The revolution of eco-fashion: psst! It’s more than hemp

Our top 3 freshest eco-fabrics that won't compromise your style

We’ve all seen it: those itchy looking hemp shirts that make you feel like you’re wearing a burlap sack. But is that where eco-fashion really draws the line?

Actually, no. While hemp is a miracle-fibre in its own right, hemp is far from the only eco-friendly fabric that can lower your ecological footprint without sacrificing your personal style. But, lets back up a minute. What exactly makes an eco-fabric, “eco”? To start: production. Fabrics that are considering ecologically sound are processed differently than regular fabrics that are cultivated unsustainably and laden with chemical dyes, binding agents and plastics.

If you want to buy sustainable garb, you can choose to buy apparel made with bamboo. Since bamboo is notoriously a “low-maintenance” crop, often grown on marginal land deemed unsuitable for agricultural, it gives old farmland a purpose and it benefits small or impoverished villages. The fibre extraction process uses steam to loosen the cellulose or fibres, which are then mechanically crushed, liquefied using enzymes then spun into yarn. But be careful to choose only certified organic bamboo products as this certification ensures that’s the bamboo has been grown pesticide-free and does not contain any added chemicals.

Materials made from soy are another option. We’re all aware of the soy industry’s laundry list of environmental impacts and concerns, and no one wants to add to the already high demand on the soy industry. To combat the waste of the soy industry, soy silk is a new textile that offers consumers a way to be a part of waste management solutions. This textile is made by rendering the left over waste produced by the manufacturing process of tofu. Soy proteins are extruded after the production of tofu, collecting the soy fibres that is then rolled, pressed and spun into yarn. It is 100% vegan, biodegradable and uses a closed-end method of production that leaves no waste. The farming methods employed for soybean cultivation leaves a large eco-footprint (certified organic soybean cultivation is of course, best) however, by utilizing the waste created by the soy industry, these products are using the inevitable by-products and recycling it into something new. The natural properties of soy fabric also holds colour easily, allowing for natural dyes to be used and the finished product looks remarkably like silk.

Cork is another great material on the eco-fashion scene. But don’t worry; it’s not like the corks in your wine bottles! Well, maybe a little. Cork is derived from cork oak trees and is specifically harvested so as to not damage the tree. When the tree reaches about 25 years, the corky-layer of bark is carefully separated from the tree by hand using axes. The slabs are then transported to factories to be cut to the desired thinness and dyed or coated accordingly. Stripping the tree of its bark doesn’t harm the health or longevity of the tree, rather the opposite, stripping cork trees of its bark helps the tree live for sometimes up to 200 more years! Because of cork’s sturdy nature, it is predominantly used for accessories like wallets, bags and shoes. Check out Rok Cork for their fashionable take on cork products. It is often considered the eco version of leather, plus it’s 100% biodegradable, doesn’t require any pesticides and is naturally fire-retardant!

Now that you’ve heard the back-story to these up-and-coming eco fabrics, this is what industry specialist, Mary-Ann, owner of Toronto-based eco boutique, Chartreuse, had to say about eco-fashion. Having been in the industry for quite some time, we wanted to know what her favourite eco-fabric is to wear. “My favourite is a jersey knit with a blend of organic cotton with rayon from bamboo, but I am also a fan of most of the manmade fibers, like soy, Tencel, and Modal. As long as the original fiber is harvested sustainably or is the by-product of the food industry waste.” She also mentioned that she would like to see more woven fabrics on the market. “Structured knits as well as eco-friendly fabrics that have more textures, interesting weaves or prints. These are not readily available to the smaller makers. We need more big-brand manufacturers to get onto making sustainable clothing and consumers to demand it.” Adding to this, Mary-Ann made a point to mention that the average consumer is not aware of all the chemicals that are used in the making, dyeing and finishing of fabrics and clothing. “There is very little transparency in the general clothing business and makers are not required to disclose what chemicals have been used only what the fiber content is.“

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Interested in learning more about ethical fabrics? Check out www.fashiontakesaction.com and follow their World Ethical Apparel Roundtable conference (WEAR) on October 19-20, 2015. If you are in the industry, use code: #WEAR2015 for 15% off tickets.