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Whats In My Fabric?

Fashion Revolution Week 2020

Today is the start of Fashion Revolution Week. The seventh year in which the charity ask us to challenge our favourite fashion brands with the question #whomademyclothes? Fashion Revolution was established in 2013 a year after the Rana Plaza disaster that killed 1138 garment workers in Bangladesh. Since then charity have been campaigning globally against the human and environmental consequences of the fashion industry. Encouraging brands to change their practices to a more transparent and circular model.

I can’t remember the last time I bought a brand new piece of clothing. I either make an outfit or I buy it second hand. Fashion Revolution have given us another question to ask our brands this year ‘What’s in my clothes?’. Highlighting the Earth damaging chemicals that go into our clothes and the lack of transparency from brands on what is actually in our clothing. In 2018 I completed the Fashion Revolution course in association with Exeter University and Future Learn. I asked a brand where the fabric from my skirt was produced. Click here to find out how I got on.

As my business sells fabrics, not clothes, I’ve adapted the question slightly to ask ‘What’s in my fabric?’There are a few myths I’d like to investigate about fabrics. So far I have looked into the key facts of Cotton and Polyester. I’ve undertaken a fibre burn test to identify what fibres are in my vintage fabrics.

Natural doesn’t mean organic

A staggering 43 million tonnes of chemicals are used to produce textiles each year, from the pesticides needed to grow cotton to the dyes that colour the cloth. UK charity trade support projects in Africa to support farmers to grow cotton from non-GM seeds. ‘Organic cotton brings all the environmental and health benefits of growing organic plus a higher price for their cotton! The project will also help cotton farmers in the co-operative to benefit from improved access to high-value UK Fairtrade markets. ‘The World Bank claim 20% of water pollution in Asia is attributed to fashion production, particularly in China, India and Pakistan,” reported Michael Spencer, chair and CEO of the Alliance for Water Stewardship (Asia-Pacific) in 2018. Find out more about how cotton is grown on my infographic.

‘It isn’t as simple as saying that all synthetics are bad’ says Hendrik Alpen, Sustainability Engagement Manager (H&M Group), at last year’s Fashion Question Time. During the same panel discussion, Laura Balmond, Project Manager for Make Fashion Circular (Ellen MacArthur Foundation) agrees ‘ Last year there were 100m tonnes of fibres that were produced for all textiles. Over 60% of those are plastic based so it is difficult to swap out like for like. Where would we find 60 billion tonnes of natural fibres from as soon as you needed them?’. According to the Textile Exchange (2018), Polyester accounted for 51% of global fibre production. I’ll be investigating Polyester tomorrow, follow me on social media to find out more.

Viscose, Rayon, Modal, Lyocell and Cupro are other names you might find your fabrics are made from. These are natural polymers. They are still man-made but they orginate from cellulose fibres, plants, rather than plastic. Unfortunately this doesn’t automatically make them more environmentally friendly. I’ll also be looking into the production of Viscose later this week.

Bleaching, printing and dyeing textiles is one of the most environmentally harmful stages of the garment production chain. Huge quantities of water, energy and chemicals are used including heavy metals, formaldehyde and chlorine. These chemicals produce effluents which pollute ground and drinking water. They are also hazardous to the people working with them. The textile industry urgently needs to find more environmentally friendly ways of dyeing and producing textiles.