The fashion industry is under increasing scrutiny in relation to its environmental impact. In the age of fast-fashion and online shopping, eco-responsibility has become a topic that companies cannot escape and must put forward.

What we offer is a short overview of the key elements of this aspect of fashion, which is gaining in importance every year.

So we have on the programme today: 

  • Blockchain technology as a vector for sustainable fashion
  • The most eco-responsible fabrics
  • Fabrics to avoid: polyester
  • Fabrics to avoid: polyester

Blockchain technology as a vector for sustainable fashion

Blockchain, also known as DLT for Distributed Ledger Technology, is a data management system born in the mid-2000s that emphasizes the decentralization of data to maximize security and accessibility.

Initially used for cryptocurrency, new technological advances have made blockchain useful in other areas.

But when we talk about blockchain, what exactly are we talking about? To illustrate, Built-In compares blockchain to Google Docs: when a file is created, it is distributed instead of being copied or transferred. In short, it creates a decentralized blockchain that gives everyone access to documents.

Without pushing the technical aspect further, a question probably comes to mind: what is the link between the fashion industry and sustainable development?

The technology makes the sector more efficient, but more importantly, more transparent. 

The potential in retail is to give everyone the ability to track products physically or digitally. This transparency will therefore allow producers to better follow up with their suppliers and ensure that all their production requirements are met.

To support this claim, the MIT Technology Review says that “The purpose of using a blockchain is to allow people – especially those who don’t trust each other – to share valuable data in a secure and tamper-proof way.”

This ensures that manufacturers actually put into practice the commitments they make.

The consumer is also protected against counterfeiting, as the same tracking provides information on the origin of each material and the route it takes to produce the garment.

Illustration of how blockchain technology works
Blockchain technology, although still new, will have a positive impact on both businesses and consumers.

The most eco-responsible fabrics

Many fabrics can claim to be eco-responsible, but not all of them are used in clothing such as shirts, jackets or pants. Among these we have identified three that can be found in a wide range of garments and that are worth knowing more about:

  • Linen
  • Organic cotton
  • Tencel

Linen

Linen is one of the most common materials used for shirts and suits. Biodegradable, resistant, light, linen has all the qualities, in addition to offering a texture that is pleasant to the touch and to the eye. 

Linen is known to be resistant to high temperatures, making it the ideal material for your summer wardrobe. It also absorbs moisture without retaining bacteria and rarely needs to be washed.

Cotton

Cotton, specifically organic cotton, is one of the most versatile fabrics and has been used for centuries in clothing. It absorbs moisture very well and therefore allows the body to maintain its temperature, making it an ideal fabric for summer, but it can be worn all year round too.

Traditional cotton is responsible for over 25% of the world’s pesticide use, so it is important to distinguish it from organic cotton, which is grown without chemicals or toxins. 

This material also differs from its conventional counterpart in its water consumption, which is 71% lower. It is also easily recyclable, thus maximizing its life cycle.

Tencel

Tencel, also known as lyocell or modal, is an environmentally friendly material produced from wood pulp and a non-toxic solvent. It is a highly breathable and durable fabric that is often compared to silk.

Although synthetic, its production requires 5 times less water than cotton and the solvent is 99.7% recovered.

Garments made from Tencel are therefore very easy to care for, requiring almost no ironing or washing.

Examples of linen, cotton and tencel fabrics
Linen, cotton and tencel are three eco-responsible fabrics.

Fabric to avoid: polyester

Polyester is a synthetic fibre derived from plastic and is the most commonly used fibre in the textile industry.

According to Common Objective, it accounts for more than 65% of the fibres found in fabrics and clothing. The reason for its widespread use is simple: the fabric is light, strong, easily dyed and can be mixed with other fibres. This makes it the ideal candidate to become the catch-all material of the textile industry, and that is what it has become.

Since its arrival on the market in the 1970s, polyester has become the main catalyst for the growth of fast-fashion. Demand for it has grown steadily since then, reaching a volume of 46.1 million tonnes in total production. This compares with a meagre 5.2 million in 1980. The shortcuts in the manufacturing process that the material provides, in addition to its low cost, are among the reasons that have contributed to its commercial success.

But the impacts of polyester are not just related to its production. Polyester is one of the main sources of microplastics that end up in the wastewater after each wash. These microfibres come from synthetic materials such as polyester, but also from acrylic and polypropene and are released into the water every time our clothes make a trip through the washing machine. Although the names of these materials sound like something out of an art class, they are actually present in our wardrobes.

In addition to the environmental impact of polyester, there is also the practicality of it; when wearing any ready-made garment, from a simple t-shirt to a suit, the material feels very stiff and dry on the skin. This will only become more pronounced over time, as the fibres degrade with each wash. It is therefore important to choose natural materials such as wool or cotton to combine comfort and environmental responsibility.

Label giving information on the fabric composition of a piece of clothing
Synthetic materials such as polyester are harmful to the environment.

GOTS, an eco-responsibility certification to be favoured

Anyone could claim that their fabrics are eco-responsible. To ensure that there is some form of control over the authenticity of the claims made by producers, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) was formed.

The organization aims to inform the consumer about the origin of the fabrics as well as the eco and social responsibility of the fabrics.

To qualify for certification and to display the logo, producers must meet the following criteria:

  • The material must be at least 95% organic, as certified by “recognised international or national standards”. If the material is 70% organic, it can be labelled as “made with organic products”.
  • The material must be processed separately from conventionally grown fibres
  • Inputs such as dyes and oils must be biodegradable and free from harsh chemicals such as phthalates, PVC, synthetic sizing agents and chlorine bleaches, and companies must keep a full record of all chemical inputs used in their manufacturing process
  • The fibre cannot come from a genetically modified organism
  • Facilities must comply with the International Labour Organisation’s minimum fair labour practices
  • Farmers and producers must be certified, and these certifiers must be GOTS accredited or hold an internationally recognised accreditation
  • Fabrics and products must meet high standards for residue testing

The Thomas Mason collection, which is owned by the Albini Group, is an excellent example. In a world where fashion is increasingly criticized for its environmental impact, it is important for retailers to trust suppliers who take environmental issues to heart in the making of their products.

André Gagnon, stylist and director of the Surmesur store in Quebec City, explained to me how a group like Albini obtains such a certification: “(…) In its cotton recovery process, the Albini group proceeds on a rotation of their harvest. They will harvest on average only once a year on the same land, so the cotton does not deplete the soil as it always does. There are no fertilizers used to speed up the growth of cotton, nor are pesticides used. Chemicals and water are used to the strict minimum and follow predetermined criteria for environmental friendliness. Thanks to this much more complex and expensive process, you harvest a much more environmentally friendly cotton.”

Label with GOTS certification
GOTS certification allows retailers to incorporate the logo into their labels.

Concluding remarks

While there is still a long way to go before the fashion industry can boast about reducing its ecological footprint, several promising initiatives like the ones we have presented are quietly paving the way towards a responsible industry.

A little advice: from now on, pay attention to the labels on your clothes, whether it is the composition of the clothes or the origin of the materials!

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