Orange Fiber, Pinatex and Tencle, Oh My!
Vegan Eco-Friendly Fashion Alternatives
Do you ever feel confused as to what’s the most eco-friendly in terms of vegan materials? When I first went vegan I thought to myself “well, it’s vegan and no animals are being harmed, so it must be good for the environment” Well fast forward 3 and a half years and my eyes have slowly but gratefully been opened to what the world of eco-friendly, vegan, sustainable fashion has to offer. It's a challenge to navigate through the labyrinth of what is sustainable vegan fashion?
People usually tend to think of vegan fashion as all tie-dye and hemp skirts (although both are now totally on-trend), but it has progressed so much since the 70’s and non-vegan brands are working their hardest to cater to us. It is refreshing but with a lot of these brands greenwashing, they aren’t actually doing much good for the environment and just jumping on the bandwagon to make a quick buck. Although in my opinion, it is always better to buy vegan items as opposed to the cruel animal exploitive options out there, some of the materials used, especially in fast fashion giants, are detrimental to the health of our planet and best to be avoided. Here are a few of the materials to avoid and their eco-friendly alternatives
Polyurethane or PU as it is more commonly known is an alternative to leather and commonly used in high street stores for bags, shoes and wet look jeans/leggings. As a vegan, you would think I would argue that this is better than leather and before cluing myself up on things I used to actually think so, but it is in fact worse. Yes, it avoids the cruelty and harm of animals but in terms of its biodegradability, it takes 10 times as long to decompose with leather taking 50 years as opposed to PU’s 500 years. It’s also not as durable so when thinking about sustainability, it doesn’t quite match up either.
This is where materials such as Pinatex become significantly important. Pinatex is made by using the leaves of pineapples, which are never used so would otherwise be left to rot or get burnt. It's not 100% biodegradable because of the use of bioplastics which are part of its finishing process, these are from renewable sources and the brand who manufactures it, Ananas-Anam are currently working to create a fully biodegradable product. Another amazing alternative to leather that I have found super durable is recycled rubber from tyres. I came across these gorgeous bags from Reclaim when I was at the It’s A Vegan Ting festival in Waterloo in 2018 and instantly fell in love.
They have all the makings of a luxury high fashion handbag yet made from sustainable materials, so is a win-win. Handmade from recycled rubber inner tubes, they are so soft to touch and I just couldn’t stop stroking them – pretty sure I got a few looks but I didn’t care, I was in love. Who would have thought that an old tyre could look and feel so darn good?! You can find these on Etsy, ASOS and the Wears London store and website. They are always in high demand and very often get sold out, so if you want one, you’ll need to act fast.
Photo from Tencel.com
Another material which, although not an animal by-product, is detrimental to the health of our planet is cotton. For me growing up, my Mum would always say cotton is the best. It's a natural fibre, so would always make sure all of my clothes were made of cotton as opposed to polyester (which is also a no go, but we shall get onto that in a bit). I have been researching cotton throughout my sustainability journey, I have found out just how the production of cotton impacts our beautiful earth and those who walk it. Just to make one cotton t-shirt, it can take up to 3,000 gallons of water and those favourite jeans of yours cost between 10,000 and 20,000 gallons of water. Ridiculous right, considering the amount of famine and lack of clean water in some of the world’s poorest parts. Not to mention the pesticides. According to the World Health Organisation, thanks to the use of pesticides and other chemicals sprayed on non-organic cotton, a staggering 20,000 individuals living in these areas die from cancer and suffer miscarriages. This really puts it all into perspective. It’s not just animals but people who are dying for fashion due to the choices we as consumers choose to make. Instead of buying cotton, look for more sustainable options such as lyocell, or you may see it listed by its brand name, Tencel, which is made from cellulose found in the wood pulp of eucalyptus trees and is manufactured using significantly less water and energy than cotton. It is also compostable and biodegradable and although the process does use some petrochemicals, the closed-loop process means that they are minimizing the harmful waste. This is because the solvent is recycled time and time again in order to create new fibres. Rated “great” on Good On You – a website and app that you can use to check how sustainable a material is, this fabric is 50% more absorbent than cotton making it ideal for hot summer days as well as workout gear.
Now I previously mentioned polyester, which I think most people are now realising is having a huge environmental impact. Along with other non-biodegradable materials such as nylon (or polyamide as it is also known as) and acrylic, when washed these synthetic materials release tiny little microfibres into the water supply which contribute to microplastic pollution in our rivers and oceans causing a less than desirable effect on our marine life. An average wash load of 6 kg releases over 700,000 fibres per wash. Washing machine manufacturers are looking at creating filters to stop microplastics being leached into the water, however, if we stop using these materials all together that just a much better way forward. There are other more eco-friendly materials may also leach microfibres into the ecosystem so it is advised to use washing bags such as Guppyfriend wash bags or similar that catch these tiny fibres from your wash to stop them leaving the washing machine allowing you to dispose of it in the correct way.
Orange to Orange Fiber
As a vegan who is also of Caribbean descent with naturally curly hair, silk bonnets and pillowcases have always been a part of my hair care routine in my pre-vegan life. Once I made the transition to a plant-based lifestyle I just assumed that satin would be a suitable alternative. But thanks to my trusty friend, Good On You I have found more eco-friendly options so I can look out for nature whilst keeping my curls poppin’. All hail the citrus fruit. You may be thinking “why should I” but because of this yummy, healthy fruit full of vitamin C, the world has now welcomed a new generation of silk. Over 700,000 tons of citrus b Juice byproduct is produced in Italy alone yearly. Sicilian brand Orange Fiber have patented a process to turn some of their citrus juice by-products into this luxurious fabric.
Another silk alternative is Microsilk, create by Bolt Threads who after 8 years of research on how spiders make silk, have been able to bioengineer genes to implant into yeast. After being fermented with water and sugar, this produces silk proteins, which are then extracted and spun into yarn. Additionally, an added technical advantage of Microsilk is that it holds dyes 6 times better than conventional silk, meaning it is likely to be more popular with designers. This fabric has already been used in a collection with Stella McCartney which was debuted at Paris Fashion Week 2017
Unlike conventional silk, where silkworms are more often than not boiled alive in order to remove the silk, these silk are not only animal friendly but also biodegradable and with the technical bonuses, they are sure to tick all the boxes for eco fashionistas out there. While these fabrics are both relatively limited due them both still being in their infancy, there is no doubt that these will be brought to the market with a vengeance once they are more readily available.
I could go on all day about the benefits of veganism and sustainability but I am sure you all have things to do and I am sure this has given you more than enough to think about.
Hopefully it has helped any noobs out there with options that will help lower your carbon footprint and keep our beautiful planet in tact.
Article by Tanekka Fleary-King @TheGoldenGrenadine