Did you know that since the beginning of 2020, online searches for ‘sustainability’ in fashion have increased by a whopping 37%? This is great news, and signals a global shift towards shopping in a more conscious way. We hope the momentum holds — and that when the time comes for us to leave our quarantines, we’ll work together to create a ‘new normal’ that is kinder to the planet.
One simple way to lower your closet’s impact, is to know your fabrics. Which fibers are processed by harmful chemicals? Which ones are biodegradable? And which should you avoid at all costs? Keep reading for our answers to the most common questions on shopping for sustainable materials.
What does ‘sustainable’ mean?
Let’s face it: this is a tricky word, especially in the garment industry. So, let’s break it down. When we talk about sustainable fabrics, there are three key points that we should consider:
- Resources. How much water, pesticides, land, energy and carbon dioxide was needed to create the fiber?
- Treatment. How intensive is the process of turning the fiber into yarn? Does it use harmful chemicals? How are they disposed of?
- Disposability. What is the longevity of the fabric (does it last)? Can it be recycled, and is it biodegradable?
The materials that we want to go for as both consumers and producers, are the ones that score well in each of these categories. But, let’s begin with what not to buy.
Which materials are least sustainable?
Unfortunately, the most harmful fabrics in the industry are also the most popular. Look out for synthetic blends like polyester, nylon, spandex and acrylic. Many of these man-made materials contain plastic, are treated with toxic chemicals, and do not break down easily (or at all). Before they end up in landfill, these fabrics also tend to shed microplastics every time they are washed, polluting water systems everywhere. If you can’t avoid it, at least steer clear of ‘virgin’ products, which are made from previously untouched raw resources like crude oil.
Which materials are most sustainable?
The cleanest, most environmentally friendly options we have today are natural fibers that are cultivated and processed without chemicals. This includes plant-based materials like cotton, linen and hemp, as well as animal byproducts like silk and wool. Following these guidelines, we've tried to make RIMMBA's apparel collection as natural as possible, using only cotton, linen, silk or ramie for our designs.
So, is natural always better?
Well, here is where things get a little more complicated. As we noted earlier, any material’s sustainability is in the sum of its parts. Conventional cotton, for example, scores well in terms of treatment and disposability, but requires huge amounts of water and pesticides to grow. Rayon, viscose and bamboo are also natural fibers, but they are made from tree-pulp, which needs to be processed using highly toxic chemicals. The demand for these materials also means that forests are being cleared to grow them.
On the other hand, there are also new developments that make some synthetic fibers more sustainable than ever. For example, RIMMBA's entire swimwear collection is cut in an innovative Italian textile called Carvico Vita, which is composed of 72% recycled plastic, taken from discarded fishing nets and other landfill waste. Thanks to the availability of materials like these, we can avoid the use of first generation virgin nylon. Visit the following links to read more about our fabrics, natural dyes and our sustainable values.
Our tip: stay curious!
As always, we want to end this beginner’s guide with a reminder to stay curious. Don’t take every label for granted, and get familiar with some of the basic standards that you can count on, like the GOTS certificate for organic textiles, or the Made-By Envrionmental Benchmark for Fibers.
Also, don't forget to take time to find out which sustainable or ethical parameters are most important to you. For some this might be veganism, for others, fair trade, or even transparency. Get to know your own hard limits, and start to shop away from them. Good luck, and don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions!