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Fashion is a distinctive part of our lives, every day we make the decision about what we are going to wear. It is a $3 trillion a year industry employing over 50 million people who are mainly women from all over the world.

So when we consider what it means to do good design or good purchasing what does that entail? Given the depth of the impact fashion makes, can we make this positive? This question is both for brands and for consumers.

What responsibility do we have to change the world around us?

One of the biggest challenges facing the world now is population growth – there is more of us and that means we are going to be eating more food, using more energy and wanting more fashion. We need to weigh up what is most important to us, how we can have clothing we love but that doesn’t use up the resources we need for food and other things.

10 years ago, in London alone were only buying a quarter of what we are buying today. Still the same days in the week, still one body but we are consuming more, buying it, wearing it, discarding it and causing this wasteful culture. This means we are not accounting for the people making our clothes or for nature. The cost to society to make these garments is huge – so why do we not value it?

Everything in our wardrobe has come directly from nature which we often do not think about, fashion comes from the ground it has a way of connecting us back to where we come from.

As a sustainable fashion brand, we realise the importance behind the design process, from the sourcing of the material to the final production stage. We are dedicated to sourcing high-quality organic, recycled and certified fabrics to minimise our footprint.

Multiple communities have been affected and in India, almost 300,000 cotton farmers have committed suicide due to poor working conditions and pressure of the cotton industry. Done irresponsibly, the production process contaminates rivers and streams which spreads diseases to the locals. The supply chain causes destruction on both an environmental and human level, and it’s important that fashion designers and consumers take steps to minimise this damage.

All of our products are made in the UK where we can guarantee fair wages and good working standards have been met. We visit each factory in London and assess their working conditions. We pledge to continue to bring transparency and to provide our customers with the highest quality natural products.

We have listed below fabrication facts and figures to guide your purchasing, so you can find out how each fibre has an impact on the environment and the communities making our clothes.

Sustainable Fabrics - Organic Cotton

Organic cotton is a more sustainable alternative to conventionally grown cotton. Harmful chemicals are banned in organic cotton production as long as it has the GOTs certified certification, making it safer for both growers and the environment. It also uses less energy and water, with specific farming methods locking CO2 into the soil. This means it produces up to 94% less greenhouse gas emissions than usual methods.

Organic fabrics are often certified with bodies having investigated the supply chains. Cotton suppliers certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) undergo regular inspections, meaning there is no forced labour and no child labour. It also ensures that the use of hazardous chemicals is prohibited and that all wastewater is treated, protecting workers and their water supplies.

The cotton we use is organically-grown from India, and spun into yarn in India at a GOTS-certified mill. The cloth is woven on small power looms in a small fair-trade community in Kerala, India. We also use organic cotton thread on each garment and all labelling have been made from organic certified cotton. Each of our suppliers are ethical and we can guarantee fair wages and good working conditions have been provided to make our garments.

Buying items made from organic cotton protects waters supplies, stops the use of poisoning textiles, its well tracked and isn’t associated to the human rights abuses in other forms of textiles.

Sustainable Fabrics - Linen

Linen is a sustainable fabric made from the stem of the flax plant. The flax plant was popular until it was overtaken by factory-made cotton and synthetic textiles. Nowadays the material accounts for less than 1% of the fibre market globally.

A huge advantage of linen is that requires less water than cotton to grow. The fabric is also naturally moth resistant and gets stronger with every wash. Linen in its natural colours (ivory, ecru, tan and grey) are also more environmentally friendly compared to pure white linen which has to go through intense bleaching. When untreated, the material is biodegradable and leaves behind no harmful waste or by-product.

Sustainable Fabrics - Hemp

Hemp is made using the fibres of the cannabis plant. To get the fibres, hemp is soaked and softened in dew or chemicals, and the fibres are then scraped off the plant. With industrial machines, it is now possible to do this process mechanically. It uses very little energy and no chemicals.

Hemp also uses less water than other plants and production requires no chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Crops have a high yield, can blocks out weeds as it grows and can improve the soil, making it a good ‘break crop’ for farmers.

Sustainable Fabrics - Lyocell (Tencel)

Tencel is a brand name for a type of lyocell (a form of rayon) and it is a fabric that is being increasingly used by fashion brands. The cellulose fibre is made by dissolving wood pulp and using a special drying process called spinning. Producing it requires less energy and water than cotton. As a naturally derived fibre, Tencel is also biodegradable and recyclable.

Lenzing AG, the company behind Tencel, gathers its materials from controlled and certified sources like sustainably managed forests. They have also garnered a reputation for their environmentally responsible closed loop production process. The process uses a nontoxic, organic solvent which has a recovery rate of more than 99% and can be reused.

To minimise energy consumption, companies are also increasing their use of renewable energy.

Sustainable Fabrics - Recycled

By minimising the production of new clothing and recycling already existing textiles, levels of pollution and energy consumption will decrease. It is estimated that only 1% of our clothing is recycled into new garments.

This is partially due to certain materials like synthetics and mixed-fibre fabrics being harder to break down in the recycling process. As a brand, we use recycled materials in our products whenever we can. A number of our products use recycled off cuts or end of roll fabric that would have otherwise been thrown away.

