From the moment we first looked into sustainable clothing production, the challenges were very clear. Truth is, it’s not an easy market for a start up to enter. In this article, we will talk openly about the difficulties we’ve faced, and the measures we’re taking to ensure our business is sustainable.
CHALLENGE: There have been long-standing debates on the benefits of synthetic vs. natural textiles but the long and short of it is that both have a detrimental effect on the environment (read more). So, what’s the answer?
This was a tough one. There’s no straight forward solution but we’ve done our research and have tried to make every decision with the environment in mind. We've decided to offer T-shirts available in two different blends of fabric:
- A blend of 50% combed organic cotton and 50% sustainably sourced woodpulp (Tencel lyocell).
- 100% combed organic cotton.
Tencel lyocell is not the obvious choice when creating eco-clothing, but here's why we decided to use it:
- The wood pulp used to make Tencel lyocell is derived from sustainably managed forests and plantations, ensuring that their impact on the environment is minimal.
- The production of Tencel lyocell uses less energy and water than cotton.
- Tencel lyocell is a naturally derived fibre and is biodegradable.
- The site where the wood fibres are processed is powered by recovered energy.
- Tencel lyocell is naturally absorbent and anti-bacterial, which means the consumer can wash it less often. Fewer washes means lower energy consumption and less water waste.
- Tencel lyocell complies with the requirements of the OEKO-TEX® Standard 100, so we can be sure the fibres are harmless to health.
- Solvents are used to turn wood pulp into fibre, however the closed loop production process means that the solvent is recycled time and time again to produce new fibres and minimise harmful waste. Lenzing Group's solvent recovery rate is over 99%.
All of the above claims have been made by textile producer Lenzing. The company states:
“Our fibres are sustainable. This isn’t something we just claim. It is a fact. We even had it proven in a life cycle assessment done by Utrecht University.” (Source)
We initially wanted to create a fully Tencel lyocell T-shirt for our first line of products, but for a start up, the minimum order quantities were too large for us to meet. Instead, we opted to use a T-shirt supplier that makes garments using a Tencel lyocell and organic cotton blend. The white T-shirts were perfect, but we soon found out that these dark garments could not be successfully DTG printed on. This led us to offering an alternative T-shirt for our dark garments made from 100% combed organic cotton.
By choosing organic cotton, we are reducing the impact of cotton farming on ecosystems. Organic cotton is grown without harmful chemicals, leaving the soil, air and water free from contaminants that cause harm. It also uses 71% less water and 62% less energy to grow. (Source)
In the future, we intend to build our business so we are at a point where we can invest in our own line of sustainably manufactured wood pulp (Tencel lyocell) and organic cotton T-shirts. They will be purposefully created to DTG print well on any colour fabric, whilst retaining the eco credentials of both wood pulp and organic cotton.
CHALLENGE: Clothing manufacture uses large amounts of energy.
This is something that our suppliers are keenly aware of and have tried to tackle throughout the production process. The wood pulp used to make our T-shirts is turned into textile fibre using recovered energy. What’s more, the factories that make our T-shirts are powered by renewable green energy.
CHALLENGE: E-commerce businesses rely on the transportation of goods over long distances. Once the goods have made it to us, we then have to ship them out to you.
To help combat the impact of transporting goods we have chosen to donate money to environmental charities. For every T-shirt sold, Born Hybrid purchases 20M² of forest to create permanently protected nature reserves. Keep an eye out for our upcoming article explaining how we achieve this.
Another way we keep our carbon footprint to a minimum is through using suppliers that transport goods by containerised ocean shipping. Our UK Kickstarter backers will have T-shirts that have not travelled by air at any stage of transportation, and once our website has launched we will offer surface mail as a standard option when buying 1-2 shirts. These efforts, alongside protecting the rainforest and using eco-energy to power our office, all help to reduce our carbon footprint.
Finally, we minimise our environmental impact by delivering our items in packaging that is either recyclable or compostable. We have also ensured that our packaging is made from recycled materials wherever possible. (Read more)
CHALLENGE: Printing designs onto T-shirts can be harmful to the environment due to the inks and chemicals used in the process.
The inks we’re printing our designs with are water-based NeoPigment™, so they are free of heavy metals, formaldehyde and Alkylphenol Ethoxylates (APE), making them non-hazardous, non-toxic and biodegradable.
CHALLENGE: Many factories that produce clothing offer low wages and poor working conditions.
We ensure our suppliers make their T-shirts in factories with safe conditions and a fair living wage; no child labour, enforced labour or excessive hours of work. Our T-shirt suppliers are part of the Fair Wear Foundation - an independent body that ensures it’s members implement the Code of Labour Practice along their supply chain.
We have tried to make every decision with the environment in mind, but we admit this isn’t always black and white. So that we can improve, we will continue to research sustainable fabrics, continue to listen to your feedback and take advice from experts wherever possible.
At Born Hybrid, we want to see real change. With your help we will raise awareness of issues around the fashion industry and provide a sustainable alternative to fast fashion.