Without any previous planning last week became the fiber week in my little queendom. I finished Sandy Black’s Eco-chic: The Fashion Paradox which is a dated and sometimes confusing book (and for unknown reasons contains too much love for M&S chain), yet it has a little chart on fiber types which sparked my interest. So I spent half-day on Saturday (while watching code run in R) exploring the internets to organize the existing types of textile fibers in my head. And then I found that also Lucy Siegle at Guardian has been thinking about fibers…
I am far from being confident enough about it to make a complete overview, but I suggest these three blog posts at Eco Fashion Sewing to start with: (1) natural fibers, (2) regenerated fibers, and (3) synthetic fibres (those are the basic categories that author uses, Wikipedia does it differently, so go figure). I will share, however, the most fun pop quiz items I learnt and then a brief “get to know your fibers” exercise I did with my spring capsule.
The Wiki classification of fibers
My current favorite random facts about fibers are the following (it’s internet, though, so I just cross my fingers that this is truth):
– Dog hair was the main fiber spun on the Northern American continent before the Spaniards introduced sheep.
– People have been making smooth, silky textiles (for kimonos, for example) from banana fibers for centuries.
– Long time ago somebody diving in Mediterranean saw the long silky filaments secreted by a gland in the foot of pen shells and decided to make textiles out of that. Apparently, with amazing result and great success.
And an extra bonus points for wry humor to Wikipedia for including asbestos cloth as “fire-resistant, light weight, carcinogenic” natural fiber.
My first way of expressing rage to fast fashion while I was still buying it (yeah, cognitive dissonance for the win!) was to cut off all the tags, hence symbolically making the garment anonymous. And size-less which helped with my mild case of body dysmorphia. I know that many other people cut the tags, be it for reasons similar to mine or comfort due to the fact that sometimes tags seem to be strategically made and placed to cause the most discomfort to the wearer. And Black suggests that many producers remove their tags when passing the garments to outlets. So many items that you can obtain pre-loved (or deadstocked) won’t have the tag information.
Or you just wear your things for so long that they lose all the info.
As I develop more curiosity about the production (and recycling) side of the garments, tags gain importance. I already talked about care information that tags contain, and this week I’m on to fibers. So I gathered my spring capsule and took a look at fibres I’m wearing this season. That was a disheartening (so much synthetics and weird mixes!) but also surprising process. This is what I found:
No surprises and petroleum-based, but at least these things *could* be fully (and ad infinitum) recycled into similar garments when their life is over.
Obvious synthetic mixes:
OK, so my stretchy leggings have elastane added to make them stretchy, but still mostly a nicer-feeling material than all-out plastic. 0 surprises. Unrecyclable.
Unexpected synthetic mixes:
These ones do not have enough elastane to really stretch, so it’s still a mystery to me. My guess is that this additional micro-stretch might help people to get in the garments, yet it is not the case for all of this things. The 1% dress and 3% skirt certainly have no give to them. So I have no idea… Also, unrecyclable.
A fiber mix I now understand:
So they wanted to make a linen-feeling dress that would crumple less. Viscose to rescue! Both materials are biodegradable on their own, though I’m not sure about the mix… Should be, in principle.
Random mixes I don’t yet understand:
I really don’t know what’s going on here and why would somebody do this. I’ll let you know if that day comes. Also, “keep away from fire” warnings do not help to inspire confidence in the material
I’m still trying to grasp the eco potential of the regenerated fibers. They seem a bit like Batman Two-Face: the primary source is plant based but then it goes through a whole lot of processing. However, that processing could be less damaging than the conventional cotton industry, so… I’m still reading up on them. What I know for sure is that the touch is very nice, and certainly wins in summer.
The funny part of this exercise came with the little H&M shorts, part of their Conscious Denim line (it’s a hand-me-down, don’t worry!). The *conscious* trick is that it is not denim, at least not in the common “a firm durable twilled usually cotton fabric” way. Hi there, lyocell!
Despite the supposed ubiquity of cotton, there was only one 100% conventional cotton item in my lot. And manufacturers have thought it appropriate to point it out that trimmings are not necessarily cotton. Just to be on the safe side.
Pure organic naturals:
Yes, from all the heap – and I think that from all the outerwear in general (only my knickers is an exception) – this is the only organic garment. My commitment to adopting pre-loved garments basically precludes buying, and I’m not in social circles where people give away organic cotton items, not yet.
However, the organic credentials of this t-shirt on top of the feminist message are due to the creators of the crowdfunding who did the extra research when sourcing their basic t-shirts for silkscreening. Thank you so much for that, Red Federica Montseny!