What is a responsible fabric?
All fabrics - whether they are called conventional, organic, natural or synthetic - involve “taking” something from the planet and leaving a footprint. Yes, ALL. This is how it works: we find fibers from plants, animals or fossil resources, and we transform them into yarn, then fabric, then clothes. So the first major impact on the environment occurs during the farming stage of textile production. Then most fibers undergo some level processing and transformation to become a desirable fabric.
Fortunately, we have some great alternatives! First, we can choose fibers that derive from traditional and organic farming. Or fibers, such as bamboo and beechwood pulp, that grow quickly, easily and naturally. For production, we can choose fabrics from factories that use less polluting methods, such as natural dyes, and that work on reducing their water and energy consumption. Last but not the least, buying responsibly means buying local as much as possible. It can reduce considerably the carbon footprint of our clothes.
But these are only the basics for making a fabric “eco-friendly”. We also need to consider all of the people working to create our clothes, from the farmers to the factory workers. What are their work and living conditions? Do their children go to school? Do they have the freedom to walk away from bad conditions? What happens when there is an accident? Many organizations have done a great job to reveal these issues and propose certifications that uphold social and economic labor standards, such as GOTS or Max Havelaar.
So, a responsible fabric is an eco-fabric that also considers the lives of all of the people involved in producing an end product. And all of the stakeholders, including the end-customer.
What is organic cotton and why is it better than conventional cotton?
Here are a few major benefits of organic farming:
Organic cotton rocks for many reasons, but mainly because cotton farming has become a very intensive and polluting industry. According to the WHO, cotton covers only 2.5% of farmland worldwide, but consumes 25% of insecticides and 10% of herbicides. Its water consumption for irrigation is one of the highest. The Water Footprint Network has shared that between 6,000-27,000 liters of water are used to obtain 1 kg of cotton!
During the fabric production process, the conventional cotton industry uses numerous harsh chemicals to wash, bleach, soften, unwrinkle and dye the cotton fibers. Some major chemicals include chlorine, ammonia, soda, sulfuric acid, heavy metals, formaldehyde, organic solvents and aromatics. Scary isn’t it? Organic farming prohibits all of these chemicals and requires significantly less water consumption.
And not all organic cotton is created equal. True organic cotton should offer a certification and be regulated by governments or independent organizations, such as The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).
What are semi-synthetic fabrics?
Semi-synthetic fabrics are derived from a natural source (such as tree pulp or stalks of bamboo), but then undergo a form of chemical engineering to achieve their final product. Common semi-synthetics include modal, rayon, lyocell and cupro. They are also called semi-natural fibers.
Are natural fibers better or worse than synthetic fibers?
Synthetic fibers are fibers obtained by synthesizing chemicals from hydrocarbons (often petroleum). Common synthetic fibers include acrylic, nylon, polyester, polyamide and spandex. It can be difficult to argue which types of fibers are better than others because it depends on which factors you are considering: water consumption, biodiversity destruction, carbon footprint?
However, Les Sublimes chooses to use mainly natural fibers because we do not want to support the petrochemical industry. This is why we have decided to put this category of raw materials on our fiber blacklist. We only use synthetic fibers in very small quantities (less than15% of fabric content) in order to add needed stretch, shape or drape to a product.
How do you ensure that a fabric is sustainable?
Our suppliers can tell you how picky we are, and might even complain about how we have scrutinized them with endless questions! We demand certifications whenever available from our supplies as a guaranty of their sustainable practices. For example any organic cotton we use must be certified by a highly regulated and internationally reputable organization. However, we also remain open-minded about any non-certified partners. The most important thing is that a producer shares our values and commitments, which is the case for many family-owned farms and artisan co-ops that have no financial means to get certified. At the end of the day, we trust our eyes and heart over a piece of paper. The cashmere we are sourcing from Mongolia is a very good example of that. Finally, we also have to keep in mind that certain fibers do not have a proper certification system already put into place, but they may still uphold high sustainable values. So that is our priority.
What’s your position on fabric?
