Sustainable Fabric Guide

by Eva Dilanni-Miller 

 

General knowledge:

Sustainable, eco-friendly, ‘green’ -- these are some of the buzz words that are used everywhere, particularly in marketing and advertising materials, in speeches from leaders, and across our social media feeds. The world has woken up to the issues of man-made climate change and the need for our consumption and production patterns to change. We know we need to be better! But alongside a growing awareness, there’s an influx of confusing and sometimes contradictory information.

Here at Loop Swim, sustainable consumption and production are not just slogans -- these are the values at the core of our business. Founded in 2010, Loop Swim has always been ahead of the curve, aiming to produce zero-waste products that not only help the planet, but delight our consumers.

We know that you’re driven to #ProtectWhatYouLove too, and that’s why we want to provide resources to help you make smart, sustainable decisions when you’re weighing the footprint of brands and products. When you’re on the Loop Swim site, you know that everything you buy is responsibly made, and aiming for zero-waste.

Our Sustainable Resource guide is where you can find information on sustainability in fashion, key solutions, and other key retailers with a commitment to sustainability loved by the Loop team! For businesses seeking to manufacture and produce more responsibly, we have developed a sustainable materials guide, here!

 

Part 1: A Closer Look

The fashion industry employs over 40 million people around the world and generates over a trillion dollars in revenue. Fashion also provides both functional and beautiful garments, from universal commodities like t-shirts to the most rarefied couture. However, over the past few decades, the fashion industry has leaned into trends like ‘fast-fashion’ and other high-waste, resource-heavy, business models that threaten to deplete our global resources. As the Loop Swim co-founders, Heather and Itee explain, “In the 20 years we’ve been fashion designers, over 250 million tons of unwanted clothing has been thrown away. That’s about 36 kg per urban adult each year. Definitely the most unsustainable thing about the fashion industry is how disposable has become the new black.”

A closer look at sustainability in fashion reveals the complexity of even the most basic t-shirt. The life-cycle of all garments has five key steps: material (fiber to fabric), production, shipping, use and disposal.[1] At each step in the process, there is serious room for improvement. As a consumer, this is a lot to evaluate when you’re trying to make low-carbon footprint purchases. Are you willing to reduce your consumption, lowering the emissions and waste produced at each step of this process? Are you committed to shopping locally, benefiting those engaged in clothing production and lowering the environmental cost of shipping? Are you taking good care of your garments, extending their use and limiting the need for disposal of clothing?

 Join us on our deep dives into the myriad ways we can shop and consume sustainably, from  sustainable manufacturing and labor practices, to sustainable production with low energy and water usage, to sustainable shipping and sales, garment care and end-of-life.

 

 

Part 2: Sustainable Business Practices

Sustainable fashion businesses consider the total life-cycle of their goods. Within the product lifecycle (material, production, shipping, use and disposal), businesses and producers can most easily control the materials, production and shipping of their goods. While Loop Swim is committed to closing the loop, providing reuse and disposal services to their consumers, the essential first step for businesses is to use sustainable materials and production.

loop swim

The Loop Swim Sustainable Business Resource Guide provides basic steps and guidelines for brands and businesses seeking to take the first step towards sustainable business practices.

 

Sustainable Field Guide:

sustainable field guide loop swim

The first step is to produce with sustainable materials.

Here at Loop Swim, all of our garments are produced using recycled PET, from plastic bottles, that is woven into durable and comfortable fabric (learn more about our process here!)

Use the below resource guide to help pick the right sustainable product for your product:

  • Organic materials usually require less energy to produce, but consume more water, while synthetic materials often require more energy to produce. See below for a more detailed graph of the trade-off between water and energy consumption, created by Tillman Lauterbach.

 

sustainable fabric guide loop swim Tillman Lauterbach

 

Beyond the materials highlighted in Lauterbach’s chart, there continue to emerge new sustainable materials, as well as new uses for other natural fibers.

