We're all familiar with green fabrics like organic cotton, bamboo and hemp, but which new materials and practices are moving fashion forward to a greener, brighter future? Here are eight processes and fabrics paving the way.
1. Dying with Air, or How to Save Water in the Coloring Process
The dying and finishing of fabrics represent the biggest impact of textile industry in the environment. About 85% of the water, 75% of the energy and 65% of chemicals used in textile production is used in dying and finishing. This is why greening this part of the process is so important.
During the dying process, water is used to apply color, but also to push the fabrics through machines. New machines by companies like Fongs are using air to push the fabrics, thus reducing the amount of water used. With this method, the dying of a t-shirt can go from requiring 200 to using only 50 liters of water (Textile World).
Another, more eco sound, alternative is a system called AirDye, which works with proprietary dyes that are heat-transferred from paper to fabric in a one-step process. This can save between seven and 75 gallons of water in the dying of a pound of fabric, save energy, and produces no harmful by-products.
It was developed in California by Colorep.
2. Digital Printing
Another technology that's moving forward in this direction is digital printing -- a process in which prints are directly applied to fabrics with printers, reducing 95% the use of water, 75% the use of energy, and reducing fabrics waste. This technique has been used by designers like Mary Katrantzou, Alexander McQueen and Basso & Brooke.
Companies that produce machines and inks include Japanese-based Itochu Corpand Huntsman, but fabrics that produce digital print fabrics can be easily found online.
3. Recycled PET Bottles
Perhaps one of the materials that has grown the most in the past years is recycled polyester from PET, which went from a groundbreaking experiment by Patagoniaoutwear in the mid-'90s to a regular material these days.
Fabrics with some percentage of recycled PET can be found in many labels today, and recently the material stepped up to enter the high-end fashion world with the Ecotech Zegna solar jacket.
Even if these fabrics are non-biodegradable, their production uses less crude than the manufacturing of new polyester and keeps plastic bottles from landfills.
It's certainly not a new, groundbreaking material, but its presence in fashion has been intensifying over the past years. The reason? With wine industry turning to plastic and screw caps, environmental and business groups have been pushing for the use of this material in other areas to protect Portugal's cork forests (if they're not profitable anymore, they won't survive much).
And with leather becoming a less popular material among environmentalists, cork's versatility and leather-like use is blooming.
Did we mention it's impermeable, fire-resistant, easily cleaned and long lasting and dust and dirt repellent?
5. Fabrics from Recycled Materials
PET is not the only material being recycled.
Other alternatives include, for example, fabrics made with nylon recovered from products like nets and carpets by Mipan. An example of the use of this is the swimwear line Eco Panda.
Some factories are also recycling cotton industrial leftovers, which keeps these scraps from incinerators or landfills and creates new materials. One example is the Italian initiative EcotecProject.
6. Wash-Free Clothes: Freezing Jeans
.For the past years, many companies have been developing stain-resistant fabrics that need little to no washing. But what if there was a piece of clothing that needed no washing at all?
Enter the recently launched line of jeans by Brazilian manufacturer Tristar, which they claim can be 'cleaned' from bacteria (not stains) with 24 hours in the freezer inside a special bag.
According to owners of the brand, this kills all bacteria. Stains, however, need to be washed out in traditional ways.
7. Fabrics from Exotic New Materials
From seaweed to banana fibers, researchers are trying to find the next best thing to produce fabrics.
Some new alternatives include Seacell, produced with vegetable cellulose mixed with seaweed; Piña fiber, made with fibers obtained from the leaves of pineapple plants;Lenpur, from the pulp of sustainably cultivated white fir wood; and Banana fabric, made with stems and leaves of banana trees.
It's been around since World War II, when the Germans had to find an alternative to cotton to make uniforms because the market for that fiber was dominated by England (The Ecologist). And even though there's been talk about a comeback for years, it was only recently that the stinging nettle became more involved with the fashion world.
Various projects in Europe have begun developing new ways to produce fabrics with nettle, and one of the commercial products with it, STINGplus, recently won an award in London.
Last year, also in England, BBC presenter Kylie Pentelow wore the first nettle dressmade of these fibers, from Leicester's De Montfort University investigation project.
Advantages? It's a weed, which makes it very resistant, needless of fertilizers and pesticides, and easy on water use. Plus, its fibers are longer and stronger than cotton, and finer than hemp. Some people call this the most sustainable fiber ever, though finishing processes have to move on so that it can become massive.
Courtesy of TreeHugger