In our climate-conscious world, it would be impossible not to broach the subject of sustainability. But what does sustainability really mean for knitwear? What are sustainable yarns and wools and what should we avoid? Can we knit with a clean conscience?
Sustainability means to create a productive harmony between humans and nature. When we talk about sustainability within textiles we must understand where a yarn is sourced and how resource-intensive the process is. The fashion industry is finally beginning to confront the environmental cost of toxic chemical use, high water and energy consumption, and a throw-away culture.
So, what are some sustainable yarns?
As a natural fiber, wool is an obvious sustainable choice, as long as it is sourced ethically. Animal cruelty is prevalent within the industry and so it is important to buy certified organic or cruelty-free wool to ensure the animals are treated properly. Aside from this, wool is a fantastic renewable resource; biodegradable, breathable and easy to care for.
Silk is controversial as production requires the silkworms to be boiled. It is also labour intensive; the Indian silk industry came under fire for its use of child slaves. However, there are manufacturers and brands putting a new spin on ethics. Ahimsa or peace silk is made through an alternative slower process ensuring worms are not killed.
Cotton has received a lot of bad press for its water usage recently (up to 2700 litres for one tshirt!). But as the most abundant clothing material in the world, it may be impossible to avoid entirely. Go for organic contain, containing no harmful chemicals.
Upcycled yarn made from recycled synthetic materials has a lower carbon footprint and helps reduce landfill. It is repurposed from waste material during production. Ethical yarn company Darn Good Yarn recycles leftover silk from saris in Nepal.
Tencel is one of a number of new products developed to meet the environmentally-conscious market. Made from dissolved wood pulp which is sourced from certified sustainably managed plantations, it requires less energy and water than cotton, and is biodegradable. It’s also highly breathable which means fewer washes.
Hemp yarn is environmentally fantastic. Grown all over the world, it comes from the stems of plants including flax and stinging nettle. It is land and water efficient (at least four times better than cotton), doesn’t require harmful pesticides or herbicides and returns most of its nutrients to the soil. These low impact features make hemp yarn a great sustainable choice, but once again look for organic hemp to avoid harsh chemicals which are sometimes added at a later stage.
What should we avoid?
Acrylic, polyester and nylon are all petroleum based, meaning they cannot be broken down. Nitrous oxide is produced during the production of nylon, a dangerous greenhouse gas. These fibres also wear out quickly, which means replacing clothes more often.
When choosing your sustainable yarns make sure to check the labels. Look for undyed, unbleached or 100% naturally dyed. Buy certified organic or cruelty free if it is an animal product. Do your research, reward responsible brands and remember that cheap yarn may come at a high price.
If this article has got your conscience whirring, tag us in your sustainable knitwear projects! We would love to hear about them.
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Image credits: Jean Philippe Delberghe