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Making Green Choices: The rise of sustainable fabrics

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We have evolved as a society from the primary purpose of fabrics and clothes used as a bare necessity, to now experimenting with diff erent fabrics and designs as part of one’s style statement and defi ning aspect of one’s personality. It is now ordinary to have a closet full of clothes in vogue and discarding in lots at the end of a fad’s life cycle.
Altering the current conventions in the fashion industry is largely a quixotic task. This warrants a pressing need to change the way clothes are made, as the fashion industry has a multiplier effect on the depleting environment and its dwindling resources. Every phase debilitates our planet and its assets.
To produce 1 kg of cotton, that produces about a single t-shirt and pair of jeans, it takes more than 20,000 litres of water. Up to nearly 8,000 distinct chemicals are utilized to transform raw materials into garments or clothes, including a range of colouring and completing procedures. Rather than reorienting consumer mind-sets, switching to sustainable fabrics will give us an impetus to salvage the environment.
Sustainable fabrics form a niche market that is in its stage of infancy and necessitates more awareness with a systematic shift towards sustainable fashion.
Waning resources and an exploiting environment heralds an inflection point in today’s fashion industry with respect to more mindful manufacturing and purchase decisions. In vogue sustainable fabrics comprise organic cotton, hemp and soy. Organic cotton is grown without the detrimental use of fertilizers, pesticides and synthetic chemicals that cause biomagnification in crop lands.
But fabrics produced from soy fibres are not as durable when compared to cotton and hemp, but are soft and elastic. The prime benefits of using such fabrics are that they are anti-bacterial, UV resistant and moisture absorbent. An added benefit is the availability of natural coloured and dyed fabrics. The cotton plant can be grown in varieties of colours such as red, yellow, orange and mauve.
Moreover, myriad flowers, fruits and seeds such as marigold, barberry, eucalyptus, lilac, pomegranate, coffee grinds, oregano, walnuts and many more are used as non-toxic natural dyes. Recyclable fabrics have steadily gained popularity in the recent past. Numerous fabrics are made from PET plastics – fibre made from recycled plastic bottles and cellulose fibres. Synthetic fibres like econyl are also recycled from fishing nets and other unwanted textiles.
These fabrics bring greater durability in the products. The manoeuvre towards the use of more natural, chemical-free, toxic-free, organic and ethically made fabric is becoming more widespread. Sustainability has become a global trend and an integral part of the fashion industry which is now exploring techniques such as zero wastage, upcycling, non-toxic dying, amongst a few.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it causes hunger and unhappiness”. The Higg index, created by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, is a standardised supply chain measurement tool that informs shoppers about their purchases’ social and environmental effects that will be introduced in 2017. It is important for brands to streamline their supply chains in sourcing sustainable material in order to make a mark on the environment and bring about a reform.
Four areas in the textile industry have the greatest potential, environmental and ecological impact — the types of fabrics chosen, the processing plants that dye and finish these fabrics, the way the products are transported and the consumer care directions you give your clients. Thus, sourcing departments should map their supply chain and research the environmental performance of their most strategically important fabric mills in order to pioneer the ‘green choices’ made in the world.

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