to dry all that wet fabric. The Live Cycle Assessment is ISO compliant.
Another significant advantage to using AirDye technology is that designers/manufacturers do not have to create more product than they need. Large part of the problem and an important component in the AirDye solution is only make what you sell. In the current manufacturing method, textile and apparel products are made in large quantities but most of the finished goods don’t sell through. Of course, there are lots of reasons why, but if you stop and think about it mfgs can’t get it right, by guessing they either make too much or not enough depending on what consumers actually end up buying. With AirDye the choice of color or pattern occurs very late and at speeds that replenish retail supply so overproduction (and the concomitant environmental impact) are reduced as are costs and consumers get more not less choice
Also, by decoupling textile manufacturing from sources of water production can be decentralized which also reduces impacts from transportation, reduces long lead times, and allows mfgs to better connect production with consumption.
As we see it, recycled polyester and AirDye have significant benefits at many levels: Less water, no wet fabric to dry so less energy and fewer GHG; land and water can be used for food production; more consumer choices; lower economic risk, make what you sell and eliminate over production; inert dyes; and recyclable fabrics.
Yes. And folks don’t seem to care much about water scarcity. Until it stops coming out of the tap there is no problem. We can make tough choices later I suppose.
On recycling poly, all because only 25 percent of PET bottles get recycled doesn’t mean we shouldn’t increase our efforts to recycle more. Coke and others are finally trying. Same issue for organic cotton. It only makes up one percent of cotton sold, less than what Walmart sells in cotton products a single day. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying to increase its production. I look forward to hearing back from you.
Hi Guy: Thanks for your comments – I’m glad we’re discussing sustainability issues in textiles because I think it’s really important and I always learn something new in any discussion. But first I think we should all take a deep breath and realize that we all might be approaching this issue from different vantage points. After all, as the wise man said, green is not black and white. And there are lots of grey areas (to stretch the analogy to the limit). You made lots of interesting points and I’ll try to address them one by one.
Unfortunately I can’t agree with you that Gail Baugh’s piece is well researched, because she doesn’t give us any of her source documents! Nor can I agree with her conclusion that “recycled polyester is more sustainable than cotton” because I think her conclusion is based on erroneous data. Here are just some of those erroneous conclusions:
• She claims that it’s now possible to recycle polyester fiber into new, high quality polyester fiber. That is true: the technology – introduced by Teijin – is relatively new (in fact they’re just introducing recycled EcoCircle fabrics in the U.S. (http://www.icis.com/blogs/green-chemicals/2009/04/sears-to-sell-teijins-eco-suit.html) but all recycling is done in Japan – and it’s still very expensive to do it so most recycled polyester is still mechanically recycled – or downcycled, as McDonough puts it. The goal of attaining a perpetual recycling of polyester in a closed loop system is still just that – a goal. Most recycled polyester has a serviceable life of just a few cycles of continually lower-quality polymer products before the polymer breaks down completely and is suitable only for the landfill.
• She claims that 2/3 of the cotton crop is discarded, leaving 1/3 for textile production. Where did she get that idea? Any farmer worth his salt will explain that no part of the cotton crop goes to waste – and many websites will attest to the fact that we eat more of the cotton crop than we wear. Cottonseeds and cottonseed oil is an important component in many foods (human as well as animal) and the lint is used to make paper, viscose fibers and lots of other products.
• She claims that the energy used to produce conventional cotton is nearly the same as virgin polyester energy consumption. Here again she doesn’t cite her source data, but all of the data I’ve seen disputes that finding. I used (as best I could since this is still a relatively new area of study) government-funded studies, such as the one done by the Stockholm Environment Institute (“Ecological Footprint and Water Analysis of Cotton, Hemp and Polyester” by Cherrett et al) which found that the energy used to make any synthetic is much greater than that required to produce ANY natural fiber, conventional or organic: The Stockholm Environment data shows that it take more than double the amount of energy to produce polyester than cotton: from 104,000 MJ per ton of fiber (polyester) to 32,000 MJ per ton (conventional cotton) or 11,000 MJ per ton (organic cotton) . There are discrepancies here with Gail’s data! In addition to the much higher energy requirements required to produce polyester, the creation of CO2 emissions created during production of polyester is at least double that of conventional cotton – and triple that of organic cotton. With regard to energy required to recycle the polyester: it’s generally concluded that it takes about 30% less energy to recycle the polyester than to make it in the first place (Gail herself puts that at 25% less energy). Using the Stockholm data, the comparison between energy costs for recycled poly vs. cotton is 56% more to recycle the polyester; using Gail’s data from her article, the difference is 47%.
