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 fabric you use daily in your business is affecting the environment? We’re talking about how we make it and print on it before you start manufacturing the products your business sells.

Are all of these processes environmentally friendly? Let’s take a look at the first step UK businesses make towards sustainability – and that’s the eco fabrics they choose to make their products out of. 

The importance of choosing the right fabric

No matter whether your business creates fashion garments, household wares or interior décor pieces and 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 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…

What is sustainable fabric?

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

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

Sustainable fabrics, including wool that we created in an ethical manner, cotton that we grew organically, 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 in any way? Often, we need to process fabrics first. We will then hopefully make those raw materials in an eco-friendly way, like weaving or knitting. 

We need to dye fabric and print on it sustainably. So when we dye the fabric, it needs to be non-toxic 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 fabric so that it doesn’t wrinkle. Both of those chemicals are toxic.

3.      Consider the product's life cycle. This includes where we will use the fabric and whether, once it is an as end product, the fabric will impact the planet in any negative way. Also, sustainable fabrics are usually high quality.

Why sustainable fabric is such an important choice

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

·      A sustainable fabric is durable. And we can recycle it and use it again, or we can use it as compost.

·      It also will not have a negative effect on the environment.

·      The way that you wash that fabric product, whether it’s an item of clothing, a curtain or other homeware accessory, will also affect its impact on the environment.

What are the most eco-friendly 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 eco-friendly. Manufacturers ensure that these natural plant-based fabrics use less pesticides, water and energy than other types of cotton. 

They also use no toxic chemicals to produce it, although they 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 cotton can reduce water and energy consumption and also ensure cotton clothing doesn’t end up in landfills.

·    Organic linen: We make this fabric out of the flax plant. Natural organic linen fabric UK suppliers make it using little water and few, if any, pesticides. We can grow it in poor quality soil. If the process doesn't involve dying linen fabric, it’s 100% biodegradable. Linen is lightweight, breathable and withstands hot temperatures.

·    Organic hemp: This extremely durable fabric is not only 100% natural; it’s also sustainable, protects us from UV rays, insulates and cools. To grow, the plant needs very little water and no pesticides. 

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

·    Tencel: We make this natural light cellulose fabric from dissolved wood pulp; it is biodegradable. We developed the process to make Tencel ensuring that it had little impact on the environment. 

Although it’s similar to rayon, it 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 Tencel, which reduces waste. 

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

·    Recycled polyester (rPET): Created from recycled plastic bottles or pre-consumer waste from garment manufacturers, fabric waste etc, rPET is helping to lessen plastic pollution and reduce the need for raw materials at the same time. 

This recycled polyester is much more sustainable than polyester; it uses about 35% less water to produce than regular polyester. Also, we can recycle a garment made from rPET several times.

·    Econyl: This fabric is the sustainable alternative to nylon. We make it from waste materials (eg fishing nets and industrial plastic). When we wash Econyl, it can release small plastic microfibres. This is why we often use it for products that don’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 

Fabric sustainability certifications

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

Manufacturers have to check the fabric 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. 

Once we give the fabric GOTS certification, we are guaranteeing that it is organic and we export it. Every major global market accepts this certification. A GOTS certificate assures consumers that a green supply chain was the source of the products.

maake uses inks that have GOTS 6.0 certification. When we pair this certification to a fabric that has 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 fabric 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 fabric for harmful substances and found it safe for humans. Passing this test gives the customer confidence that the fabric meets 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 sustainable businesses

 There are 2 very important 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 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 products worldwide. 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 material ethically.

We at maake take the provision of fabrics/inks from suppliers that meet REACH and SEDEX requirements very seriously and constantly monitor suppliers to ensure they conform to our high standards.

Sustainable innovation at maake

We use only ethically sourced fabrics that we buy from 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.

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.

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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