Then the material selection…
Did you know that producing 1kg of cotton can use up to 20,000 litres of water? Whether you choose a natural or synthetic material, the environmental impact can be substantial. So how can we make the right choice?
Choose the most sustainable fabrics
When you think about the most environmentally sustainable fabrics, natural is likely the first one that comes to mind. According to Alicia Tsi, founder of local brand Esse, fabric blends can be 100 per cent natural or have some form of synthetic fibres.
Natural fabrics are derived from natural, renewable sources like plants, and producing natural textile fibres requires agricultural resources, such as land, water, pesticides, and fertilisers.
Synthetic fabrics, on the other hand, are derived from nonrenewable fossil fuel resources like oil and natural gas. Synthetic fibres require large amounts of energy to produce, and are a significant contributor to climate change and the depletion of fossil fuel resources.
So is natural better? It’s not so straightforward, says Harold Koh, CEO and founder of Nextevo, a sustainability start-up that upcycles agricultural waste at scale into sustainable value-added products for everyday living.
“There are many impact categories to evaluate, for example, global warming potential, eutrophication, water resource depletion, fossil fuel depletion, and so on. Under each impact category, natural and synthetic fibres will perform differently.
“That said, processing natural fibres contributes much less of an environmental impact. The manufacturing process for
“PROCESSING NATURAL FIBRES CONTRIBUTES MUCH LESS OF AN ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT. THE MANUFACTURING PROCESS FOR SYNTHETIC FIBRES IS A LOT MORE ENERGYINTENSIVE.”
synthetic fibres is a lot more energy-intensive, as it emits more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere compared to the extraction of natural fibres. When looking at the end-oflife of consumer products, those produced from natural materials are biodegradable, while the synthetic ones are nonbiodegradable.”
Environmentally friendly alternatives to synthetic materials
Natural alternatives like pineapple leaf fibres and banana stem fibres are mechanically extracted from agricultural waste. As by-products, they do not require additional land, water and other resources to cultivate the raw materials, says Nextevo’s Harold. These natural fibres also have innate biodegradable capabilities.
On the other hand, tencel lyocell and other man-made cellulosic fibre solutions are derived from wood pulp, sourced from eucalyptus, bamboo or beech trees. These are fastgrowing tree varieties that are most often grown on land that is otherwise unsuitable for alternative uses. Harold explains that the wood pulp raw materials are dissolved in a solvent to extract the raw cellulose, so that it can be reconstructed back into fibres through the spinnerets. Lyocell is more sustainable than viscose as its processing has higher resource efficiencies and a lower environmental impact. This process is also closed-loop, recycling over 99 per cent of the chemicals used in the production, with the remaining discharged as non-hazardous effluent.
Lastly, according to Harold, responsibly produced cotton and linen are grown using significantly less water and without the use of pesticides, insecticides or genetically modified systems. Instead, they use natural pest management methods, which translate to reduced pollution to nearby water bodies, as well as improved soil health and a healthier surrounding ecosystem.