Our founders come from two very different backgrounds: Kachen is a sustainability specialist and Alexis a fashion account executive. This gave us a huge advantage in finding fabrics that would be both sustainable and luxurious. We believe that you should not have to sacrifice quality, comfort, aesthetics or price for sustainability. We don’t want to offer a super rough t-shirt of the highest ethical standing that looks terrible.
To learn more, please visit our fabric page. For any other question, please write us!
How much of your merchandise is produced using eco-friendly fabrics?
Given our position on fabric mentioned above, our current goal as a brand is to offer eco-fabrics as much as we can, but we do not promise 100%. At the moment approximately 70% of the raw materials we buy are eco-friendly and responsibly produced. The fabric content of each of our products must also contain a minimum of 50% sustainable fibers. For example, although we really don’t want to use conventional cotton, sometimes we still accept it. This is the case of our modal-cotton blend. We favor the silky soft touch of modal combined with the structure of cotton. However, very few fabric mills offer a mix of modal with organic cotton at an affordable price tag.
We have blacklisted some fibers that can only be used in small quantities when absolutely necessary. For example, we use them when responsible alternatives are too rare in the marketplace or in order to offer a particular design characteristic, such as fit or wearability, which cannot be achieved by other means. In those cases, we limit blacklisted fibers to a maximum of 15% of a product’s fabric content.
We hope that as we grow as a brand, we will have greater ability to demand sustainable fibers from fabric mills and reduce our use of less ecological alternatives. We will not give up!
Do your factories pay a fair wage and provide good working conditions?
Absolutely! We only work with manufactures, whether small factories or artisan co-ops, that can assure us that garment workers are being paid a living wage. As opposed to a fair wage or a minimum wage, a living wage means paying enough for a worker to live properly in their country. This means that a mother can provide three good meals each day to feed her family, maintain a stable home, send her children to school, and afford basic things like health care, transportation and clothing. Too many industry employees work 16 hour days, only for their children to be starving at home. This is not okay!
In addition to pay, we believe that it is equally important for workers to be in a safe and free work environment, have reasonable working hours, and benefit from additional labor rights, such as taking holidays. Our manufacturers must comply according to these requirements.
But how can we be sure?
We would be lying if we said that labor standards can be 100% guaranteed. Without being involved at every step, being there each day, there is always the small chance that things could not be as they seem. But we do everything within our abilities to ensure that all of our production partners do meet our high labor standards. We take the extra time to develop a respectful relationship with our partners, whether they be a fabric manufacturer or a garment factory. We visit production locations to see for ourselves the conditions of the workers and their surroundings.
This is why, as a young French brand, we made the decision to first start manufacturing in Western Europe. We have the added support of the European legal infrastructure to enforce wages, working conditions, safety requirements and labor rights. Our first fabrics have all been selected from mills in Austria and Italy, and we are working with a small family-run clothing atelier in France to develop our first collections. Although we have huge international ambitions, staying local in the beginning is allowing us to maintain control over our sustainable promise, while building a standard framework that can later be adapted to partners in emerging markets to ensure that all of our values are upheld.
Can I find out more about where you manufacture your clothing?
Sure, Les Sublimes advocates for transparency and traceability! ! Check out our manufacturers page to learn more about our individual production partners.
Do you also practice a sustainable lifestyle at the office?
Definitely! We try to operate as responsibly as possible, and find that it is often the little things that add up around the office. We take public transportation to work, keep the lights off on a sunny day, use only LED bulbs, avoid purchasing disposable objects, and recycle pretty much everything. We love furniture that tells a story and try to buy as much as possible second hand. We have gone almost paperless in the office, printing out only what we absolutely can’t avoid. Not only do we find sustainable living enjoyable, but it also allows us to reduce a lot of our costs.
Where can I learn more about the effects of the fashion industry on people and planet?
Read our blog! We love to share interesting and relevant news about the global fashion industry with our readers. Knowledge is power. So let's get educated!
To learn more about our commitment to sustainability please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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