In the world of fashion, it's not about the designer behind your attire, but the secrets woven into the very fabric of your clothes. Want to know a secret that companies don’t tell you? Your favorite basic tee can require 2,700 liters of fresh water to make. What the industry doesn’t tell you? Laundering synthetic clothes accounts for 35% of primary microplastics released into the environment.
The global textile industry relies on 98 million tonnes of non-renewable resources per year. This is mainly due to the linearity of our current textile system’s supply chain, operating as if the world has unlimited resources. We know about all the problems, but what are the solutions to making our system circular? One of the most important is sustainable and renewable textiles.
What Makes Textiles Sustainable?
The red, lacey lingerie at the back of your drawer? It’s likely made out of polyester—a conventional and traditional textile. Lace has historically been and still is, largely made of nylon, polyester, polyamide, or some type of synthetic material. Derived from non-renewable sources (like oil) with limited biodegradability and high-energy production, synthetic materials contribute to fashion's sustainability problem.
What makes a sustainable fabric then? There are many different aspects of a textile’s journey, and to improve the industry, it's important to understand them:
1. Eco-Friendly Sourcing of Raw Materials:
These fabrics are obtained through recycled materials and renewable resources. Most of them are also biodegradable or compostable, ensuring that they do not contribute to microplastic pollution and wastelands.
2. Mitigating the Industry’s Carbon Footprint:
Through innovative production methods, these fabrics are made by processes that lower water consumption, greenhouse gas emission, and energy usage. Additionally, the production limits chemical utilization which is commonly used in dyeing and printing clothes.
3. The Longevity Factor:
These fabrics and garments are made to last. They are durable, reducing the need for frequent replacements which ultimately decreases textile waste.
4. Transparent Supply Chain:
In addition to ecological concerns, sustainable fabric production often allows consumers to trace the supply chain, examining the environmental and ethical practices. This includes fair labor conditions and safe working environments.
Measuring sustainability in fabrics requires a holistic approach. One valuable tool is the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), which is a comprehensive tool that analyzes environmental impact through its entire lifespan. From raw materials, manufacturing, distribution, use, and disposal, LCA takes into account transportation and every stage. At each individual stage, LCA measures for the characteristics defined above: sourcing, carbon production, and social considerations.
Although LCA is still a relatively new concept in the industry, fashion brands and manufacturers start-ups are starting to incorporate the tool into their daily operations. The challenge? There is just not much literature to work with and data to measure and define.
Asket, Swedish fashion brand, is a startup leading in sustainability, specifically focusing on transparency, permanence, and lifecycle responsibility. Their price tag? The pursuit of less. Asket focuses on only creating meaningful, essential garments.
How do they use LCA to achieve their principles and goals? Asket reports all of the production stage impacts on their products, considering four tiers: Raw Materials, Milling, Manufacturing, Transports and Trims. At each stage, they measure cradle-to-gate kg CO2 emissions, kWh energy use, and m3 water consumption (more information on their processes can be found on their website).
But even companies like Asket run into problems when considering the entire life of a garment. The issue? Consumers have a significant influence over a garment’s life cycle impact. Thus, Asket can only measure accurately what they have control over: Production. This excludes your choice of packaging and shipping method. It excludes everything that happens after you buy the product: the use and end life.
The industry is still working on bringing LCA mainstream and SINGLA is working on bringing LCA into our operations. The Textile Exchange has created a few impact tools, such as the Preferred Fiber Material Matrix and the Global Fibre Impact Explorer, to contextually understand impacts associated with fibre, materials, and products. Data is difficult to find and fashion start-ups are exploring innovative ways to measure their own sustainability. Although LCA has not yet been fully implemented into Singla’s operations, we believe the ideals and concepts are important to talk about and strive for.
Fabrics with a Green Twist
As consumer and brand awareness for sustainability grows in the textile industry, manufacturing and materials innovation is on the rise. Let’s deep dive into a few leading fabrics.
Through innovative techniques, recycled fabrics turn waste into new fabric. By closing the loop of a traditionally linear operation, recycled fabrics are made from discarded textiles or other waste, such as plastic water bottles. They show us that we can use what we already have to create what we need. There are two different approaches to recycled textiles: mechanical and chemical.
Mechanical recycling shreds a piece of clothing back to its basic state—fibres. However, before it is shredded, all parts of the garment that cannot be used are cut off. This includes buttons, zippers, and other metal accessories. After the shredding process, the fibres are then disentangled and aligned in preparation to be spun to make yarn.
Want to find mechanically recycled clothing on the market? Patagonia is a designer of outdoor clothing for men and women and is also well-known for its sustainable practices. They aim to use mechanical recycling when possible.
The Responsibili-Tee T-shirt is made from 50% postindustrial cotton scraps gathered from factory floors and re spun into yarn. It is combined with post-consumer recycled polyester for durability and strength.
Another eco-leader in the fashion industry is Mantero, one of Italy’s leading silk suppliers. Its new project, Resilk®, uses mechanical processes to regenerate silk yarn. Wouldn’t this piece spice up your outfit?
