Today I want to share an inspiring fabric manufacturer with you.
Not too long ago, a thoughtful menswear sewist, Tyrion, emailed me to let me know that he saw a Canadian-made documentary called RiverBlue in honor of World Water Day (March 22nd). This documentary follows international river conservationist, Mark Angelo as he investigates the fashion industry and it’s devastating effect on rivers.
The documentary put Tyrion on to an intriguing fabric company that seems to very successfully be manufacturing textiles within the US using recycled plastic bottles: Thread International. Unlike many manufacturers that are similarly using recycled plastics, Thread International has aimed to create a transparent circular supply chain. Their website contains all sorts of accessible information about the impact of their company at each stage of the manufacturing process – from collecting the bottles in Haiti to weaving and knitting the fabric in the US.
Their fabrics have been used by big brands like Timberland and Kenneth Cole, but, most intriguingly for me, all of their fabrics are still available directly through their website by the meter with all of the relevant information listed for the home sewist! Before we go any further and you start to worry that I’m advertising for Thread International, let’s confirm here that I’m not affiliated with them in any way and will not profit from writing this blog post…I was just curious about their fabrics and thought that you might be too!
I am always partial to natural fibers but I do not want to restrict myself and our Thread Theory customers to natural fibres if there are more sustainable and responsible options available. With that in mind, I delved in to the literature available on the Thread website. Thread International has posted their 2016 impact report in the full. I was interested to read that a Life Cycle Analysis was done on the canvas that they created in collaboration with Timberland. This canvas is 50% cotton (new, not reclaimed) and 50% recycled plastic. Thread International reports that:
It takes approximately 400 gallons of water to produce the
cotton that goes into 1 square yard of 50:50. It takes only 12 gallons of water to
produce the rPET-based thread and the final 1 square yard of 50:50 product.
This means that:
This means that 398 gallons of water are saved for every yard of Ground
to Good™ 50/50 Canvas when compared to the 100% conventional cotton
canvas it is replacing.
Thread International clearly reports that this is the major advantage of their recycled plastic thread. The emissions emitted during manufacturing the recycled plastic yard is only 6% less than manufacturing cotton yarn. The main advantages of this recycled polyester yarn is the massive reduction of water use and also the removal of plastic from landfills.
Other factors to consider, in my opinion, are the way that this fabric wears and also, it’s impact on the environment when the consumer/wearer is finished with the fabric. Thread International mentions in their report that they follow a “circular economy” approach which means that the brands who use their fabric can inform their customers the following: Threads will take back the garment/product when it is worn out and will recycle it to create new fabric. This is an admirable initiative in my opinion but it includes a lot of points where the chain can easily be broken. A customer who buys a product may not be very engaged or informed about the product or might not remember, once it has worn out, about the offer to recycle the item by sending it back to Thread headquarters! If the item were simply thrown out I suspect that the fabric would not degrade readily the way that 100% cotton or other natural fibres would. The Circular Economy approach is immensely admirable but it will certainly take a lot of work to create that mental shift in consumers!
Anyhow, after all of that reading and thinking, I decided to order the Swatch Box of fabric samples to have a look at them myself. I really love the way that they feel and the textures achieved! The only fabric that is entirely composed of recycled plastic is their 12.5 oz/sq yard canvas and I am surprised by how nice it feels. When fingering through all of the samples it does not readily stand out from the blended fabrics.
The blended fabrics, on the other hand, mostly consist of recycled plastic and recycled cotton. Only one of the fabrics (from what I can tell) includes new cotton (not reclaimed). I have not come across much info on their website about the process of reclaiming cotton…if you notice that section, can you show me where to find it? I am curious to know more about the efficiency of recycling this fibre.
At this point, I do not think it would make financial sense for me to order Thread International fabric for the Thread Theory shop since I would not be able to receive a very large wholesale discount (I order pretty small quantities compared to Timberland lol) and it can be pricey to bring large shipments over the border. But, seeing as they are located in the United States and send worldwide, many of you can affordably order smaller quantities of fabrics through them directly!
I am really lucky that my favourite fabric supplier based out of Vancouver, B.C. carries a lovely line of sustainable natural fibres and also an intriguing selection of recycled plastic fabrics. I have not yet ordered fabrics with recycled plastic content for our shop because I know many of us sewists have a firm preference for natural fibres! What do you think, would a recycled plastic micro-fleece, for example, be a useful addition to our shop or are you firm in your devotion to hemp, linen, cotton and bamboo?
My current personal preference when choosing fabrics to sew is to purchase a fabric that falls in to one of these categories:
- The most sustainable natural fibres such as hemp and linen.
- Not as sustainable but very hard wearing and comfortable natural fibres such as bamboo blends.
- Practical and hard wearing technical materials featuring recycled content such as fleece.
- And lastly, non-recycled man-made materials that serve a specific function well (and will do so for MANY years) such as waterproof materials like Dintex.
I really hope that you will weigh in on this topic! Let’s hear your opinions on fabric manufacturing!