When looking for the most sustainable sportswear, many of us often bump into a question asking which one is more sustainable, recycled plastic, or natural raw materials. There is no simple answer to the question, so we wrote down a short introduction to the subject.
Natural materials are textiles made of natural raw materials like cotton, hemp, bamboo, viscose or other naturally sourced material. Sustainable natural textiles are free of toxins, often hypoallergenic and kinder to our body and nature. Natural materials are also biodegradable, and will eventually breakdown after discarded. The textile can also be reused, which requires 97% less energy than brand-new material requires in manufacturing.
Sustainable natural textiles are free of toxins, often hypoallergenic and kinder to our body and nature. Natural materials are also biodegradable, and will eventually breakdown after discarded.
Natural materials are usually mixed with synthetic fibers to create durability and elasticity for a sportswear garment. However, new technology and innovations are bringing up new methods to develop elasticity and durability to natural textiles, and these are for example seamless knitting technology. Still, natural fibers have their downside. The cultivation and manufacturing process of natural raw materials often require a lot of natural resources like water and land. A good example is a cotton, which requires a lot of land to produce yielding only 2 tonnes of cotton per hectare — racing up a question of do we have enough space for cultivating our food and clothing for the entire world in this planet? There is very little wilderness left on our planet. Most of the land is used to build cities and habitats, cultivate our food and clothing, breed cattle, and refine minerals into other goods.
Fibers like polyester, polyamide, lycra, and spandex are very durable and long-lasting, compared to natural fibers. They are also resistant to stretching, shrinking, and wrinkles and are quick drying and easy to care.
Synthetic fibers like polyester are derived from coal and petroleum, which are the most significant pollutant and non-renewable source. The producing process of synthetic fibers is burdening nature heavily and includes a lot of chemicals and toxins which may irritate the skin. Fibers like polyester, polyamide, lycra, and spandex are very durable and long-lasting, compared to natural fibers. They are also resistant to stretching, shrinking, and wrinkles and are quick drying and easy to care. Spandex and lycra are durable and extremely elastic, adding the life-long benefits for synthetic fibers. The durability of the synthetic fabrics comes to a problem when recycling the garment. Synthetic fibers are non-biodegradable taking approximately 30 years to start to decompose.
There is also a lot discussed microfiber issue involved in the lifespan of synthetic fibers. Microfibers can be found all over the ocean, land, animals and the human body. Microfibers are small pieces of plastic released to the environment when producing, using, and washing synthetic textiles. As an emerging field of study, not a lot is known about microplastics and their impacts yet. There is a lot of researches going on also about chemicals and synthetic materials. Not all chemicals are toxic; in the end, many of them come from nature. The intention is to find synthetic material to produce durable textiles saving energy and the environment.
The fact is that it is still more energy intensive to recycle synthetic materials into a fiber than to use organically produced natural fibers.
Recycled synthetic materials are a much more sustainable way to develop synthetic textiles, but the recycling process is not as easy to process as we often imagine. It requires much more energy and often chemicals to restructure the new yarns. Despite the savings of energy and emissions from the recycling process, the fact is that it is still more energy intensive to recycle synthetic materials into a fiber than to use organically produced natural fibers. Even, synthetic fabrics are much more durable and long-lasting than most of the natural materials; the overall carbon footprint is much more than for natural textiles.
To turn sportswear manufacturing totally into sustainable traits, we still need to develop our raw materials and manufacturing process, study the natural materials, and find replacements for synthetic textiles from the recycling scene. An excellent example of recycled natural raw materials is Piñatex®, an innovative natural textile made from pineapple leaf fiber. Piñatex® is used to replace the leather and researched to be used in sportswear as well.
So far, while looking for the perfect solution, we must try to find the best sustainable option from natural textiles and recycled plastics, take good care of our garments and limit continuous shopping. To ease your choice, we are gathering the best sustainable options into your selection. Keep your eyes open for our soon to be launched All Natural collection.