The fashion for sustainable fabrics is no longer a passing fad but an unstoppable wave that attracts increasing numbers of businesses, brands and designers. We could compare it to Greta Thunberg’s Fridays For Future movement, which is gathering growing consensus among those worried about the fate of our planet. At the same time as millions of young people around the world began taking to the streets, the fashion industry, one of the biggest global polluters, launched the ‘Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action’ in Katowice, which aims to reduce the impact of the entire supply chain. At this year’s G7 summit in Biarritz in August, it worked alongside world leaders to present the ‘Fashion Pact’. This was the result of Kering CEO François-Henri Pinault being called on by French President Emmanuel Macron to bring together a ‘coalition’ of top fashion brands and companies to set unified sustainability goals for the sector. The industry is also making alliances with web giants, as Stella McCartney has done, entering a partnership with Google to measure the fashion industry’s environmental impact using data analytics and machine learning on Google Cloud, in order to give brands a more comprehensive view into their supply chain, particularly at the level of raw material production. Much of the industry’s impact occurs at the raw materials stage. Whether during production or disposal, it is materials, fabrics and everything else that goes into making a garment or accessory that leaves the biggest footprint. Using technology, companies are working on increasingly innovative solutions to replace synthetics but also cotton, which, if not organic, requires enormous quantities of water, pesticides and fertilisers. Using alternative materials also helps keep water and energy consumption down, and, in some cases, allows waste textile to be reused.
Swiss brand Freitag has come up with a valid alternative to cotton, F-ABRIC. Following years in development and testing, it has launched its own clothing line made from a linen, hemp and Modal® blend. Known for its accessories made from old truck tarps, the brand run by the Freitag brothers accepted the sustainable textile challenge, betting on the so called ‘bast fibres’ which come from the inner bark of the plant. Age-old flax and hemp are durable yet cooling, and their cultivation does not require excessive quantities of water and few, if any, pesticides. To these fibres, the brand has added Modal®, a synthetically produced fibre of natural origin that has qualities similar to cotton. It is made from cellulose that has been extracted from beechwood. First the beechwood shavings are dissolved in acid, then the cellulose is extracted and processed into a viscous pulp, and finally spun into yarns. The combination of linen and hemp produces the F-ABRIC used for jeans, work shirts and trousers, while knitwear and lining cloth are made from jersey by adding Modal® to the blend. The transformation from fibres to product takes place within a 2500 km radius of the factory in Zurich, and calls on the excellence of textile manufacturers in Lombardy and Tuscany. Once F-ABRIC garments have reached the end of their life, they can be thrown onto the compost heap rather than in the trash due to their being 100% biodegradable, including threads and selvage. So, “a piece of clothing thus becomes fertile soil for new raw materials and the cycle continues”.
Another aspect of eco-sustainability is cruelty-free, meaning textiles must take the welfare of animals into account, so not just faux fur and vegan leather but also ‘Peace Silk’ – non-violent or ahimsa silk, as they call it in India. Compared to traditional silk, which involves killing silkworms, peace silk is made from cocoons in which the pupa is left to complete its metamorphosis into a butterfly. While it is hatching, the butterfly makes a hole that cuts the thread into small pieces, making it thicker and more irregular in the spinning process, so less soft-touch but still precious and refined. One big admirer of Peace Silk is eco-designer Tiziano Guardini, who once again used the fabric in his latest collection ‘Atlantis’ in collaboration with long-standing Como-based weaving company Mantero. For the first time the company tested, on request by Guardini, a check print certified by Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), which implements ecological and social criteria throughout the textile production chain. In addition to its collaboration with the ethical fashion designer, Mantero is also pursuing the 17 sustainable development goals listed in Agenda 2030, the action programme for people, the planet and prosperity signed by governments from 193 UN member countries in September 2015.
Denim, of course, has to feature in the sustainable discussion both because it is perhaps the most evergreen and cross-seasonal fabric ever and because it is one of the most high-impact fabrics out there, so making it as ecological as possible is a big challenge that companies and brands are taking up. Global denim giant, ISKO, has always been committed to this challenge. Its latest innovation, and its most revolutionary, is R-TWO™, which forms the basis for its S/S 2021 textile collection. Designed to cut waste, R-TWO™ is a blend of certified reused cotton and certified recycled polyester; the former comes from processing raw cotton into yarn, which would otherwise be lost, while the latter is made from transparent plastic bottles or other certified waste: in both cases the starting material is collected and sorted, caps and labels removed, and cleaned. This material is then shredded into plastic granules and re-processed into new fibre filaments, which are then mixed with the reused cotton. Another way of recycling denim is to collect old jeans and make regenerated yarn out of them, which is then used to create mid-season knits. This method is used by Rifò, a Prato-based company, that creates collections in regenerated wool and cashmere and has also launched a denim line following months of research and testing. The knitwear in question is made from 100% recycled and regenerated denim made up of 95% cotton and 5% stitching fibres. As well as being regenerated, the yarn is not re-dyed to prevent wasting energy, water and chemicals. Every piece is unique and inimitable, with shades ranging from light to dark denim blue. The first knit launched is for Spring/Summer and weighs approximately 290 grams and it is followed by a heavier version for Autumn/Winter.