I have been in search for sustainable fabrics to integrate into my pattern cutting for a long time. As much as I love luxurious silks and soft cottons, I want to be as ethical as I can be in the process and buying fabrics can sometimes be a minefield. Sellers seldom tell you where the fabrics are manufactured and some don’t even tell you the fabric content. Decades ago, this did not seem like a big problem as clothes were something you wore and then discarded when they were damaged (or went out of ‘fashion’). This exact thinking has lead to the problem that we are currently in.
Did you know that the fashion industry is the second largest polluter after the oil and gas industry?
Cheap clothes and the disposable culture often meant that charity shops can’t even sell these items so most go to the landfill or worse, gets shipped to developing countries and end up being a problem there. I don’t judge people when they buy clothes from shops that sells it cheap because I do that as well. I only choose a company that is transparent so I can make an informed decision when choosing who to buy from. Mind you, some high end fashion houses are just as bad, if not worse.
A decade ago, I was writing a business proposal to explore the feasibility of setting up an ethical fashion brand. I never got round to launching it, but through my research, I became more concerned about how my spending habits and disregard for clothes meant that I was part of the problem. That shock forced me into re-evaluating my wardrobe and as you can see, 10 years on, my wardrobe is mostly clothes that I have made from fabrics that are either remnants, donated and some destined for the bin. When I do buy fabric, I try to buy it from suppliers that either produced in within the country or from a company that provides adequate information about the footprint of the fabric. I also ensure that any garment that I make is done properly so that it last as long as the fabric will allow. Clothes that I can no longer wear are donated or sent to the textiles recyclables although I have now kept this at a minimum because I cannot track where these textile waste have gone to.
Like I have told everyone, I am not a eco warrior nor do I question your choices. I just don’t want to regret in the future.
Anyway, back to my search for sustainable fabrics. I know that linen when produced correctly is a very sustainable fabric. Bamboo has been a very mixed bag as I recently found out that harsh chemicals are sometimes used to extract the fibres and are released back into the waterways. Cotton is known for the huge quantities of water being used to grow it but I understand that through effective water management, this can be reduced. I also know of pineapple fibres that are being used to produce fabric and also fake leather. Cashmere can be expensive but working directly with the farmers, the product that is produced ensure that a fair share of profit goes back to them. Even synthetic materials are recycled and turned back into new fabrics. Everything is possible as long as there is a willingness to try.
I recently stumbled on this fabric called “Tencel” while researching sustainable fabric. Reading up further on it lead me to understand that Tencel (the name of the product) is a Lyocell, a form of rayon consisting of cellulose fibre made from dissolving wood pulp. The wood is obtained from sustainable forests and the chemicals used to extract the fibres are reused so there is no pollution to waterways. The end product is also biodegradable. The only draw back is that producing this fabric does take a lot of energy although the company involved have increased the use of renewable energy instead.
I was so intrigued at this fabric that I decided to buy a metre to test it out. When the fabric arrived, I was surprised at how soft and well it draped.
I chose a Khaki colour fabric as I wanted to make a pair of summer trousers. Initially I was a bit hesitant due to the softness of the fabric but the more I handled it, the more convinced I was that it would work. As I only bought a metre, I was also forced to think about how I can lay the pattern to obtain all the pieces while minimising waste. I used another remnant fabric for the pocket bag.
The fabric moves a lot so I had to ensure that it was laid properly before I pinned and cut out the fabric. This fabric sews like silk satin but is more forgiving and my sewing machine happily took it without any fuss.
I’m quite happy that this fabric gave me no fuss in terms of the cutting and sewing, which meant that the trousers were finished in no time at all.
I have to say that this fabric does crease very easily. However, the fact that it is light enough to wear on the hottest day of summer and that it moves so fluidly makes up for that.
Tencel might not be a new fabric but I find it interesting to use. Imagine, summer trench coats, silky shirts, flowing dresses, elegant overalls and all your heart’s desires. It’s definitely a right step for sustainable fabrics and a tiny contribution to reduce a huge problem.