Jag är jätteglad att kunna presentera en fantastisk bloggserie här på Ecosphere, nämligen flera gästbloggare som skriver om hållbart mode ur sin synvinkel! Inläggen kommer vara på antingen svenska eller engelska, och jag hoppas att de kommer inspirera dig och många andra till en mer hållbar garderob på lång sikt! // I am so happy to be able to present an amazing series of guest blog posts here at Ecosphere, i.e. numerous bloggers writing about sustainable fashion from their point of view! The posts will be in either Swedish or English, and I hope that they will inspire you and many more to a more sustainable closet in the long run!
Den här gången är det Steffie som gästbloggar om syntetiska och naturliga fiber, som annars studerar Textile Management // This guest blog post is from Steffie a master student in Textile Management, about synthetic and natural fibers.
Dress in Fair trade cotton by Kowtow
Numerous studies evidences that we tend to consider synthetic fibers (e.g. polyester, nylon) as more harmful for the environment that natural fibers (e.g. cotton, wool). The truth is, as you will see though out this post, it is much complicated than that. One thing that is for sure is, empowering ourselves with knowledge concerning the sustainability profile of different fibers can lead to better product choices and above all a more conscious consumption pattern.
There as two main types of textile fiber: natural fibers and manufactured (or man-made) fibers. Natural fibers come from animals (e.g. wool, silk) or plants (cotton, linen) whereas manufactured fibers come from synthetic polymers (e.g. Polyester, nylon, acrylic, PVC) but also combined with plants and animals sources (Viscose, Modal, Lyocell). As cotton and polyester are the two dominant fibers in our wardrobes, they will be the focus in this post.
The cotton crop is known for its thirst for water and the need of pesticides and fertilizers in the cultivation. As the demand of cotton increases, there is an even more need of these chemicals – leaving great environmental damage in terms of water pollution, loss of biodiversity and soil fertility but also healthy problems for those working in the cotton field. “Organic cotton” and “fair trade cotton” address many of the biggest sustainability challenges for conventional cotton cultivation. Cultivating cotton organically means that the toxic profile of cotton is minimal. Fair trade cotton addresses mainly the social and healthy issues associated with cotton cultivation. That is the workers receive a decent wage, better working conditions and health care. It is important to understand that, in terms of environmental impact, when the cotton is processed in a conventional organization, it does not mean much in the end. For example, when the fibers are bought in large scales and produced in quantities as in fast fashion. However, fair trade cotton (organic cotton as well in high extent) is always a good choice if compared with conventional cotton as they show respect for the workers.
Recycled jacket by Kuyichi
Polyester is manufactured with petrochemicals and the exploitation of oil is known for its ecological and social costs. The production of polyester is very energy consuming but less water is required. This is where the debate of man-made fibers environmental friendliness (than natural fibers) comes from. There is a discussion of better alternatives in this textile category (e.g. recycled polyester) however there are varied scientific analyses in terms of their real sustainability profile. Therefore I rather avoid discussing them in depth and instead recommend further reading, see below.
To conclude, there are no easy answers regarding the environmental and social impacts of producing textiles. And surely not in regards to natural vs. manufactured fibers. I believe that knowledge and awareness in the fibers your clothes are constituted of is fundamental. What I want to you to keep in mind is that some “labeling” can be as much polluting for the environment or the people, however, with more knowledge, you will be able to identify why and acknowledge the pros and cons. I hope that this post can attract your interest, lead you to search for more about this topic and feel empowered to make a better and conscious choice.
Recommend reading: Fletcher, K. (2014). Sustainable fashion and textiles: design journeys. 2nd edition. Routledge.
/Steffie Uwimana, marketing and style consultant at Joeste. Master degree in Textile management, major in fashion management (June 2015).