• She claims to look at whether fiber production uses non polluting methods, then goes on to say that “most…of the chemicals used to recreate polyester fiber are then recycled back into more recycled fiber production – it’s a closed loop system”. That means 100% of the emissions of polyester production are captured? I am skeptical about that (and think it must vary by facility), but the more dangerous oversimplification is her avoidance of mentioning the chemistry used to create the virgin polyester – using antimony as a catalyst. This antimony is carcinogenic and banned by REACH legislation, and you know that when it’s exposed to heat, as in the high temperature recycling process, the antimony is converted into antimony trioxide, an even more dangerous chemical. If not captured it’s released into our atmosphere; if polyesters hit the landfill and are incinerated they release substantial amounts of antimony trioxide.
But my biggest complaint is that she doesn’t differentiate between conventional crop production and organic farming, which has so many benefits beyond the crop. So I cannot agree that this is a touchstone piece.
I don’t have the data on what proportion of polyester is blended with other fibers, and you may be right that most of it is unblended. I thought I had read that a cotton/poly blend was the blend sold most often (for sheets, clothing). But we’re in interiors fabrics, where even if a fabric is 100% polyester it is finished with another synthetic such as an acrylic backing, rendering it non-recyclable. I don’t understand what you mean when you say that “solution dyed poly..requires very large quantities of this material”.
I was surprised that you say cellulosic fabrics are hard to treat for fire retardancy. We had been told just the opposite. In any event, the real downside to being caught in a fire with polyesters is that the smoke contains not only the usual carbon di- and monoxides but also other toxic chemicals from polyester production.
Regarding the social justice aspects you mention, the best way to circumvent these practices is to purchase fabrics which have been certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard or the Global Recycling Standard. In fact, the lack of third party certification is one of the issues I have with AirDye’s claims, as they are largely unsubstantiated. I still have not seen the claim that the inks they use are heavy metal free, as it was not mentioned in their LCA.
But the points you raise about being able to print or dye “to order” could be a terrific boon to the industry and a great addition to manufacturing processes. But the current application is only good for polymer based fabrics. Until we have, perhaps, bio-based polymers rather than fossil-fuel based polymers, I think the current crop of synthetics creates more environmental problems that they solve.
I’m enjoying our discussion about sustainability in textiles. I agree that it is an important topic and one in which consumers need more information to make better decisions about what they buy and why. Every option has its share of pros and cons, I do not think there are any perfect choices. As a consumer, I will continue to buy cotton sheets and towels. And I like wearing jeans, khakis, cotton tees and dress shirts. As someone concerned with environmental impacts and sustainability, I seek out organic cotton. While I understand that, due to lower yields, organic cotton does not reduce land, water, and fertilizer impacts, but it does reduce pesticide use and that, for me, is a step in the right direction. I remain concerned about the other impacts especially since cotton is grown in so many drought stricken areas, in the United States places like California and Texas, both states suffering from significant challenges in land and water use. In California, San Diego and Los Angeles are operating under mandatory water rationing. So it does raise issues for me about the choices we, as a society, are beginning to have to make about resource allocation. Water for food and drinking or water for cotton production? Water for living or water for dyeing?
