LEONOEL merges design, science, and technology striving to achieve the smallest environmental footprint through the entire life cycle of a garment.
In 2018, we started reviewing research about the fashion industry and its impact on waste management and social and environmental sustainability.
We started by reviewing clothes made out of the eight following materials:
100% Cotton, 100% Organic Cotton, 100% Hemp, 100% Organic Hemp, 60%Organic Cotton+40%Organic Hemp Mixed, 100%Modal, 95%Modal + 5%Spandex, 100% Virgin Polyester, 100% Regenerated Nylon/plastic into Polyester (Made of plastic bottles, marine plastics, etc.)
We selected the world’s top 20 sustainable fashion brands and analyzed the distinct parameters that went into the process of making various garments from seed to disposal.
The case study contained clothes made of the above fabric content, and paid particular attention to farming practices, and disposal methodologies. Some of the components studied were crop production, fabric generation, ecological footprint, water use and the cycle of recovery of each garment.
Research shows that it takes 2,700 liters of water – enough water for one person to consume in two and a half years – to make one cotton shirt. Organic cotton contributes to only 0.7 percent of global cotton production.The production of any crop, including textile crops, results in environmental degradation.
The study above showed that the best overall performer was organic hemp. In terms of water consumption, cotton required 3 times as much water as organic hemp. The overall worst performer in the production process is polyester; it emits the highest carbon dioxide emissions in the production process with the input of oil in its manufacturing process as one-third of the total impact of the product. