On A Mission: Why We Use Natural Fibers

by Nadine Farag

One of the biggest decisions a designer makes involves selecting the material for their creation. In the world of textiles, there are essentially three families of fibers: natural fibers, synthetic fibers, and semi-synthetic fibers. Today, we want to briefly introduce each family of fibers and to share with you why Slow Factory has made a commitment to exclusively using natural fibers. We’ll talk about the progress we’ve made, and the work we have yet to do.

Natural fibers are those that come from plants and animals, including cotton, linen, wool and silk. Natural fibers originate from the same source that our food comes from: the farm. On the opposite end of the fiber spectrum are synthetic fibers, which are fibers that do not occur naturally, but rather are man-made (in a factory). Synthetic fibers, like polyester, nylon, and acrylic, are petroleum-based, meaning that the source of the fiber is oil, which is extracted from the earth and then processed into fiber. Semi-synthetic fibers are usually fibers that have a natural source, such as wood, but that require some mechanical or chemical processing to be turned into a soft fiber that could be used for clothing. This family of fibers includes rayon, lyocell (Tencel), and bamboo.

 

Ellesmere Island Large Silk Scarf. 100% fine silk crêpe de chine. Made in Italy. Buy it here.

When Slow Factory was starting out, Céline was committed to creating a totally clean, fair-trade supply chain. She wanted to ensure that the materials she used were not harming the environment or the people involved in the material production process. Her first factory was an eco-friendly, fair-trade certified factory in India that used 90% less water to print and treat their fabrics. She chose to work with two fabrics: a 100% silk georgette crêpe de chine and silk-cotton blend. After her first year of production, she switched from producing in India to producing in a centuries-old Italian silk mill in the Como region of Italy.

Slow Factory’s current mill in Italy holds three sustainability certifications. First, the textiles are Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified, which means that they have passed rigorous testing for safety on our skin. Second, the mill is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which is widely recognized as the highest global certification standard for forest management. With deforestation as one of the major environmental challenges of our time, FSC certification means that the mill’s textiles (such as wood-based rayon and modal) do not come from endangered or ancient forests. Finally, the mill is Fair Trade Certified, ensuring that the people who supply the fibers and fabrics along the supply chain are fairly compensated for their labor. The mill also uses eco-friendly dyes. Slow Factory prints on three types of fabric: 100% silk, a silk-cotton blend, and 100% modal.

Island and Clouds Large Silk Scarf. 30% silk, 70% cotton. Made in Italy. Buy it here.

With all of this said, we want to take some stock and reflect on the sustainability of our material choices. In terms of what we are doing well, we are pleased with the low impact of our mill, and we want to continue to use 100% silk, given that silk is a highly environmentally friendly fiber that has been used by many civilizations over thousands of years. In terms of what we can do better, we know that blended fabrics, which are comprised of two or more fibers, such as the silk-cotton blend we use, are not environmentally friendly as they can’t be recycled. We also know that modal, which is a semi-synthetic fiber is more sustainable than rayon, but less sustainable than lyocell because it requires quite a bit of chemical processing to be transformed from its natural wood source into a fabric. So moving forward, we’d like both to move away from blended fibers and to start working with lyocell over modal.

In the very near future, we are also hoping to expand our use of recycled fibers, and cutting edge eco-fibers. Our promise to you is two fold. First, the quality of our scarves is always our top priority, and we are unwilling to compromise on that. Second, we are constantly working to improve the sustainability profile of our fibers and of our company at large. Stay tuned for exciting news on the Slow Factory fabric front!

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