Choosing natural fibres for sustainable design
The choice of materials is a sustainable designer’s most important tool.
To say that you are a sustainable design company is actually a bit paradoxical. Even though Önling's basic idea is to produce the good piece of clothing that takes all the right concerns for the environment and people, and is durable in quality and design, the fact is that it is still one more piece of clothing that needs to be produced and sent off to the world.
Fortunately, as a designer in a sustainable fashion company, you have a number of tools that can all assist in making the production of clothes far less harmful to the environment and more sustainable.
Material selection is one of the biggest and most important parameters for how sustainable - or environment friendly - a piece of clothing is going to be. Despite the fact that there are several schools focusing on materials, it can be very difficult to manage within the world of materials… Both as a designer and as a consumer.
Guide to sustainable materials - part 1:
Picture 1 above, Modal used in Dea dress with silk insert.
Picture 2 above, Lyocell used in Sustainable denim shirt with pintucks
Picture 3 above, wool used in Chabel My favorite sweater with zippers.
Synthetic or natural fibers:
Overall, you can split material types into synthetic and natural fibers. Natural fabrics such as cotton, silk and wool are made from animal- or plant based fibers, while synthetic fabrics are man-made and produced exclusively from chemicals for the manufacture of fabrics such as polyester, rayon, acrylic and many others.
Synthetic fibers are known for better durability and cheaper manufacturing, but they are acquired from oil products and require a complex process like all synthetic fabrics. On the other hand, natural fibers are found naturally on our planet without being scientifically invented, which is why Önling, as far as possible, swears to natural materials.
Our favorite materials are modal, organic cotton, wool, cupro, tencel and silk. And whenever possible, we also buy (natural) residues from other brands, so we contribute to reducing waste of good fabrics.
Below, I will explain more about the materials and why we love to use them in our production. In this blog post I will go through the 3 materials Modal, Lyocell and Wool.
Modal is made from naturally occurring materials, namely cellulose fibers from beech wood. When a blouse is produced in modal, rather than regular cotton, much less water and pesticides are used. Modal is known for its luxurious look, it does not shrink, is color-proof, very airy and comfortable to wear. A few years ago, Önling actually made a (very unscientific) mini-study where we gave 3 women, who were all in their menopause, a blouse in modal and they all reported that the fabric was much more comfortable and breathable than much of what they usually wore. Two of them were sleeping in the blouse because they said it had a good absorption capacity and that they were thereby sweating less. Read more about our collection in Modal here.
Lyocell® is simply labeled as the most sustainable fiber in the textile industry so far. Lyocell is also known as Lyocell by Tencel.
Lyocell is made from FSC certified brushwood from European beech trees and eucalyptus trees from South Africa and Asia. The trees grow in natural forest areas and require nothing but rainwater. The brushwood for fiber production comes from natural forest depletion, and residues from the wood industry.
The unique fiber composition of beech trees and eucalyptus makes Lyocell really comfortable to wear, while the fabric has a good absorption capacity, which allows it to absorb dampness and quickly release it again. Thus, the fabric has a desirable bacteriostatic function, so you can save some washing of the clothes.
Lenzing AG manufactures Lyocell with great consideration for the environment. E.g. the means used to soften the brushwood into cellulose, are recycled in a closed ecosystem and the energy provided in the manufacture of the fibers will be recycled at the local district heating plant. It is the only type of cellulose fibers that has achieved the European "Swan" certification. Read more about our collection in Lyocell here.
At Önling we love wool and have put a lot of work and effort into developing our own wool qualities that are long lasting and itch-free. I am actually the company’s “itch-tester”, as I am really sensitive to itchy fabrics.
Wool scores the top points when it comes to sustainability, because wool is one of the fabrics (together with viscose and cotton) that emits the smallest amount of CO2 during production. By comparison, the production of nylon requires more than 5 times the energy, acrylic 3.8 times and polyester 2.7 times more energy, than it takes to produce an equivalent amount of wool.
Wool also has a lot of advantages when it comes to the use. Wool keeps the body warm in the cold and cool in the heat, which means that you can actually wear it all year round. In fact, wool can absorb 30% of its weight in water without feeling moist - which is why you can sweat quite a lot in wool without getting cold and damp.
Wool does not wrinkle and is dirt repellent (due to the naturally occurring lanolin, which keeps the wool resistant to dirt and odor). Therefore, you do not have to wash wool very often - you can just bring your wool sweater with you in the shower - i.e. hang it in the shower so it is cleaned by the damp from the hot water. And you do not have to worry that it loses color, because wool keeps the color and is generally very durable.
Last but not least, wool is biodegradable and renewable (i.e. the sheep will automatically get new wool again and again, completely without being "grown" and fertilized with pesticides and the like). All the wool used by Önling is of course pesticide-free and none of our suppliers use mulesing, so it's completely pain-free for the sheep to have tis wool removed. Read more about out collection of here.
That was a bit about our favorite materials and I hope it is clear why we love these exact materials. When talking about sustainability and the clothing industry, always keep in mind that there is nothing that’s just black and white. It's about keeping a lookout, asking questions and being okay with the fact that the world is not perfect.
Lotte Ronan, CEO and Co-owner, Önling