Did you know that more than 60% of garments currently produced are made from polyester and other non-renewable, petroleum-based fibers? With clothing production expected to double in the next 30 years it is imperative to switch to more sustainable options. Here are five sustainable yarns that you might consider sourcing for your apparel brand in 2022.
1 | AlgiKnit
Algiknit is a yarn derived from kelp (seaweed) that can be knitted into fabric for textile manufacturing. It is produced by US based biomaterials company also called AlgiKnit and is due for commercial release in 2022. AlgiKnit "has the look and feel of the natural fibers consumers are familiar with, plus the makings of a no-compromise conscious material", says Aaron Nesser - co-founder and CTO of AlgiKnit. The potential applications of AlgiKnit include knits, underwear, athletic wear and footwear.
Good for Planet? AlgiKnit's sustainability claims are very promising. The yarn is made from kelp, one of the most renewable and regenerative organizations on the planet. Kelp grows naturally from the sea bed and therefore requires no land or irrigation for cultivation. AlgiKnit also claims that no harmful fertilizers or pesticides are used in its production. Plus, it's 100% biodegradable and designed to be broken down and used to nourish further feedstock.
Good for People? Commercial production of AlgiKnit is yet to scale up, but when it does it has the potential to provide a new more sustainable income source to fishing communities.
2 | Evo by Fulgar
Evo is a nylon yarn derived entirely from caster beans. It has been commercially available since 2015 and is made by Fulgar, an Italian yarn manufacturer specializing in man-made fibers. It can be woven into an ultra-lightweight fabric and is a great choice for sportswear, swimwear and underwear due to its super stretch, quick drying, breathable, crease free and natural thermal and bacteriostatic properties. Pioneering sustainable fashion brand Riley’s Studio has used Evo in their garments.
Good for Planet? Evo is a more sustainable alternative to conventional nylon as it is sourced from a renewable biomass (caster beans) rather than fossil fuels (petroleum oil) and as such produces significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, caster bean crops can be easily cultivated on barren land, require little water to grow and are quick growing. However, information on chemical use during cultivation and production is not transparent and unfortunately Evo is no more biodegradable than petroleum based nylon.
Good for People? According to its website, Fulgar has 1000 employees worldwide and complies with health and safety standards in all of its workplaces. Further information detailing the ethical credentials of its supply chain was difficult to find.
3 | MicrosilkTM
Microsilk is a bio-synthetic yarn inspired by spider silk. It is made by Californian based biotech company Bolt Threads and was first released in in 2017. Microsilk is made through a process of fermenting water, sugar and yeast infused with proteins genetically engineered to mimic spider silk. It is a lightweight fabric with unique properties that make it stronger than silk and warmer than wool. Possible applications could include underwear and outerwear. To date, Microsilk has only been used in prototype fashion products, including a Stella McCartney dress, and a collection of knit ties and beanies but it is working on scaling up production.
Good for Planet? There are no animals used in the production of Microsilk (in contrast with conventional silk in which the silkworm pupae is boiled alive before the cocoon is used for processing) and as such microsilk provides designers with a vegan alternative to conventional silk. It also claims to be fully biodegradable. However, the sustainable credentials of its feedstock (sugar derived from US grown corn) is unknown. On the up side, Bolt Threads seems highly committed to sustainability and has reported that once it finalizes its production process it will “...embark on a life cycle analysis to determine the environmental impacts of our material, and utilizing-standard Higg Materials Sustainability Index, will be able to compare the results from dozens of other natural and synthetic materials”. So watch this space!
Good for People? Microsilk is produced entirely in the lab at Bolt-Threads premises however it was difficult to find information about the ethical credentials of its supply chain.
4 | Repreve
Repreve is a polyester yarn made from 100% recycled plastic. It was made commercially available in 2007 by Unifi, a global manufacturer of recycled and synthetic fibers. Unifi sources plastic waste from around the globe which is then chopped, washed, melted, extruded and spun into Repreve yarn. Known for its excellent wicking, adaptive warming and cooling and water repellency qualities it is no wonder Repreve has been used extensively by brands such as Volcom, Kathmandu, Mara Hoffmam, Guess and many more for products including hosiery, swimwear, activewear, tops, bottoms, outerwear and bags.
Good for Planet? Repreve provides a more sustainable alternative to virgin polyester as it (1) is made from recycled plastic rather than relying on the extraction of further fossil fuels, (2) diverts plastic otherwise destined for landfill and oceans, (3) requires less energy and water to produce and (4) emits fewer greenhouse gasses. However, because it is still plastic based it is not biodegradable and sheds plastic microfibers into the environment as it degrades.
Good for People? Unifi has an internal human rights policy which aims to protect the human rights of every employee, supplier, vendor and contractor acting on their behalf, however details of how this is enacted and enforced is not clear.
5 | Econyl
Econyl is a yarn made entirely from nylon waste materials (such as fishing nets, fabric scraps, flooring, and industrial plastic). It has been commercially available since 2011 and is made by global textile manufacturer Aquafil. Econyl is made by melting, regenerating and restoring waste nylon into a fiber. It is soft, comfortable, flexible, breathable, quick drying with excellent moisture control properties which makes it a great choice for sportswear, swimwear, hosiery and coats. Brands including Vitamin A, Arket, Mara Hoffman and many more have incorporated Econyl into their garments.
Good for Planet? Econyl is similar to Repreve in that it can be created without consuming any new resources and as such uses less water, energy and produces less carbon emissions than conventional nylon produced from oil. It has the added advantage of being produced in a closed-loop process without the use of harsh chemicals and the finished product is entirely recyclable. However, Econyl is still petroleum based and as such is not biodegradable taking hundreds of years to decompose and releasing greenhouse gasses and shedding plastic microfibers in the process.
Good for people? According to the Aquafil website, Econyl is manufactured in SA8000 certified factories (a certification that encourages organizations to develop, maintain, and apply socially acceptable practices in the workplace).
Textile manufacturing has come a long way in the past decade offering designers many great sustainable alternatives to conventional fabrics. Although none of them offer a perfect sustainable solution, it is encouraging to see the progress that is being made and exciting to think of the future of sustainable fabrics. Currently, many of these innovative fibers are quite expensive which is why they start with luxury brands like Stella McCartney, who can afford the higher cost. As these fibers begin to be adopted more, it will allow their cost to go down and more brands in the industry will have access.