March 29, 2021 3 min read
How sustainable are our fabrics? It’s a question that we continually ask ourselves at Showers Pass. We focus on engineering apparel that enables outdoor pursuits in any weather, but we don't ignore the impact that producing apparel has on the environment. No matter what fabric is selected for a garment, we try to balance the environmental effects of the production and care by evaluating four key criteria.
Water consumption and contamination (high levels are not only consumed in the production of clothing, but also when we wash our clothes)
Energy emissions (high use of energy in the production of synthetic fabrics, for example, and in the washing, drying, and ironing of our clothes.)
Chemical usage (synthetic fabrics are often made from petrochemicals which don’t biodegrade in nature. Also, chemical dyes contain heavy metals and other noxious chemicals)
Waste creation (the levels of textiles that are incinerated or sent to landfills are enormous.)
It should be clear that no fabric is completely sustainable; rather, some fabrics are more sustainable than others. We’ve chosen wool not only for its performance properties, but also for its ability to minimize the environmental cost of its production and care. Let’s start with how wool minimizes the concerns around emissions.
For as long as there is grass on which to feed, sheep will continue producing fleece, making wool a renewable, natural resource. Polyester on the other hand, a technical fabric alternative, requires 3 times as much energy to produce per kilogram of fiber, while emitting 2.5 times more CO2 into the atmosphere. Compare that to Nylon, which is the main fabric in most all waterproof apparel, and it’s 5 times the energy consumption of wool with 5 times as much CO2 emissions per kilogram of fiber.
The use of chemicals to produce synthetic, technical apparel has been around for decades, but the raw material has been around for millennia. Synthetic fibers, such as polyester, nylon and acrylic are all made from the biproduct of petroleum. Did you know that some fabrics are indirectly connected to the emission of CO2 as a biproduct of the petroleum industry? The refinement of these petrochemicals also requires massive amounts of energy in order to produce usable fibers, so it’s no wonder synthetics are less sustainable than their natural alternatives.
Because wool absorbs and retains liquids quickly and efficiently, it takes less liquid dye to create rich, long lasting colors. With the chemical dying process being one of the most non-environmentally friendly processes in the production of wool, the fact that it requires significantly fewer chemical dyes to achieve vibrant, long lasting colors means fewer pollutants. To address the environmental harm of these noxious materials, Showers Pass has been transitioning to Clean Color dyes which eliminate substances posing risks to people and the environment.
One of the most important considerations when thinking about sustainable fabrics is their ability to naturally decompose at the end of their lifecycle. Unlike synthetic fabrics, which are made from inorganic ingredients, wool is completely biodegradable, releasing valuable nutrients back into the soil. As stewards of the planet, we choose wool not just for its technical performance properties, but for its ability to be broken down by nature -- for nature.
On the other hand, it can take many years for synthetic materials to decompose, and when they do, inorganic materials like microplastics and harmful chemical dyes are introduced into the environment. However, the longer a garment lasts, the less likely it will be thrown away.
Durability & Longevity
Besides its ability to biodegrade, and thermo-regulate our body temperature, wool is extremely resilient and elastic. Because a single wool fiber can be bent over 20,000 times without breaking, wool can last an exceptionally long time.
Due to its crimped, spring like structure, wool stretches comfortably with the wearer, eventually returning to its natural shape. This elasticity allows wool to be resistant to wrinkling and sagging, which helps it maintain its appearance in the long term, increasing the overall lifespan of the garment. With less fabric thrown away, wool helps counteract our waste problem.
Wool doesn’t have to be itchy; it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. It doesn’t have to be that ugly sweater your mom bought you and made you wear all those years ago. Wool has come a long way since then, but it is still one of the most sustainable fabrics used for making apparel and that’s one reason why we’ve chosen wool as our go-to fabric for our technical base layers and mid-layers.
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