Although many may consider “sustainable”, “eco friendly”, and “green” the new buzzwords of the century it is something that has been along longer than any other materials used by the apparel industry. Sustainable textiles those that “’sustainable agriculture’ would develop agricultural systems to last indefinitely” - the final result from agriculture is a sustainable textile. There are two types of sustainable textiles those from plants called cellulose and those from an animal referred to as protein based.
Unarguably plant based fibers are amongst the oldest that were processed into making clothing or any sort of garments or accessories. For example cotton being spun into yarn – cotton is one of the “most widely grown and chemical-intensive crops in the world”. However, now the trend push is for completely organic cotton, when cotton is currently known as one of the leading crops in the world uses “approximately 25% of the worlds insecticides and more than 10% of the worlds pesticides.” Other plant based fibers include bamboo, jute, flax, hemp, ramie, abaca, soy, banana, pineapple. A goal that the plant based fiber industry is working towards is no spray use of pesticides or insecticides, and no synthetic fertilizers.
The other type of sustainable textile are those which are protein based which include: alpaca, wool, camel, silk, llama, Vicuña, mohair, and cashmere. I have many vegan friends who refuse to work with any of the protein fibers because many are killed for food or their hide - in the US, Vegans do work with alpaca fiber because they are not killed for food and are merely ‘fancy pets’. The US Alpaca industry is working very diligently to not only have alpacas recognized as livestock (currently listed as exotic) but so that they can do specific research on the fiber for contributing towards a sustainable fiber industry in the USA. There are many home spinners and knitters that do produce a product from alpaca fiber in the US but there is a virtually no commercial mills making apparel from pure alpaca fiber that is from alpacas that were raised in the USA. The vicuna, llama, and camels all belong to the same family as the alpaca – but the vicuna itself is nearly extinct and the fiber is much softer and luxurious than alpaca but is also illegal with out special licenses in the USA. Other camelids such as the llama produce a slightly coarser and fiber that is typically used in horse blankets and rugs while the camel produces very little useable fiber which is called 'down' but very difficult to spin into a yarn because there is no staple length, which is one of the requirements to spin it into a successful yarn. Anything made of purely camel down would be primarily made by someone that had taken the time to spin and create it at home because there is no commercial processing for camel down. Camel down blended with other fibers is occasionally found in unique yarn shops – blending fibers with camel down that I have seen are silk, merino wool, soy, and mohair.
Recently adding to the hype of “green” fashion celebrities Bono and Stella McCartney debuted a line at Fall Fashion week 2007 called Edun at Portland Fashion Week a show known for showcasing sustainable fashion designers and apparel. This fashion show has helped rocket ship the trend through Hollywood with specialty boutiques renaming sustainable as organic with baby clothing and adult apparel. Unfortunately along with the fascination of being green and earth friendly many believe that organic has also been branded as luxurious and high priced. Many scholars question what good the economical friendly apparel and lifestyle is truly doing for the environment, or is just consumer appeal much like the first model T Ford was.
Whether a fad or just for comfort the awareness of needed to be more aware of what we wear and where it comes from is being to emerge. Unfortunately the economy may never allow middle or lower class afford “luxurious” organic items the many are realize by buying the product raw they can create their own apparel. That is the creation so an industry even if just on the cottage level. “Green” should not just be a fashion statement, but something your doing for the environment and our future.
Written for: Wintergreen: An Earth Quest
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