maake takes an in-depth look at the most sustainable fabric that UK manufacturers choose to make their products from

Have you ever thought about how the fabrics you use daily in your business are affecting the environment? We’re talking about how we make the fabrics and print on them before we start manufacturing the products our businesses sell.

Are all of these processes sustainable? Let’s take a look at the first step UK businesses make towards sustainability for fabrics – and that’s the sustainable fabrics they choose to make a product from. 

The importance of choosing the right eco-friendly fabric

No matter whether your business creates fashion garments, household wares or interior décor pieces and table accessories, fabric is an important part. So think about using fabrics that manufacturers have made and sourced sustainably. If you go into a fabric shop and choose locally made and sourced sustainable fabrics, that’s even better.

First let’s consider how we define sustainable fabric, and once we’ve ascertained that it’s sustainable, let’s talk about the most sustainable fabrics available in the UK. And while you’re thinking about fabric sustainability, don’t forget to read our informative guide on sustainable fabric printing.

What are sustainable fabrics?

No fabrics are 100% sustainable, although some fabrics are definitely more eco-friendly fabrics than others. This is how we define an eco-friendly fabric when we talk about sustainability:

1.     Are these sustainable fabrics sourced without negatively impacting the environment or the planet? 

Sustainable textiles, including wool that we created in an ethical manner, organic cotton, etc, are all created using eco-friendly, natural or recycled fabrics that don’t harm the environment.

2.     Can we use the raw materials without having to process them? 

Often, we need to process fabrics first. We will then hopefully make those raw materials in a sustainable way, like weaving or knitting. 

We need to dye fabrics and print on them sustainably. So when we dye the fabric, it needs to be non-toxic to be ethical and if we print on the fabric, we need to make sure that we use a sustainable printing process, too.

When one processes a fabric, this usually involves some type of chemical process – like bleaching, for instance, or adding formaldehyde to the fabrics so that they don’t wrinkle. Both of those chemicals are toxic.

3.      Did you consider the life cycle of the product in question?

This includes where we where we will use the fabrics and whether, once it is an end product, the fabrics will impact the planet in any negative way. Also, sustainable fabrics are usually high quality.

Why sustainable fabrics are so important

We consider fabrics 'eco-friendly' when it doesn’t impact the environment in any negative way. If we made and manufactured sustainable fabrics into end products without polluting the environment. In other words: when we created, dyed and printed on these sustainable fabrics, we used very little energy and water and no toxic chemicals.

·      Sustainable fabrics are durable. And we can recycle and use these sustainable fabrics more than once, or we can use them as compost.

·      Sustainable fabrics also won’t harm the environment.

·      The way that you wash those sustainable products made from sustainable fabrics, whether they are clothing products, curtains or other homeware accessories, will also affect their impact on the environment.

What are the most eco-friendly fabrics?

Natural and organic sustainable fabrics

·      Recycled cotton: Producing regular cotton is not sustainable; it involves a lot of water, pesticides and chemicals. We believe that both organic cotton and fair trade cotton fabric are sustainable. Manufacturers ensure that these natural plant-based sustainable fabrics use less pesticides, water and energy than other types of cotton. Read our guide on organic fabrics and sustainable material here.

These sustainable materials are made without toxic chemicals, although manufacturers do use pesticides, so the process is not completely sustainable.

We call GOTS-certified cotton the most eco-friendly cotton. This certification shows that we have carefully checked the cotton to ensure it is sustainable. 

The most sustainable cotton of all is recycled cotton, according to the Preferred Fibre and Materials Market Report created by the US Textile Exchange in 2021. Apparently producing this type of sustainable cotton can reduce water and energy consumption and also ensure cotton clothing doesn’t end up in landfills.

·    Organic linen: We make sustainable fabrics out of the flax plant. UK suppliers make natural organic linen fabrics by using little water and few, if any, pesticides. We can grow these sustainable fabrics in poor quality soil. If the process doesn't involve dying linen fabric, it’s 100% biodegradable. A linen textile is not only sustainable; it’s also lightweight, breathable and withstands hot temperatures.

·    Organic hemp: These extremely durable fabrics are not only 100% natural; they are also sustainable, protect us from UV rays, and insulates and cools. To grow, the plants need very little water and no pesticides. 

The plant also naturally fertilises the soil in which it grows. When creating sustainable fabrics, spinning the natural fibre involves no chemicals at all (although some manufacturers do use chemicals to speed up the manufacturing process). 

