No garment is perfectly sustainable--like anything, there can be both upsides and downsides to consider. In the spirit of transparency, we compiled a list of the fabrics most frequently seen on this site, outlining both the good and icky truths. Scroll on!

 

Better Cotton Initiative Cotton or, BCI Cotton

The good: The icky:
The Better Cotton Initiative is the largest cotton sustainability program in the world, accounting for around 19% of global cotton production. They provide training and learning opportunities for Farmers to adopt more environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable production practices. Licensed BCI Farmers produce cotton in a way that minimizes the negative effects of fertilizers and pesticides, caring for water, soil, and natural habitats. The Farmers also commit to decent work principles, supporting workers’ safety and wellbeing. Moreover, the BCI mostly supports smallholder cotton farmers; 99% of BCI Farmers are farming less than 20 hectares (~50 acres) of land. Because the Better Cotton Initiative aims to be a mainstream initiative, targeting to improve as many farms and livelihoods as possible, they have not completely phased out the use of pesticides or genetically modified cotton. The Initiative aims instead to provide training to smallholder cotton Farmers who have not received proper training is using pesticides and water efficiently. Overall, BCI licensed Farmers use less pesticides and water and have higher yields than the average non-BCI Farmer in their country. Read more about the 2017-2018 Farmer results here.

 

Deadstock

The good: The icky:
Deadstock fabrics are leftover materials from other brands. Conventional brands produce and buy fabrics in bulk, often overestimating their needs. Rather than having these rolls of fabric end up in landfills, smaller brands can buy them secondhand from warehouse resellers--purchasing a garment made with deadstock fabric means you’re supporting a company that is diverting materials from landfill! Plus, we love deadstock fabric because it circumvents the water and energy usage required to produce new fabric. If a deadstock fabric has a synthetic component (e.g., acrylic, polyester, nylon, etc.), it will still release microplastics when you wash it. We recommend using a GUPPYFRIEND washing bag during your laundering in these instances. Also, “deadstock” as a characteristic is not something that is closely regulated; if you encounter a brand making huge quantities with the same fabric, and claiming that the fabric is deadstock, there’s a chance someone along the supply chain is misinformed or being misled; “deadstock” inherently implies that there’s a limited supply. Read more about deadstock fabric here.

 

Linen

The good: The icky:
Linen is one of our favorite fabrics!! The fabric is derived from the flax plant, a hearty and resilient crop that requires little water (vs. conventional or organic cotton) and virtually no pesticides to grow. Fun fact! In some European regions, flax can thrive with just rainfall for irrigation. Plus! As long as your garment is not dyed or treated with harmful chemicals (i.e., any “wrinkle-free linen” is probably a sign that it is) then it is 100% biodegradable at the end of its life cycle. It’s been hypothesized that linen has a bigger carbon footprint post-purchase than other fabrics because of our need to iron, steam, or dry clean the wrinkles out of our linen garments so frequently. There are no definitive statistics here, but the logic follows that this is the case. As with anything, we urge you to consider spot treating stains and wearing clothing items multiple times before laundering. Read more about the sustainable characteristics of linen here.

 

Organic Cotton

The good: The icky:
Organic cotton is cotton grown from un-genetically modified seeds and without the use of agrochemicals, like pesticides or fertilizers. Conventional cotton (which is now mostly genetically modified) is hugely detrimental in terms of the agrochemicals used (think, carcinogenic herbicides and pesticides) and water required (2,700 liters for a single t-shirt!!). In short, organic cotton helps to ensure that workers, communities, and natural resources are not polluted by harmful chemicals.  Because organic cotton is not genetically modified and has a lower yield (i.e., less output for the same input), it requires more plants and land for the same yield as conventional cotton and that means more water use for irrigation. Read more about organic cotton here. 


Rayon

The good: The icky:
Rayon is a man-made fiber derived from plants (think: bamboo and trees), and therefore is regarded as a semi-synthetic material. It’s often listed as the vegan alternative to silk and, as it’s derived from natural materials, the eco-friendly swap for polyester. The manufacturing process to make rayon requires chemicals to turn the natural materials into a viscous liquid that can be spun into yarn. The water used in this process, if not recycled or disposed of responsibly by the factory, can be toxic to local waterways and communities. For this reason, you’ll notice that the rayon products we offer are recycled or made from deadstock materials. Read more about rayon here.

 

Recycled Cotton

The good: The icky:
Recycled cotton is usually derived from garment factory cutting scraps; the scraps are mechanically deconstructed back into fiber and then respun into yarn. Because cotton is an extremely resource-intense crop in terms of water and agro-chemicals, recycling cotton is an altogether great way to circumvent water-usage and pollution. Additionally, if the cotton scraps used were already dyed, then the recycled cotton yarn may not require additional dyeing--this means the avoidance of additional water and chemical usage. Recycled cotton thread is often respun with virgin cotton to achieve similar strength and quality to that which we are accustomed. That is why you often will find fabric compositions made of 30% recycled cotton and 70% virgin cotton. Lastly, recycling cotton products are often more expensive--this is because like-colored scraps need to be sorted by hand and the technology for deconstruction is not available wide-scale. Read more about recycled cotton here.

 

Tencel

The good: The icky:
Tencel, or Lyocell, is a fully biodegradable fabric derived from wood. Here’s how it works: sustainably harvested wood is turned to pulp, which then gets turned into fiber and yarn, and then gets made into fabric. Cool, right? The whole process, from forest to fabric requires less energy and water than cotton. Plus! The resulting fabric is soft and naturally antibacterial.  In order to turn the wood pulp to fiber, a solvent made with petrochemicals is required. This is why it’s so important that the manufacturing company, Lenzing, recycles 99% of the process water and that the solvent is reused during production. Read more about tencel here.

 

Vintage

The good: The icky:
Vintage!! As you’ve probably surmounted, using vintage fabrics or components, rather than new, is a great way to reduce the carbon footprint of a garment. When a brand swaps in vintage components into their designs rather than new (i.e., vintage buttons, vintage fabrics, vintage patches, etc.) it means that the piece is truly one-of-a-kind in addition to being better for the planet. If you’re a vintage shopper or thrifter, we applaud you--it is a great way to make use of what is already in existence. Vintage garments, if synthetic (e.g., acrylic, polyester, nylon, etc.) will still shed microplastics during the laundering process. We recommend using a GUPPYFRIEND washing bag during your laundering in these instances. Lastly, vintage items are already on their second life, so the utmost care should be taken with them in order to ensure the longevity of your piece. True #sustainableliving comes from less consumption overall, so even if you thrifted your garment for a fraction of the cost, it should still be a piece you intend to wear again and again and again.