Fashion consumers are becoming more eco-conscious, according to a McKinsey survey. However, the lack of universal agreement on what constitutes a sustainable fabric makes the transition to sustainable fashion consumption more challenging. Are artificial fabrics always detrimental to the planet, and what constitutes a truly sustainable textile is discussed by a new-generation sustainable designer.
December 14, 2022. PETA’s recent competition to find a vegan alternative to wool is an initiative that raises the question of what actually is sustainable fashion and, most importantly, what constitutes sustainable fabrics. It used to be a common belief that natural equals sustainable, but leather, fur, and silk—once a sign of quality—have become controversial due to the non-vegan approach to fashion.
As a result, more and more top fashion brands condemn cruel practices with animals and heavy pollution and explore alternative synthetic textiles. At the same time, fashion consumers are becoming more sustainability-minded—a McKinsey survey showed that 88% support actions to reduce pollution, and 67% are more persuaded to buy items if they are made from sustainable materials.
Grėtė Švėgždaitė, a new-generation sustainable designer and founder of loungewear brand GRETES, says it’s commendable that scientists and fabric creators make new discoveries in the textile world every day. However, simultaneously she sees that elevated consumer education about fabrics and sustainability is sorely needed to make a real change within the fashion industry.
Universal agreement is in the making
According to Grėtė, the uncertainty over clear criteria for sustainable fabrics poses a dilemma for a fashion consumer who cannot always discern which clothing items are truly acceptable and which ones are the product of greenwashing. The designer says the issue is further exacerbated because there is no universal agreement on what makes fabrics sustainable at the moment and many fashion brands are free to interpret sustainability as they wish. Yet there are several guidelines to follow when looking for a sustainable garment.
“Although the notion of sustainable clothing differs from continent to continent, the fashion industry is slowly agreeing on several essential criteria: the fabric must come from natural origins, be made 100% from the same fiber to make it possible to recycle it afterward, the workers have to be ethically paid, and no animals can be harmed during the manufacturing,” she clarified. “All this information is provided on clothing labels, so an eco-conscious consumer needs to learn to read them.”
Is natural always sustainable?
However, when it comes to natural fabrics, not all are considered reliable because the fabric must also satisfy other criteria mentioned above. Ms. Švėgždaitė adds that, in some cases, artificial fabrics can also be sustainable.
“If a garment is made from a synthetic textile sourced from petroleum, it will never be considered sustainable. Only a small part of artificial fabrics can be recycled. Therefore the possibility that such garments will be thrown into a landfill for hundreds of years is very likely. Nevertheless, there are other synthetic fabrics—like laboratory-made thread identical to natural materials, for instance, spiderwebs. ”
The designer maintains that such artificial material could replace silk and would be a cruelty-free, although artificial, alternative.
GRETES, founded by Grėtė Švėgždaitė in Lithuania, is a boutique-style international brand. It focuses on creating handmade, fashionable, and high-quality sleepwear and loungewear using sustainable NAIA™ materials for a reasonable price. Dedicated to everyone’s quiet elegance, the brand represents a continuous journey of looking for a balance between fashion, nature, and oneself.