·    Tencel: We make these natural light cellulose sustainable fabrics from dissolved wood pulp; it is biodegradable. We developed the process to make Tencel ensuring that it is sustainable and has little impact on the environment. 

Although it’s similar to rayon, Tencel requires only a third of the water used to make rayon. Also, we can recycle more than 99% of the water and non-toxic solvents that we use to make sustainable Tencel, which reduces waste.

Tencel is an antibacterial fabric and has water wicking properties, too, so it’s a perfect sustainable activewear fabric.

Sustainable textiles that are synthetic

·    Recycled polyester (rPET): Created from recycled plastic bottles or pre-consumer waste from garment manufacturers, fabric waste etc, rPET textiles are more sustainable. This fabric is also helping to lessen plastic pollution and reduce the need for raw materials at the same time. We’ve also compiled a comprehensive guide on recycled polyester for you.

These recycled polyester fabrics are much more sustainable than polyester; they use about 35% less water to produce than regular polyester fabric. Also, we can recycle a garment made from rPET several times.

·    Econyl: This material is the sustainable alternative to nylon. We make the fabrics from waste materials (eg fishing nets and industrial plastic). When we wash Econyl fabric, it can release small plastic microfibres. This is why we often use the fabrics for a product that doesn’t require regular washing, like backpacks and sneakers. 

·    Wool: This natural fibre is sustainable and biodegradable. Although wool does shed fibres when you wash it, these fibres break down naturally and don’t harmfully affect the environment.

Certifications for sustainable fabrics and businesses 

Sustainable fabrics: certifications

1.   GOTS: The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the major sustainable processing standard for organic fibres in the fabric industry. We call fabrics with this certification 'sustainable'.

Manufacturers have to check the fabrics to ensure that they have not used chemicals while creating it that are harmful to humans or affect animal welfare. They also have to ensure that farmers’ working conditions are decent. If this is the case, then the fabrics are sustainable.

Once we give the fabrics GOTS certification, we are guaranteeing they are organic sustainable fabrics and we export them. Every major global market accepts this sustainable certification. A GOTS certificate assures consumers that a green supply chain was the source of the product.

maake uses inks that have GOTS 6.0 fabric certification. When we pair this organic certification to fabrics that have received GOTS certification, it's an even more powerful sign of sustainability.

2.   Oeko-Tex: Oeko-tex® is one of the most well-known standards for sustainable textile certifications. The testing done is very strict. The group Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) supports these certifications.

The Oeko-Tex test certifies that testers have tested the fabrics for harmful substances and found them sustainable, ie safe for humans. Passing this test gives the customer confidence that this sustainable fabrics meet all possible safety requirements, both national and international.

All inks that 
maake use have Oeke-tex certifications, along with the vast majority of the fabrics also.

Certifications for environmentally friendly businesses

 There are 2 very important sustainable fabrics certifications that will help you make your business practices more sustainable: 

1.   REACH: If you use chemicals in your printing process, you will need to register these substances under EU REACH if the volume of the chemical you’re using is more that 1 ton per year (t/y). 

If you wish to be sustainability compliant, you need to apply for a REACH registration number which the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) issues. Read more about REACH registration or the REACH registration number here.

2.   Sedex: is one of the world’s leading ethical trade organisations. They work with global businesses to improve the working conditions of companies who supply their items worldwide to ensure sustainability. You can become a member of Sedex on their website and use their comprehensive online services and tools to help you operate your business sustainably, protect your employees and source your sustainable fabrics in an ethical manner.

We at maake are very serious about the provision of sustainable fabrics/inks from suppliers that meet REACH and SEDEX requirements and we constantly monitor suppliers to ensure they are ethical and conform to our high sustainability standards.

Check out our blog on sustainable fabrics certifications for all the details.

Sustainable textile innovation at maake

We use only sustainable fabrics that are sourced in an ethical manner. We buy these fabrics from ethical, UK trusted mills where possible, helping the local economy and reducing our carbon footprint. We only work with mills that are REACH accredited, and many also hold SEDEX accreditation. So we know that their fabrics and products are sustainable.

Traditional textile printing uses vast amounts of water, energy, and waste. To produce the cheapest product, most mills ignore the massive impact on our environment. However, maake works daily to counteract the status quo and minimise our impact by using sustainable fabrics for our products.

Our processes use 95% less energy than traditional textile printing. We use only 100% renewable energy sources. We are proud to say our production is eco-conscious and we use virtually no water.

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