  

Manufactured fibers:
recycled PET sustainable fabric guide loop swim

Recycled PET or RPET is a synthetic fiber produced by recycling plastic bottles into fabric. RepreveÒ is a the brand name of the rPET yarn we use for our swimwear.
  • Pros:
    • Uses post-consumer use plastic already in the waste stream and repurposes it for another use.
    • Can be re-used multiple times (i.e. Loop Swim bathing suits are now part of a closed loop -- plastic bottles turned into suits, which can be turned into new suits or other products)
    • Versatile -- very useful when a product needs to be stretchy, waterproof, etc.
    • Polyester naturally blocks UVA and UVB rays in varying amounts, depending on the weight and knit construction of the fabric. Loop swimsuits block the highest amount of UVA and UVB radiation possible in a garment: 98%, designated as UPF50+.
  • Cons:
    • Some rPET textiles shed microfibers. Loop Swim textiles have been tighly knit in fine gauge to limit the shedding of microfibers, but most synthetic garments are guilty of releasing microfiber pollution in washing machine water effluent. For instance, a fleece jacket can shed as many as 200,000-400,000 microfibers each time it’s washed.
    • We still want to send the message LOUD AND CLEAR that we must reduce plastic bottle consumption! Recycling is not the answer to massive consumption, as it still depletes our planet’s resources. Recycling should be considered only as Plan D after Refuse, Reduce, Reuse/Repair.


    recycled nylon sustainable fabric guide loop swim

    Similarly to rPET, recycled nylon diverts garbage and repurposes it into raw materials. The primary source or nylon waste is actually fishing nets, many of which have been abandoned in the ocean (there are an estimated 640,000 tons of nylon fishing nets in the ocean!). EconylÒ is a certified producer of recycled nylon.
    • Pros:
      • Removes “ghost” nets from the ocean, and other sites. (10% of ocean trash is nylon!)
      • Versatile material.
    • Cons:
      • Recycled nylon is more expensive than virgin nylon, and is more energy intensive to recycle.

      Natural fibers:
      organic cotton loop swim sustainable fabric guide


      Cotton can be grown using conventional or organic practices. Organic Cotton uses no pesticides and requires less water to produce. However, while recycled/re-used cotton is the most sustainable of these materials, it is less commercially available.

      • Pros:
        • Cotton is a natural, renewable fiber.
        • Cotton is biodegradable and doesn’t require high amounts of energy to produce.
      • Cons:
        • Requires a huge amount of water to produce.
        • Requires a huge amount of human labor to produce and may compete for land with food crops.
        • Sustainable cotton is harder to source. Only 0.7% of global cotton supply is certified organic. (https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/organic-cotton)

        wool sustainable fabric guide loop swim
            Wool is often called a magic fabric because it is biodegradable, durable, and has some water resistant properties
            • Pros:
              • When produced ethically, wool is a renewable, recyclable fiber.
              • An effective fiber for some sports-wear, clothing, extremely durable
              • Wool in naturally anti-microbial, which makes it a good choice for performance gear such a biking jerseys.
            • Cons:
              • When produced inefficiently, wool production can generate carbon dioxide, and some producers have at times been targeted for animal cruelty.

              bamboo sustainable fabric guide loop swim
               
              Bamboo can be turned into fibers and textiles using a chemical or mechanical process (chemical is the commercially used option).
              • Pros:
                • Bamboo itself is very easy and quick to grow, requires very little water or energy, and can be beneficial to the surrounding environment.
                • Bamboo textiles are biodegradable
              • Cons:
                • The process to transform bamboo into a textile is often a) expensive, or b) chemically intensive. Finding bamboo textile/fiber is often difficult. (https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/sustainable-bamboo)
                • Bamboo does not wash and wear well on it’s own – it usually needs to be blended with another fiber.


              hemp sustainable fabric guide loop swim
                Hemp is a plant that can be used for fabric, food, etc.
                • Pros:
                  • Biodegradable, natural fiber
                  • Requires less water/land than cotton production
                • Cons:
                  • Turning hemp into textile requires more energy than for many other natural fibers