I also will continue to buy products made with man-made fibers (MMF). My polyester base layer keeps me warm and dry when I ski. I choose poly or nylon swim suits and rash guards (are there even any cotton swim suits?). I wear moisture wicking garments when I engage in sports because they keep me cool. I buy hiking and camping gear made with MMF because they’re lighter, work better, and last longer. When I work outdoors I prefer wearing a uniform made with fabrics from BTC, one of only two companies to receive the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation. Their fabrics have achieved a UPF 50+ in testing even after 50 washes. I buy these products because they perform in ways that natural fibers can not. But, as someone who cares about the environment, I look for products from reputable manufacturers using recycled fiber when possible, whether it’s capilene from Tejin or Repreve from Unifi. There are more high quality, long lasting recycled fiber fabrics available from more and more manufacturers. I am encouraged by this trend. But sustainability is a process and we all have to keep moving it forward. That’s why I’m also encouraged that more and more companies are adopting AirDye technology in their manufacturing process, it dramatically reduces water, energy and GHG. In fact, the apparel company A Lot To Say just received the an endorsement from the Green Energy Council, the first apparel company to do so, because of its manufacturing choices, including using AirDye technology, that reduced energy consumption. And products made with MMF use far less energy over their life cycle resulting from their drying faster since they do not absorb water. This was quantified in studies including the “Streamlined Life Cycle Assessment of Two Marks & Spencer Apparel Products” conducted by ERM and the “Life Cycle Analysis of a Woman’s Knit Polyester Blouse” conducted by Franklin Associates, LTD which clearly established that 76 – 82% of the energy consumed in the Life Cycle of these apparel products occurs in the consumer use phase. This understanding of the importance of including in the system boundaries of such analyses the use phase in terms of the overall impacts was observed and written about by, among others, Elisabeth Rosenthal in her January 25, 2007 New York Times article “Can Polyester Save the World” wherein she reports on the conclusions of a study conducted by Cambridge University.
I had a chance to speak with the AirDye people and learned that their dyes are disperse dyes, which as you probably know, are non-toxic and inert. The heavy metals and many other toxic chemicals used in dyeing and printing fabrics are added to the dye liquor to facilitate the dye process. With MMF, this also, except for AirDye, has to be done not just in water but at high pressure and temperatures (adding to the energy consumption). In Europe, even with the outlawing of many of these chemicals by REACH, and in the US the effluent from the dye process has to be treated to remove the heavy metals and toxic chemicals. Otherwise, once discharged, the heavy metals settle out of solution and destroy sea, river and lake beds, a condition that continues to occur outside of Europe and the US where most textiles and apparel are manufactured. Don’t we have a moral responsibility to stop exporting our environmental sins? Isn’t it time for consumers to insist that manufacturers implement more sustainable practices wherever they manufacture products?
I totally agree that there are no perfectly green products – “green” is a process. And especially in the area of textiles, where it’s hard to make comparisons because so much depends on what you want the fabric to do – you mention cotton swimsuits. I’m so glad we’ve moved beyond those! And I too want people to have as much information as they need to make the best decisions for their needs.
Oxfam, by the way, has come out against organic cotton because of cotton’s very high water requirements. But organic cotton does reduce synthetic fertilizer use – one of the keys to organic cottons significantly lower embodied energy compared to synthetics (or conventional cotton). Please take a look at my blog post on June 29 entitled “Elephants Among Us” which looks at the carbon footprint of synthetics vs. natural fibers. Water footprints are crucial inputs too, and that post doesn’t get around to the water issue – I’ll address that in a later post. Some natural fibers, such as flax and hemp, can be grown without any additional irrigation.
I appreciate your using man made fibers for various things because they really do perform well. My caveat is that the current crop of man made fibers are not the best iteration that humankind can conceive – we went to the moon, why can’t we come up with better synthetics? There are many avenues that need to be explored, such as biobased polymers. The current crop of synthetics is not the best use of our resources – and that includes recycled polyester.