Chemical recycling allows for your entire garment to be reused. These garments are broken down to the molecular level—as monomers. After dissolving in a chemical bath, the textile’s monomers are bonded to rebuild into new yarn.
An example of a chemically recycled fibre is Refibra™, made by Tencel™. This process takes pre- and post- consumer waste and mixes it with wood pulp to create lyocell fibres.
Timberland, a footwear manufacturing company, designed a collection with Pangaia focusing on renewable, recycled fabrics. This slip-one staple shoe is made of 50% abaca twill and 50% organic cotton with Tencel™ Lyocell X Refibra™ technology (abacá is banana harvested for its fiber).
Circulose® is a branded dissolving pulp that Renewcell makes from 100% textile waste with high cellulose content. Unlike man-made cellulosic fabrics, such as viscose and modal, Circulose® is made from textile waste instead of new resources.
In 2020, H&M became the first clothing retailer to incorporate Circulose® in their products. The total weight of the dress above is 23% Circulose® and 76% viscose from wood. The company has since collaborated with various brands, including Tommy Hilfiger, Jade Cropper, and Levi's and is slowly increasing the percentage of Circulose® offered in viscose garments.
Bio-based materials are derived from renewable sources like corn starch or sugarcane. Unlike their alternatives, petroleum-based polyesters, bio-based polyesters consume less energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their production.
In 2020, ALT TEX, a startup based in Toronto, created the world's inaugural biodegradable and carbon-neutral fabric. This innovative material was engineered using food waste, which happens to be the largest contributor to landfills globally. Although the business is currently in their lab and pilot phase, it is exciting to see new innovations rise up in the industry.
Another example of a bio-based polyester in the works is Kintra Fibres. Kintra has a farm-to-fiber approach, using 100% bio-based materials to create a 100% biodegradable material. In April, Kintra Fibres received $8 million in funding and completed an agreement with H&M, Reformation, and Inditex, the parent company of Zara supporting the pilot use of Kintra’s fibres in apparel.
The bio-based concept can also be applied to the dyeing application. Pili Bio develops bio-based dyes and pigments, aiming to reduce dependency on petroleum and cut CO2 emissions. Pili uses raw materials such as carbon sources from the sugar industry, the starch industry, and wood-derived industries. Microbial enzymatic synthesis allows Pili to engineer textile dyes without toxic reagents and large inputs of energy. Pili Bio expects to sell its first tons of indigo in the near future.
Recycled materials and bio-based polyester fabrics do not skip on quality or versatility. Bio-based polyester fabrics are as durable and stylish as their traditional counterparts, proving that fashion and sustainability can indeed walk hand in hand down the runway of the future. However, the main challenge right now is scaling up these innovations to match on quality and cost.
SINGLA in Sustainable Fabrics
At SINGLA we aim for long-term sustainability by sourcing from innovative textile suppliers. We are not perfect, but we're actively seeking out alternatives and working with new suppliers. So, how are we contributing to the circular movement?
1. Eco-Friendly Sourcing of Raw Materials
If our suppliers say a certain fabric is hard to sourcee, we're okay with that, and take our time to develop garments that are made to last.
SINGLA Right Now
Love Nordic Black and Ivory? These two product lines are made from 80% Recycled Polyamide, Q-Nova and 20% Recycled Elastane, Roica™ EF and Roica™ V550. In short, these two lines are made with 100% Global Recycled Standard yarns.
Transitioning SINGLA into a greener future
We are constantly seeking to make conscious decisions and explore different innovative textiles. This is why we are currently on the drawing board for product launches made with Fulgars Amni Eco Soul.
The best thing about the Fulgars Amni Eco Soul material? It’s comfortable and stretchy to wear, but its biodegradability allows the fabric to be eliminated in 5 years. What does this mean for you? When you buy SINGLA, you are contributing to the circular textile movement by buying products that break down into organic matter used to cogenerate electricity.
2. Mitigating the Industry’s Carbon Footprint
To bring our customers the highest quality, we choose responsible facilities to base our production. Previously we had production in Bogota, Columbia, Singla has decided to switch our main production facility to Portugal. This change allows Singla to reduce carbon emissions as production is now centralized in Europe. We no longer have to ship our Italian fabrics across 3 continents. But what hasn’t changed? Our fabrics have always been made with processes that reduce carbon emissions, energy usage, and water consumption by up to 80%.
3. The Longevity Factor
Timeless designs and durable fabrics? This is what Singla does best! With the highest quality of products in mind, Singla focuses on using expensive and durable machinery, strong seams, and staple colours and silhouettes to make the intimates that will last you a lifetime (or two!).
4. Ethically Operated
With a women-led team, Singla always considers ethics in making operating decisions. Researching and leveraging family-run businesses and small suppliers that meet fair, ethical labour standards is important to us and our customers.
Welcome to Singla. Staple, Sexy, and Sustainable. Remember to take our sustainability survey as we look forward to making more products that you and us can be proud of.