What Should My Clothes Be Made Of? The Observer Magazine Hunts For The 'Greenest' Clothes Material.


Our favourite investigative eco-journalist Lucy Siegle of the Observer Magazine has been getting in between the warp and the weft of eco-fabrics this week. The first thread she tackles is the misapprehension that natural fibres are more eco-friendly than synthetics. The organic cotton industry for instance, has been growing steadily since Patagonia's fibre analysis back in the 1990s revealed that ‘Globally, cotton production accounts for the use of 22 per cent of all agricultural insecticides (about $2.5bn worth).’ It is not until very recently though that the organic cotton has broken through into the main stream. The measure of the fashion industry's awareness is that British high street stores, such as Topshop, Oasis and Marks & Spencer have all recently announced that they will stock organic and fairtrade clothing ranges.However there is also bad news about synthetic fibres: ‘Nylon is reckoned to be responsible for 50 per cent of UK emissions of nitrous oxide (a poisonous greenhouse gas) and polyester is, of course, derived from petrochemicals.’ As for those with a pechant for Fur ‘according to America's Fur Commission, it takes one gallon of oil to make three fake-fur jackets, but the amount of energy needed to make a real fur coat from farmed animals is 66 times greater than that needed for a fake fur coat.’

Siegle goes on to say that, ‘not surprisingly, alternatives such as bamboo, organic linen, wool grown on 'biodiverse' ranches, hemp and innovative fibres such as Ingeo, derived from degradable corn starch, all look much more appealing.’ Unfortunately she doesn’t mention TreeHugger favourites such as PCR fleece from recycled PET bottles which Patagonia pioneered. They are also now making jeans by mixing hemp fibre and PET bottles. We are also excited about the new developments in biodegradable fabrics, check out this beautiful scarf and this sexy bikini.

Siegle concludes her article with the suggestion that it is development of fabrics which don’t have to be washed that might hold the key to the sustainable future since ‘80 per cent of a garment's energy use is in its laundering. Ultimately, perhaps, it's not whether you wear natural or synthetic that counts, but how good a soap dodger you are.’

Read the full article by Lucy Siegel in Last Sunday’s Observer Magazine here.