I’m familiar with the studies you cite about the LCAs which take into consideration the washing of apparel. It’s interesting to note that the LCA done by Franklin Associates which you cite also found that if cold water wash and line drying is used, energy use can be reduced by 90%. In addition, this study was done based on U.S. washing machines only; when compared to Swedish machines (much more energy efficient) the difference was not nearly as clear. That still leaves a synthetic fabric which has a very high energy pricetag for raw materials. Another study (Kalliala, 1997, LCA of hotel textiles and textile services) found that 100% cotton sheets had less of an environmental impact than did cotton/polyester sheets. I question whether polyesters really need to be washed less – I mean, have you ever smelled a 100% polyester athletic top after use? And fabrics are used for lots of things other than apparel – sofas for instance don’t get washed often.
About the dyes: I do not know that disperse dyes are non-toxic and inert. “Disperse” is a classification of a type of dye – it is the only type of dye that is effective for polyesters, but it’s also used for nylon and acetate. Other classes of dyes commonly used include reactive and direct dyes for dyeing cotton and other cellulosics. Less commonly used classes of dyes include acid, basic, sulfur and vat dyes.
Disperse dyes have fixation rates of 80 to 90 percent. They require additional factors, such as dye carriers, pressure, and heat, to penetrate synthetic fibers They are commonly diluted with dispersants such as napthaline sulfonic acid to make commercial dyes. From the data shown below, showing the characteristics of the different dye classes, disperse dyes, as a class, have many pollutants associated with them: (if this table doesn’t copy, you can find it in the U.S. EPA’s “Best Management Practices for Pollution Prevention in the Textile Industry”, which says that the typical pollutants associated with disperse dyes are colors, organic acids, carriers, leveling agents, phosphates, defoamers, lubricants, dispersants, delustrants, diluents).
There has been increasing frequency of incidences of contact dermatitis from clothing. A study done in 2003 found that the highest incidence of sensitization was due to Disperse Blue 124, 106 and 85; these disperse dyes have been shown to induce purpuric contact dermatitis. .
As a class, disperse dyes can contain heavy metals (again if the table doesn’t copy, the source is: Brent Smith, “Identification and Reduction of Pollution Sources in Textile Wet Processing”, Department of Textile Chemistry, North Carolina State University: disperse dyes contain <1 ppm arsenic and cadmium, 3 ppm chromium, <1 ppm cobalt, 45 ppm copper, 37 ppm lead, <1 ppm mercury and 3 ppm zinc)
You say that heavy metals and many other toxic chemicals used …are added to the dye liquor to facilitate the dye process. I don’t know exactly what is added to the processing, but I do know that heavy metals are part of the dyestuff.
In order to know exactly what is contained in the disperse dyes which AirDye is using, we should know the brand name of the disperse dyes they’re using – Clariant for example produces a line of Disperse dyes which have been certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard. But as you can see, some disperse dyes contain various heavy metals, and are associated with other pollutants. So the crucial piece of information we need from AirDye regarding their dyeing is the brand name of the dye. To say that they use disperse dyes is like a chef saying he uses food in his dishes. Let’s get specific here!
Since disperse dyes are the only class of dyestuffs that can be used to dye polyesters, the argument that AirDye is environmentally preferable really loses steam here, because polymer fibers can be dope dyed – i.e., the pigment can be mixed into the melted material. There is no dyeing stage at all – so zero water used, zero energy used. This method also produces washfastness and lightfastness that is higher than can be obtained from any dyeing process. But here we lose the ability to do short runs or prints and I imagine AirDye gives you that flexibility – so we’re again looking at end uses. Complicated, right?
But I still have not been presented with proof as to why AirDye is considered an improvement on what is being done in the industry now – especially in mills which use GOTS certified dyes (i.e., those that are certified not to contain heavy metals, AZO colorants, aromatic amines or other substances known to harm human health) and which then, according to the GOTS requirements, treat the process water before discharge. Sludge is something that needs to be addressed, as the GOTS standards don’t address the issue.
We are Australian Woolgrowers and have in the last 2 years had to come to terms with what the wool supplychain does to our beautifull wool fibre.( We never looked past the farmgate)
I have used your desriptive comment “a cradle-to-cradle process of creating no-impact, perfectly safe, incredibly luxurious fabrics.” in my many emails to the CEO of the Australian Woolboard. I hope you do not mind?
