Out of all of the ‘conscious design’ challenges, sourcing sustainable fabrics is the trickiest part. If you’re not using deadstock or recycled fabrics, you’ll need to be sure that your sustainable virgin fabrics have integrity because they aren’t all made equal!
Virgin Fabrics: New, unused raw fabrics
For example, wool is a natural, biodegradable fiber, but the sheep are often treated inhumanely–depending on the geographic region. Also, your cotton may be organically-grown but if it’s not domestic than the pollution emitted from shipping is just as hazardous as the chemically modified cotton.
Sourcing Sustainable Fabrics Often Means “Pick Your Poison”
Sustainability is an intricate intermingling of social and environmental impact. When you’re producing a new product it’s nearly impossible to be 100% sustainable. So don’t let the process overwhelm you! If you’re most passionate about designing a biodegradable line, then maybe you won’t be as harsh on the animal husbandry aspect.
In the questions below, you can access which issues are most valuable to you and your mission.
But First, Check For Certification!
Start your quest with fabrics that are already certified. GOTS (Globally Organic Textile Standard) is a well-known certification that has ticked (most) of the socio-environmental boxes to be rendered “sustainable.” If you can find a fabric mill or vendor that carries GOTS-certified fabrics, then you won’t have to pry as much and you can trust that it’s a true fair-trade product. Read the GOTS standard here for more info.
If you’re working with GOTS-certified mill, here are a few useful questions:
- What region do these certifications apply? (Different global regions have a different set of standards, so you need to be sure that the certification is in agreement with your personal standards/ values).
- Does this certification cover the fiber itself or the fabrication process?
GOTS certification makes sustainable sourcing less tedious, but it can also be limiting as most smaller fabric mills don’t have the money to afford the certification. If you’re working with smaller, uncertified mills than you’ll definitely need to ask the following questions!
Environmental Sustainability Questions: (This covers environmental/carbon footprint and animals’ rights.)
- What fibers make up this fabric? Are the fibers natural or synthetic? plant or animal?
- Was this grown/produced domestically? (Buying domestic cuts down on carbon emissions from shipping and boosts the local economy at the same time.)
- What will happen to these fibers at the end of a product life cycle? Are they biodegradable/compostable?
- Are environmentally safe practices used during the cultivation of the crops? — (Ex. wastewater recycling and crop rotation?)
- Is ethical husbandry practiced? (Are the animals ethically raised?)
- What type/amount of care is required for this fabric? Does it need a lot of washing or is it stain-resistant? Does it need to be dry-cleaned?
- How is the fabric dyed? (What kind of dyes are being used– natural or chemical? Is the wastewater recycled or is it discarded carelessly?)
- What chemicals are being used to create the fabric’s finish? (This is a pick your poison because a stain-resistant finishing can help reduce washing and water usage in the future.)
Social Sustainability Questions- (This includes workers’ rights, labor costs, and general quality of living of the laborers and natives of the manufacturing region.)
- Where does this fabric come from? Being aware of the geographic location can help assess whether the workers are in safe factory environments and paid fairly. You can also research the environmental impact of finishing, dyeing, or shipping processes in that region.
- Can I see photos of the factory and the workers? A picture speaks a thousand words. Don’t just assume that a fabric vendor will give you an honest answer. Ask for photos or visit (if possible) and find out if factory conditions are safe and workers are fairly treated and paid.
A conscious designer must now how/where their fabrics were produced and how the fabric can be discarded or recycled after use. We hope this list makes this process easier for you!
Have you started sourcing sustainable fabrics for your line? Comment below and tell us about your experience and download your free fabric sourcing guide here for a broader sourcing guideline!
Happy fabric sourcing!
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