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Sunday, 30 August 2015

A sustainable wardrobe – Part 3, Raw materials: On to natural fibres

This month I decided to check back through my credit cards to be absolutely accurate about the last time I bought clothes. It turns out it was December 2014 – a pair of pyjamas, and March was the last time I bought shoes – a new pair of runners to replace my seven-year-old pair that had lost all support. So I can definitely say it's now eight months since I've bought clothes and five since I've bought shoes, and right now I can't say I'm suffering in the slightest.

I'm also starting to feel much better informed and know this will lead to better choices when I do need to replace something.

Today though, I'm bringing you my second post on raw materials. Last time I talked about synthetic fibres, so this month it's the turn of the natural fibres.

I'm going to start with those from animals and really, you can't go past wool as a pretty stand-out option. It currently makes up less than 2 per cent of the world's textile production so it doesn't have the issues of some more intensively farmed fibres. If it's farmed responsibly, or even better, organically, then it's a really good choice – it's cool in summer, warm in winter and breathable ie it can absorb a large amount of water and move it away from the skin for evaporation. Wool is also naturally odour and stain resistant so it requires less care than other fibres.
Taken at the recent Bendigo Wool Show.
In future I'll also be looking at wild silk, alpaca, mohair and cashmere as options, but I draw the line at animals having to suffer or die in the production of fibre for my clothing. I just prefer to use other options when there are so many out there, so possum, angora rabbit and fur are off the list for me.

The last fibre-types to look at are plant fibres, and one fibre that I particularly want to talk about – cotton. As we saw last time, my wardrobe is currently made up of 44 per cent cotton or cotton blend items, but since the story of conventional cotton is the one that I've found the most shocking in my fibre research, that balance is going to have to change over time.

If you want more information I'd suggest watching 'The True Cost' – if you haven't already. It's apparently now available on Netflix, as well as iTunes. The other thing worth watching, if you can bear it, is 'Blood, Sweat and T-shirts'. So, here goes…
From now on I'll be choosing hemp, linen or organic cotton, and probably in that order.

After all that I'm now pretty clear on my clothing fibre preferences, but I also promised you some options for crafting. From Australia we have organic wool from Woolganic. From the US there's Swans Islands Yarn and I found Cornish organic wool in the UK. While not organic, I think Manos del Uruguay deserves a mention. They are actually a 40-year-old collective that cares for people, animals and the environment. In the last couple of years they been granted full World Fair Trade certification.

For organic cotton try KPC Yarn, Danish company Onion, or EcoYarnsQuince & Co have an organic linen. Also from Denmark, BC Garn have a good range of both organic wool and organic cotton.

For those into patchwork, there aren't a lot of options. As far as I can find there's Cloud 9, Monaluna or Birch Fabrics. I think those of us who are into textiles need to start asking some hard questions about where our quilting cotton comes from.

You can also get lots of unusual natural fibres such as banana (abaca), coconut, kenaf and hemp from String Harvest.

These links are all over on the Pinterest board along with further options.

I hope this gives you some food for thought. Until next time…

1, 2, 3, 6 and 9 To Die for – Is Fashion Wearing out the World?, Ch 7 – 'Picking at Cotton', Lucy Siegle, Fourth Estate, London, 2011
4. Cotton Campaign, http://www.cottoncampaign.org/about.html
5 and 10 The True Cost, movie http://truecostmovie.com/, Direct quote from Vandana Shiva
7. WWF Global, http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/about_freshwater/freshwater_problems/thirsty_crops/cotton/impacts/
8. 3Fish, http://3fish.com.au/whats-the-drill-with-organic-cotton/

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