I was taken a back when I read in your August blog about the holistic pasture management of our farms and found it even more amazing that Micheal and Louisa,s Kiely,s farm photo was there.These 2 people have started the movement for the recognition of Soil Carbon in this country and now have the support of eminent scientists and a lot of farmers.
The photo so truly reflects reality that they endured legal action from the neighbouring property in an attempt to have the photo not used.
I was thrilled to find your website and will continue to read your blogs as they happen.
I have also ( again without your permission ) referred many people in a leadership position in the Australian wool industry to your website and we as a group of fine wool growers from BOOKHAM NSW have now been succesfull in creating a new woolen blend fabric that I think lives upto your statement of “a cradle-to-cradle process of creating no-impact, perfectly safe, incredibly luxurious fabric.” To do this we have had to not only totally change the supplychain model but also the Farm Model!!
Tomorrow some of us are facing the ISO 14001 Audit on our farms to back the claims we make producing the fibre as far as the farm gate!!!!
Would love your expert analyses of what we have achieved!!!
Reading the address to the Uni Graduates gave me added encouragement that not all think we are living on another planet!!!
Thank You….. Thank You !!!!!
Hi Hansie: I think you’re doing a fabulous job – thank YOU for taking on the cause of actually producing fiber and fabric that we can use safely! You’re the real heros of this story. You never need our permission to spread the word, we’re just happy you’re doing it. I hope your ISO 14001 audit went well.
And to think that you actually know the people whose farm was pictured on the blog just tickled me pink. I think that just goes to show how our world is shrinking really quickly – and exemplifies, for example, how the idea that when you throw something away remember that there really is no “away”. We’re all together on this one very small planet.
I’m glad there are people like you. Best, Leigh Anne
Hi leigh anne,
I was hoping that you might be able to direct me to any legitimate studies, scientific/university papers, etc.. not produced or funded by bamboo textile manufactures that lay out a completely comprehensive LCA for bamboo cloth vs cotton, and polyester- i really want to understand the facts on mosa bamboo for textile production from planting(carbon sequestration), managing, harvesting, processing(mechanical vs chemical- i.e firstname.lastname@example.org) and spinning…also, is there a complete monopoly on bamboo cloth that would explain why it is so expensive vs cotton, organic or otherwise when it had been sited as producing 30-60 times as much volume per hectare as cotton? Thank you so much- chris
Hi Chris: I have not seen an LCA specifically for bamboo viscose – the best I could do was to find studies on viscose and then extrapolate. It’s a lot of digging and piecing information together. Some ideas for you: “Well Dressed” a study by the University of Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing (http://www.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk/sustainability/projects/mass/UK_textiles.pdf) in which they compare a cotton T shirt with a viscose blouse; “Life cycle assessment in industry and business: adoption patterns” by Frankl et al (published Wiley & Co.); Lisbeth Dahllof has done a study on Life Cycle Assessments in the textile sector and she has a list of the literature at the end (http://www.esa.chalmers.se/Publications/PDF-files/TR/ESA20039.pdf) – but the best information I have found has come from Lenzing, the company which manufactures Tencel and Modal. Although their studies use wood as the feedstock, they explain the process entirely – just substitute “bamboo” when they talk about “wood”. I think the viscose process, if done as Lenzing is doing it, can be one of the most environmentally friendly fibers in use today.
