Behind The Seams
By now, most consumers are well aware that serious issues exist within the fashion industry. Our last blog post touched on the unwillingness of big brands to commit to workers' rights and pay during COVID, as well as the importance of supporting small brands that are willing to commit to their workers' well-being. This commitment to labour, in light of the drastic changes we are starting to see globally under climate change, can help buffer entire communities – including our own – from some of the more drastic economic and social effects that are coming.
But what about textile waste and the very direct connection that our obsession with consumption has on the environment? Even the encouragement to consume less within some social media circles does not fully address the variance in textile qualities, the environmental strain of some natural fibres, the "green washing" of recycled polyester, etc. "Sustainable" is, in fact, a difficult field for consumers to navigate, particularly when marketing seems to cater to consumers' unwillingness to change their buying habits.
For example, designers understand that technical or "athleisure" wear is ideally made from petroleum-derived synthetics, which contribute extensively to carbon emissions, use intensive chemical processes, use large amounts of water, and are environmentally-degrading. These fabrics – such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, spandex, and acetate – wick away moisture, dry faster, can be water-proofed, and generally hold their shape longer than natural fibres like cotton. Let's be honest: it's difficult to imagine doing yoga in tight linen pants. Unfortunately, this understanding exists in the wedding industry as well, and fabric choices are particularly tough for small brands who have committed to paying their labour well: polyester lace holds its shape, doesn't stain, won't wrinkle as the 1,200th photo of the bride is taken, and infinitely cheaper than natural fibres.
Problematic is that the line is not so easily drawn between what is actually "sustainable" and what isn't: while both nylon and polyester are petroleum-derived and environmentally-costly, nylon can, in theory, be indefinitely recycled without shedding while polyester breaks down and sheds micro-plastics into our waterways during each wash. All those brands using recycled polyester as a "green" marketing tool fail to mention this. And, once these synthetics end up in the landfill, they can take up to 200 years to decompose. On the flip side, cotton can take as little as a few months to decompose, but is well-known as one of the thirstiest, most pesticide-intensive crops when not organic. Small organic and fair-trade producers are already feeling the strain of drier climates, which can prove difficult for sourcing. Linen and hemp are fabulous choices that break down rapidly and require less water, but again, prove difficult for wedding design given their natural stiffness and tendency to wrinkle horrifically.
While we don't believe that technology alone will save us (we humans must do the internal work of changing our relationship to fashion, consumption, labourers, and to the environment first), technological advances are occurring in recycling capabilities of natural fabrics and in closed-loop production of new fabrics using old waste. The old model of textile production is a continuous extraction from the world around us – whether through oil or agriculture – and with new approaches in recycling and closed-loop production the extraction step is either minimized or eliminated.
Some of these new fabrics are bio-based, that is, made entirely from plant waste. Brands like Pinatex, Beyond Leather, and Vegea use pineapple, apple, and grape waste, while companies such as Pure Waste and Econyl are using old fabrics to create new ones. Other companies are still extractive in nature by creating fabrics like Tencel or AlgiKnit, except the extraction is from more easily-renewable sources such as eucalyptus, bamboo, or algae. Even silks are finding new gorgeous plant-based possibilities, based on soy or cotton waste, such as SoySilk and Cupro.
What does that mean for us at Pure Magnolia? We are taking the environment seriously. We cannot in good conscience send brides into a future ridden with environmental degradation. For our new collections we are starting to work on designs that will incorporate less water-intensive fabrics – such as hemp and linen – while also trying to phase out our polyester laces. We are starting to experiment with more vegan silk options, such as cupro and pineapple-based organza, while still respecting the fact that silk is a biodegradable fabric. As a small brand, these are all serious transitions that change the aesthetic and direction of our brand, and are more costly. But this is our planet, and we are committed to it. Stay tuned as we venture into a greener future.
The Pure Magnolia Team