As an emerging designer, the idea of sustainability and eco-friendly practices probably looms large in your plans. As it should. But creating a sustainable brand does require some dedicated research. This two-part series is designed to give you a leg up!
Earlier we posted an article, How To Launch a Sustainable Brand, Part I: Fabric Decisions, Deadstock and Upcycling. Now we’re going to discuss the next steps, fabric certifications and eco-friendly fabric treatments, such as dyeing and bleaching.
So, without further ado, let’s dive in.
Certifications and What They Mean To You
To start, talk with your fabric vendor in detail about the sustainability of their product offerings. If the product they offer is sustainable, they will be proud of that fact and happily share any information with you, including industry certifications which you can then share with your customer. Certifications aren’t easy to get and promoting them can go a long way towards making your eco-conscious customer feel confident in buying from you.
We recommend touting your certifications in all of your communication with your customer, be it on your website, social media or hang tags!
Here are some certifications to look for:
USDA Organic Certification
Within the United States, any commodity certified as organic had to be grown on land that hadn’t used any prohibited substance (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) for at least three years. However, this only certifies the agricultural processes and does not guarantee that the raw material hasn’t been processed or dyed with harmful chemicals.
But this one will:
Global Organic Textile Standard Certification
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certifying organization certifies from the first point of processing all the way through the dyeing and manufacturing stages of the fabric. GOTS essentially picks up where agricultural certifiers (such as USDA) leave off.
GOTS has a specific list of requirements to certify facilities. A “made with organic” label from GOTS requires that 70% of the garment contains organic fibers. Conversely, an “organic” label must have a minimum of 95% certified organic fibers.
USDA and GOTS are not the only certifications available. There are others that are equally viable. These include Global Recycled Standard (GRS) and Standard 100 by OEKO-Tex.
Keep in mind, not all fabric certifications are the same. BCI and Fairtrade certifications, for example, only indicate that more sustainable farming practices were used—not that the fiber itself is organic.
Unfortunately, unsubstantiated claims of “sustainability” and “organic” have become a growing concern (AKA “greenwashing”). Greenwashing is, per Google, disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. Thankfully, oversight organizations are cropping up everyday with a main goal of uncovering unfounded sustainability claims.
Still, do your own research. If a fabric vendor provides you with a certification, it’s very simple to verify the viability of that certification with a simple google search.
Okay, Kids, it’s Chemistry Time
Just like high school chemistry, this is the discussion no one in our industry likes to sit through. It’s a complicated subject, and the plain truth is, there are many chemicals used in the textile industry. Most of them are used for processing raw fiber and for dyeing.
According to oecotextiles.com (be sure to check out this very wise and detailed source), “During manufacturing, it takes from 10% to 100% of the weight of the fabric in chemicals to produce that fabric. The final fabric, if made of 100% natural fibers (such as cotton or linen), contains about 27% (by weight) in chemicals. And many of those chemicals are simply not benign.” Yikes.
To continue, “Most fabrics are finished in what is called “wet processing” where the process is accomplished by applying a liquid – which causes some sort of chemical action to the textile – as opposed to “dry processing”, which is a mechanical/physical treatment, such as brushing.” In other words, look for “dry processing” whenever possible.
And here are some of their thoughts on fabric dyeing: “All synthetic dyes and chemicals are hazardous to the environment. The wastewater from the dyeing industry is considered to be the most polluting of all given its volume and composition. It is estimated that 20% of industrial water pollution globally is attributable to the dyeing and treatment of textiles.”
Okay, that’s it for the bad news. The good news is all is not lost!
Some inventive textile companies are creating color without dyeing the fabric. Sounds impossible, right? But think about it this way, what if you were to create color in the new fabric by only using the colors of the recycled fiber content? Brilliant, right? And that’s only one of the inventive ways people have addressed chemical issues in fabric production.
Printing vs. Dyeing. While printing is not the MOST environmentally sound process out there, conversely traditional dyeing uses massive amounts of water, while printing does not. So, if you can, choose fabrics that are printed instead of dyed.
Dyeing and Bleaching. It comes as no surprise to anyone that traditional fabric dye and fabric dyeing techniques have a very high environmental impact. With the use of harmful chemicals in fabric dye, the high amount of energy that is used, and wastewater that is produced, it leaves a big ole negative carbon footprint.
Here’s the good news. According to Eco World Online, “Cold dyeing, dry heat fixation, and vegetable tanning or chrome-free tanning are some processes that textile manufacturers and dyeing houses use to develop eco-friendly fabrics.”
They cite advanced processes such as:
- Eco-bleaching is a process where non-chlorine substances, like hydrogen peroxide, are used to whiten fabrics without releasing any harmful chemicals in the process.
- Silicates and natural phosphates are used in a popular green bleaching procedure. When silicates and natural phosphates are used together with cow dung, and exposed to sun, it bleaches the natural fabrics.
- Low temperature bleaching is a process which uses peroxide activators to control its decomposition and simultaneously start developing the required whiteness. No methane gas is involved in this method and the emission of carbon dioxide is reduced by up to a whopping 50 percent.
- Dyeing fabrics with a special enzyme solution. Washing specially knitted fabrics with enzymes can also help to remove any excess dye. Using enzymes, rather than chemical additives, carbon dioxide emissions are reduced and ultimately reduces energy consumption.
Next, check out this list of new, eco-friendly, dyeing methods:
- Fiber-reactive dye is a dye that can react directly with the fabric. The dye bonds to the fibers due to a chemical reaction that takes place between the molecules of the fabric and the dye. It is a permanent process effectively making the dye a part of the fabric. Because the color is permanent, articles can withstand many washes and still retain their original color.
- Biodegradable dyes do not require the use of heavy metals, amines and inorganic salts. So they will decompose easily, without leaving any landfill in the environment. Fiber-reactive and biodegradable dyes and pigments can be used to reduce the consumption of water and reduce environmental pollution.
- Azo-free dyes are free of nitrogen-based compounds that release aromatic amines. Traditional azo dyes are organic compounds that contain heavy metals. These contain toxic and carcinogenic substances. Azo-free dyes are free of heavy metals and are used to produce eco-friendly and sustainable textiles.
- Herbal dyes, that are biodegradable and have medicinal properties, have also been developed. It can be used to make textiles with anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-allergic properties.
So there you have it! We hope that this two-part series has given you some insight into creating a sustainable brand. We must warn you once you go down the “sustainability” rabbit hole, you might find yourself paralyzed by the plethora of information and decisions you have to make. But again, remember it’s progress not perfection. In other words, make a choice and do something. It’s far better than doing nothing at all!
Launching an eco-friendly brand means finding a development and production partner that understands all the intricacies involved. If you’re ready to discuss creating your collection, we’d love to speak with you. Feel free to reach out to us at https://tegintl.com/get-in-touch/ or call us at 800-916-0910.