Like all the fibers, there is a vast difference between the FIBER and the process used to turn that fiber into cloth. At the fiber stage: In the case of bamboo viscose, it’s expensive compared to cotton because it needs so much work to turn it into a fiber. Think about it: the cotton boll is pretty much ready to be spun, once it is cleaned and carded. But getting the fibers out of the hard bamboo culm is expensive. Also bamboo which is sustainably (or organically) grown or FSC certified is a rare plant – unlike organic cotton. And to the fiber considerations one must evaluate bamboo’s carbon sequestration capabilities, it’s yield and the fact that it can be grown with little additional water vs. cotton’s water requirements. But once the fiber has been spun into yarn, is that bamboo viscose (or cotton for that matter) woven at a mill which prohibits the use of chemicals known to harm living things, which treats its waste water and pays its workers a fair wage? You mention mechanical vs. chemical processing of the bamboo fibers – I think what you mean by “mechanical” processing of the fibers is simply removing the lignin in the retting process. The problem with mechanically processed bamboo is that it looks very much like linen or hemp – both of which are grown more widely and have established retting facilities. So the cost of mechanically processed bamboo is very high – and the cloth doesn’t have the soft, lustrous quality that everybody loves in the viscose, and it looks like linen, so the impetus for a company to go that route is not there. Hope this is of some help. Leigh Anne
Firstly a comment from a U.S.A. woman who sold Gots fabrics, mentioned that not all certified Gots fabrics had the required dyes and inks, and a manufacturer had told her they could’nt always get the quantities for the whole collection, Secondly I saw a website that didn’t recommend the material for nightwear.I suppose that although some chemicals are used there is nothing to protect from fire. What I would would like to know is what safe material to buy for childrens sunhats, nothing in my country and we have one of the highest melanoma rates in the world, and although the cancer society has their approved hats, they are all made from conventional cotten,mostly made in China. Any advice would be appreciated?
I’m not sure I understand what point you are making regarding the manufacturer who said they “couldn’t always get the quantities for the whole collection”. But I do know that GOTS certified fabrics do not contain FR chemicals, which are usually polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)—and which are potentially carcinogenic, reproductive toxicants, hormones disrupters, and found in the blood and breast milk of most Americans. Recently tris (2,3,-dibromopropyl) phosphate, commonly known as TRIS, which was banned in 1977 has been found once again in consumer products – including sleepwear. TRIS, which was banned because it caused cancer in laboratory animals, is also a neurotoxin, causes genetic mutation and affects male fertility). In the United States, garments considered “snug fitting” are allowed to be sold as sleepwear without having these FR chemicals. So I guess you get to choose whether to wrap your children for 11 hours a night in fabrics containing these extremely harmful chemicals – or use a GOTS certified fabric and make a snug fitting garment.
But I do know just the fiber for sun hats – hemp! Hemp is the most UV resistant fiber of all natural fibers. In fact, Tilly’s Endurables has used the fiber in several sun hats (see http://www.tilley.com/catalog/searchresults.aspx?filter=&search=hemp ) If you can find any GOTS certified hemp fabric, that’s the ticket!
Just found your blog, and am so excited that someone is doing this work! I recently started a small business (designing and manufacturing items using digital printing on textiles) and am committed to sustainability, but of course I’ve found that I am continually forced to make ‘least harm’ choices in the production chain. I have also been challenged by the amount of research required and the complexity of the problem. I haven’t had time yet to read everything on your blog but will do so over the coming days. Thank you!
I love your blog and the care and thought you put into your posts and your answers. I will be spending a lot of time reading, and no doubt quoting you, in the next few weeks. I am in the process of balancing the need for polyester swimwear with a boycott on plastic trash. I try not to make any! Composting is my mantra. I thought I had the answer with Patagonias recycled threads programme but they dont recycle the swim stuff yet… but I digress. thanks for all the info x.
Hi Leigh Anne
Congratulations for the brilliant work done in your blog that I follow here in Brazil.
I graduated in Textile and now I’m starting an investigation aiming to correlate some textile fibers with our well being and health and possible relations with the frequency of the human body and/or autonomic nervous sistem trying to identify comfort levels values when we wear our clothes.
The main purpose, if case of positive indication, is to assist people with low immunity level during health care.
If you have any indication (books, papers …) or comments related to the topic will be welcome.
