Eco-Chic - What makes fabric eco-friendly?


Jo Alcorn of Whitewash and Co is back with another one of her popular eco-articles.  This time we are talking about fabric, and what makes it eco friendly. It's no surprise this topic just opens up a can of worms, so let's get started!

I am back with another controversial green term, to determine what truly makes a fabric eco. After the question was raised from a viewer on my last post, I did some research on this topic to find the true meaning of green fabric. Now the obvious answer is, the less harming process to the environment is the most eco-friendly. However that can mean so much, as we have learned from so many other terms marketers throw around.  

Eco-friendly fabrics generally have three generic characteristics. One being, if any animals have been harmed to create the fabric. Fur and leather are clearly not eco fabrics. Second, if the fibers come from a plant free of chemicals or pesticides . And third, being produced under fair trade practices.  Now that is the simple answer but of course I love a good controversy! I'll break down what so many believe would be the responsible key words to look for in eco fabrics and I am here to play a bit of devils advocate on the above characteristics.

Now to go back to the first point, how would any consumer ever know if animals were harmed or not when they choose a wool fabric for their ottoman? You don’t know if they were free range or tied up in some windowless factory overseas and malnourished.  You have no idea except that the tag happily says 100% wool, yippee. Now my next question is what is the difference between Organic wool to 100% wool? It should just mean the same thing, but no. “Organic livestock management is different from non-organic management in at least two major ways: 1) sheep cannot be dipped in parasiticides (insecticides) to control external parasites such as ticks and lice, and 2) organic livestock producers are required to ensure that they do not exceed the natural carrying capacity of the land on which their animals graze.” Also the wonderful thing about Organic is it is mostly all produced in Canada and the U.S which means a lower carbon footprint. So the only true way we know if animals where not injected with chemicals and are treated correctly is if we buy Organic, due to the Federal guidelines they must follow.  So really if it doesn’t say Organic on it, we don’t know if animals were harmed or not.

Okay, so to address the second statement. I don’t know very many plant fibres that you could use without any type of a process added to it. So I don’t quite understand this one. Please don’t even get me started on Bamboo. If you truly want to be eco don’t buy bamboo. Yes it is a renewable source, however to actually breakdown the hard solid down to create a fibre, calls for a ridiculous amount of chemicals being used to create a single strand.  Which means a high level of VOC’s, also bamboo has a huge carbon footprint. Now the only way I think this second statement could work is it were rephrased to say organic plant fibers. A fabric can be classed as organic, if 95% of the fabric contains organic fibres.  Organic Cotton along with other plant manufacturing have guidelines to follow compared to those who don’t label their fabric Organic.  I get mixed up with 100% Cotton and now there is also 100% Organic Cotton. I think that is for another post. But no matter what, the plant fibre used to create the fabric, even if it is organic will still have a little bit of VOC’s, however it is very little. Keep in mind, if you add scotch guard to it you might as well go suck on a tail pipe for 2 minutes. That chemical is so far from eco-friendly, and something that you should never bring in your home if you are worried about VOC’s.  Just an extra side note.
Now the last point, fair trade practices. Fair trade, unfortunately, is still quite new to the main scheme of things.  Fabric abels do not advertise fair trade as you think they would. Really when it comes to fabric and the meaning of fair trade you really only have the word Organic to understand if it is or not. Also, if it states where it is from, i.e Canadian produced, you know if is fair trade deemed just on location in some cases.  Source

Knowing what eco fabrics you want to bring into your home is not an easy one. However no matter what you chose, you will not be completely free of all VOC’s. Also. it likely won’t even have a low carbon foot print. But your safest bet is to stick with Organic plant fabrics, which unfortunately is not always the most durable. Buy locally to lower the carbon footprint and to ensure the rules of fair trade has been upheld. That is your safest gamble when it comes to eco-fabrics. This is a huge topic and will be continued because there is a controversy behind polyester and a few other fibres, including the dies used within them. I would like to touch base on to, so,  to be continued…..
Keep asking questions and researching what your products are made of and where they come from, that is the true start to being environmentally friendly!
Stay Green my friends and until next time,
More Info: 
The Fabrics:
The following list includes fabrics and textiles that are common for eco-friendly clothing: Hemp, Jute, Ingeo, Calico, Hessian Cloth, Organic Cotton, Recycled Polyester, Bamboo Fiber, Tencel, Ramie, Organic Wool, Organic Linen, FORTREL, Milk and Soy Silk, Nettle Fiber, Spider Web Fabric. For more information on some of these fibers please click on each name.

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