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How changing clothing fabric can help fight climate change

Climate change is a global, urgent, and genuine problem that’s coming to a head.

With many scientists warning we are now reaching a tipping point, it’s up to everyone, individually and collectively, to do what they can to protect future generations.

The fashion industry isn’t exactly blameless when it comes to carbon emissions, but there are movements underway to try to change people’s attitudes towards sustainability.

One of the things suggested is a switch from traditional clothing fabric to a more eco-friendly alternative, but what does that mean exactly and will it make a difference?

Fashion’s role in climate change

Many people are surprised to learn that the fashion and textile industry contributes around 10% of global carbon emissions.

That’s more than maritime shipping and international flights combined, making it the second most polluting business after the oil industry.

Add to that the use of chemicals and dyes in the production of clothes and it’s obvious the textile industry needs to change if we’re to save the planet.

A loom making clothes

What is clothing fabric is made of?

Mainly plastic.

And if you’re thinking your clothes don’t feel like plastic, then check the label.

Around 65% of our clothes are made from synthetic material, mostly polyester, acrylic, and nylon.

The problem with plastic is, it works so well. We can make it into pretty much anything we want, including clothing fabric.

It’s relatively cheap and easy to make, waterproof, tough and lightweight.

Unfortunately, making it – creates significant damage to the planet.

Polyester, as a plastic, is made from oil and extracting and processing the raw material to make it releases massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.

The amount of polyester in our clothing has doubled in the past 20 years, and now it takes almost half-a-billion barrels of oil each year to meet demand.

Plastic pollution

Not only is the production of synthetic clothing damaging to the environment, but the pollution created after the garment has been thrown away is disastrous.

Plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose, and burning it or burying it simply adds to the problem.

Since its invention in 1846, we have produced over 8 billion metric tonnes of plastic, most of which is still lying around in some form.

Even after it has broken down into pieces smaller than the human eye can see, it’s still there.

Microplastics are filling our oceans, infiltrating the food chain at the lowest level and working their way into our ecosystems.

One study found that microfibres are responsible for 85% of shoreline pollution across the globe.

old clothes dumped

Alternative options for clothing fabric

So with synthetic clothing fabric one of the main contributors to environmental pollution, what are the alternatives?

Cotton

Cotton is a more natural solution and already makes up around 20% of the fibres used in the fashion industry.

And while cotton’s carbon footprint is lower than that of polyester, it still has its issues.

As an agricultural crop, the fertiliser used to grow cotton releases nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with 300 times more warming power than CO2.

It takes nearly 3,000 litres of fresh water to make a single cotton T-shirt – the equivalent of two and a half years drinking water for one person.

Organic cotton is cotton grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment, offering 40% less “global warming potential” than traditionally manufactured cotton.

And whilst organic cotton is a big improvement, there’s still more we can do as consumers, such as choosing quality rather than fast fashion, throwing away less, repairing more and buying second-hand.

If we look past cotton as an alternative clothing fabric, we find natural fibres like hemp and flax.

Hemp

Hemp is extremely versatile and requires very little water to grow. Even though it’s been used for thousands of years for everything from clothing to ropes, it’s a relation to the marijuana plant, and so has a bad reputation by association in recent decades.

Hemp is a tough weed and can be grown pretty much anywhere meaning there’s no need to use harsh and dangerous pesticides. It’s even good for the ground it grows in, returning 60-70% of the nutrients it takes from the soil.

Linen (Flax)

Similar to hemp, linen has been grown for thousands of years by people and used in all sorts of everyday things, including canvass, banknotes and tea bags.

Soft, lustrous, and flexible, linen is fully bio-degradable, again requiring little water to grow and minimal use of pesticides.

At the moment, both hemp and linen make up only a tiny fraction of the global fabric market.

Natural clothes made from hemp

Time for change in the apparel industry

Two-thirds of the clothes we make are helping to damage the planet, either through production or pollution after being discarded.

This needs to change.

For designers, manufacturers and retailers, the switch to a more sustainable and eco-friendly clothing fabric should be a priority.

But it’s not as simple as that.

Businesses use synthetic materials for clothing because it’s cheaper to do so, and switching to a more environmentally pleasing fabric isn’t always possible.

That’s where we can help.

With the right planning, contacts in the industry and experienced staff, we are in the perfect position to help you and your business become more sustainable.

Big changes are coming to the textile industry and we can help guide you through them.

If you would like to know more, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us and speak to one of our friendly team members who will be happy to answer any questions you may have.