Hi Jose: I’m so glad you’re looking into this topic. We’ve long thought that people with compromised immune systems would benefit from using safe products of all kinds. I don’t really have much to guide you; there was a paper by Anshen + Allen called “Greening the Patient Experience”, but it was mostly about hardscape (fabric, as we say, gets no respect); therer is also the Green Guide for Health Care Newsletter; “Designing the 21st Century Hospital” by the Center for Health Design; and “The Future of Fabric: Health Care” by Julie Silas, Jean Hansen and Tom Lent. These are all dated, though, I’m sure you can find more recent data. Then of course there’s this: “Studies by Poland’s Institute of Natural Fibres have shown that 100% knitted linen is the most hygienic textile for bed sheets – in clinical tests, bedridden aged or ill patients did not develop bedsores. The institute is developing underwear knitted from flax which, it says, is significantly more hygienic than nylon and polyester.”
To Jose: This is great! I believe this study would also benefit individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) who have tactile sensitivities. I’ve worked with many children (and likely some undiagnosed adults) who appear to prefer cotton to most other fabrics. There may also be some correlative data to suggest that synthetic fabrics disturb the electro-magnetic fields (EMFs) of the human body, which may be part of this “comfort” factor, particularly for those with ASDs.
Thank you all for the attention and information.
I have no pretense of green polemics, just study and invest part of my personal time in something that may be be useful to others.
Thanks Tanya, noted. I’m now reading “The Body Eletric” (Robert O Becker / Gary Selden) and your information related to EMFs/ASD open new doors for me.
Also flax comment of Leigh Anne is already part of investigation that may includes a knitting t-shirt development aiming further wear tests.
Hi, Leigh Anne.
Thanks so much for the wealth of information. I recently started a small business designing and producing baby clothes and accessories. As such, I was hoping you can direct me to materials or information on bamboo and cotton. While I’ve settled on organic cotton for my line, I was wondering if maybe bamboo is another good option for children with skin condition like eczema. Also, do you have recommendations for eco-friendly, environmentally conscious manufacturers of bamboo or cotton textile?
Hi: The most important thing for children with eczema is to find certified fabrics – GOTS (best) or Oeko-Tex, since formaldehyde especially exacerbates eczema and many fabrics have a formaldehyde resin – and with a GOTS or Oeko Tex certified fabric you’re assured that no formaldehyde is used. As for manufacturers, there is only one mill in the US that produces GOTS certified fabrics – Organics and More in South Carolina. I don’t know what their minimums are but you could start there.
Just stumbled on your website, don’t even know you and love you already. Just want to point out to you that Ecopreneur.eu, the European Federation of Sustainable Business is fully committed to real sustainability and as worried by greenwashing as you are. Companies in the textiles and fashion sector within our membership include Van Hulley, Swopshop, Mudjeans, Lindstrom Group, Lebenskleidung, Isatio, Humana-kleidersammlung, Emmaus Stockholm and VAUDE. On their behalf we advocate strong EU policies to accelerate and mainstream the transition to a sustainable textiles economy. Looking forward to your reply 🙂
Hello Ecopreneur.eu! So lovely you found us. We are ashamed that we did not formerly know you. We ship to the EU and actually launched in the UK, and are indebted to the EU for your leadership on chemical toxicity studies and leadership. We’ll see if we can become members, but will be supporters in some form. Patty and Leigh Anne
Dear Patty and Leigh Anne, great to hear from you 🙂 It would be great to welcome you in our membership. So far we have been unable to find a UK green business network that could join us – they did not represent small and medium sized enterprises. If you find such a network please let us know. Alternatively you could join directly via our Low-Carbon Circular Economy Advocacy Group, that is via our Dutch Member MVO Nederland (https://ecopreneur.eu/about-us/eu-circular-economy-advocacy-group/) Please let me know if you are interested – you could then also join our Sustainable Textiles Working Group
We have been very surprised at how rare such groups are, too. We are actually in the USA. We did have an office and a warehouse in the UK, but no longer. Yes, absolutely, we would very much like to join both your Low-Carbon Circular Economy Advocacy Group, and your Sustainable Textiles Working Group. That would be lovely. We will try and be active members, although you can tell from our lack of blog posts in the past many months that we are not doing a good job of continuing research and advocacy. We did resume and have quite a few blog posts ready, so we try! Many thanks for your work!