How Fabric For Freedom uses recycled materials:

  • We use offcuts that would have been discarded from famous interior designer.
  • We are a plastic-free organisation and do not support the use of plastic. We have taken measures to find environmentally conscious substitutes in our products, including the use of recycled glass buttons.
  • Some of the fabrics we use are made from recycled fabrics that otherwise would have been wastage and ended up on landfill. We have taken them and made them into garments.
  • We also offer a range of upcycled/vintage pieces that are only available in popup shops
  • We use recycled glass buttons
  • Recycled packaging

Sustainable if Regulated - Certified Wool

Although conventional wool farming can be incredibly damaging for the environment, wool that is certified can offer a more responsible alternative. When sourcing our wool, we take into account sustainability and the farming process. Multiple organisations have provided the industry with tools to recognise responsibly sourced wool.

The Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) put in place by Textile Exchangehighlights farms with the best practices. This ensures that wool is sourced from farms with a progressive approach to managing their land, and from sheep that have been treated responsibly. RWS provides a robust analysis of the textile, from farm to the final product, ensuring that the wool is truly RWS certified.

In global terms, UK sheep farms are small, having on averageapproximately 350 sheep. UK sheep are raised naturally outdoors on pasture. Wool is a naturally occurring by-product and sheep are required to be shorn of their wool once a year for their own comfort and health. Standards have been put in place by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, ensuring that the process is stress free for the animal.

Sustainable if Regulated - Cashmere

Harvesting the inner coat of the cashmere goat is a naturally occurring process. The goats shed their winter coat in spring, and the fleece is harvested by hand using a comb that collects the fine hairs of the inner coat.

Standards and certifications are also available to make sure that cashmere has been sourced sustainably and responsibly. Sustainable Fibre Alliance (SFA)works along the supply chain to ensure animal welfare, grassland management and sustainable harvesting. Meanwhile, the Kering Standardon cashmere is designed to promote and encourage sourcing of cashmere from production systems that respect social and cultural values, support local livelihoods and drive more sustainable grazing practices and high standards of animal welfare.

Sustainable if Regulated - Silk

The mulberry trees that sustain most silkworms require very little pesticides and fertilisers. Mulberry trees can be grown organically and use less water than cotton, and the natural fibre produced is biodegradable.

If untreated, silk is completely biodegradable. The use of dye, toxic chemicals, blended fibres and trims can hinder biodegradability. Generally speaking, silk is considered a rather sustainable fibre, but there are still environmental and animal welfare concerns.

Alternative silkoptions are available on the market but come slightly higher price points compared to conventional silk. GOTS certifies multiple organic silk suppliers and Peace Silk, also known as cruelty free silk, comes from cocoons where moths have been allowed emerge from their cocoons. Wild silk cocoons can be collected after the moth has left the cocoon and these are harvested in open forests.

Unsustainable Fabrics

Unsustainable - Cotton

Approximately half of all textiles are made of cotton, but current production methods are environmentally unsustainable. According to the WWF, 20,000 litres of waterare needed to produce one kilogram of cotton; equivalent to a single t-shirt and pair of jeans.Water is a finite resource and cotton has such a huge impact on our water supply. That amount of water is enough drinking water to keep an adult going for 25 years. The Aral Sea is named by the UN as the greatest environmental disasters of the 20thcentury, the entire sea dried up due to cotton production leaving behind toxic unfertile soil, starving the local people and making them very ill - this all in the name of fashion.

Everyone wears something made of cotton, even if it’s just a pair of socks. Cotton production accounts for 2.3% of arable land coverage, 24% of pesticides & 11% insecticides. If we did a chemical analysis of your blood we will have a number of different toxic chemicals in our bodies that have come in part from clothing.

Producing cotton has severe environmental impacts. The use of agrochemicals, excessive water consumption and destruction of habitats have harshly affected ecosystems around the world. In many cases, cotton farmers in developing countries experience poor working conditions. According to the International Labour Organisation, 11% of the world’s children are in forced labour, with many of them working in the fashion supply chain.

Unsustainable - Synthetic materials

Made from fossil fuel crude oil, synthetic fibres like polyester and nylon make up 65% of all textilesproduced globally. Processing these materials takes a lot of energy and also has environmental consequences. Nylon production creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas which has a global warming potential 310 timesthat of carbon dioxide and polyester uses large amounts of water for cooling.

These synthetics are non-biodegradable and non-recyclable, adding more to waste in landfills. They also shed harmful microfibers which contribute to plastic pollution in the ocean. 1/3 of plastic pollution in the ocean is made up from textile fibres. Every time you wash clothes bits come off and there isn’t enough research out there at the moment to fully understand the impact these micro fibres are having on our health. Plastic from synthetic clothing can be found in our food and water – the way we care for our clothes has a big impact on this form of pollution.

Wash your clothes less and get a micro fibre bag that protects your clothing. The micro fibres that do break are caught by the mesh and do not make their way into the marine ecosystem.

Studies have suggested that it has the potential to poison the food chain and build up in animals’ digestive tracts, reducing the ability of some organisms to absorb energy from foods. Microfibers account for 85% of man-made debrisfound on shorelines worldwide.

Unsustainable - Viscose (Rayon)

Viscose is an artificial fibre made from wood pulp. On the surface, it may sound sustainable, but its production contributes more to greenhouse emissions than cotton. According to environmental group Canopy, more than 70 million trees are chopped down per year to be turned into cellulosic fabric.

Furthermore, processing uses harmful chemicals such as carbon disulphide which can be toxic for workers. The 2017 Dirty Fashion reportfound that most processing plants do not have adequate treatment facilities and measures in place to prevent the chemicals from polluting the water and air.

These fabrics should be avoid as they cannot be recycled, are polluting our oceans and where possible, skip petroleum-based synthetics such as polyester and nylon, which are actually plastics that take forever to break down once thrown.