Clothes – we all buy, wear and dispose of them. Often we do not necessarily pay attention to where, how and by whom our clothing is actually produced or what it consists of. Universal Tailor have put together a guide for you that answers all these questions.
What our clothes are made of
Clothing can consist of many different types of fabrics. Depending on whether it is a functional jacket or an evening dress, different fibres with different properties are used. The fibres are often mixed to achieve the desired properties. Cotton has the largest share of the global fiber market. The Dutch consultancy Made-By has analysed the environmental compatibility of the various fibres according to the criteria greenhouse emissions, toxicity to humans and animals, water, energy and land use, and classified the fibres in categories A-E according to the results.
Cotton is so important for the textile industry because it has many good properties. On the one hand, it is very cheap to produce and easy to process. On the other hand, cotton is very skin-friendly and compatible and therefore very suitable as a textile fibre. Since the cotton plant is relatively susceptible to infestation by pests, genetically modified cotton is increasingly used. Genetic manipulation also increases the yield of the usable fibre by 15% and the fibre becomes finer.
Effects on the environment
Conventional cotton is grown in warm areas and must therefore be artificially irrigated. However, the constant humidity is a good breeding ground for various pests. Many chemicals are used to destroy these pests, which leads to salination of the soil, a sinking groundwater level and also to danger for the workers. In addition, cotton is mainly grown in monocultures, which results in a one-sided nutrient depletion of the soil and an increased susceptibility to pests. On the Made-By environmental scale, conventional cotton is therefore in the worst category. Organic cotton, on the other hand, is better; it is in category B, the second best category. Less water is used and no pesticides or genetically modified plants are used. Recycled cotton is even better and is classified in Category A.
Wool is also a natural fibre that is well suited for textile processing. In contrast to cotton, however, it is a natural animal fibre and usually describes the wool of the sheep. However, there are many different types of wool, depending on which animal the hair comes from. For example, besides sheep’s wool there is alpaca wool, cashmere wool or camel hair. Wool clothing keeps you warm because, if you look at the total volume, it consists of 85% air. It can also chemically bind sweat and neutralise it for a long time. In addition, the fibre hardly absorbs dirt and does not crease.
Impact on the environment
The enormous land use has a great influence on the environmental compatibility of wool. Not only grazing land is needed for the animals, but also other land for the fodder. In addition, sheep emit huge amounts of the greenhouse gas methane. The faeces of the animals also frequently pollute drinking water stocks. Wool is therefore in category E like conventional cotton. Recycled wool is in category A, however.
Silk is the name given to the fibres obtained from the cocoons of the silk-spinning caterpillars. There are different types of silkworms, but the most common is the silk of mulberry silkworms. Silk is soft, supple and well insulating – it cools when warm, warms when cold. Silk is also very durable and crease-resistant. In the textile industry it is mainly used for dresses, blouses, women’s underwear or accessories such as scarves or ties.
The impact of silk on the environment depends entirely on where the silk is produced. If produced in a small factory, silk is often “accidentally” organic, as the leaves used to feed the silkworms are not sprayed. However, the situation is different in the mass production of silk. Here, as with cotton, monocultures and the use of chemicals are used. This not only damages the environment, but also the people who come into contact with the chemicals and the quality of the silk. This is because the chemicals are absorbed by the silk spinners and released into the silk.
Viscose is a semi-synthetic chemical fibre spun from cellulose. Cellulose can be obtained from various trees such as beech, spruce, eucalyptus or bamboo. The viscose process produces a fibre from cellulose with properties similar to those of cotton. Since it is, however, a semi-synthetic fibre, the fibre can be more varied in length, crimp or fineness, so that a broader application is possible.
Since viscose is obtained from cellulose, it is a renewable raw material for which crude oil is not used as is the case with completely synthetic fibres. Viscose is even said to be biodegradable. Viscose also performs well in terms of energy and water consumption. Consumption is significantly lower than with cotton. In addition, no pesticides are used. During the production of viscose, however, the substances hydrogen sulphide and carbon disulphide are produced. These two substances are harmful to the environment and unhealthy; in larger quantities they are even fatal. This is why viscose ends up in the worst category in Made-by’s balance sheet. However, other synthetic fibres, which consist only in part of viscose, perform much better.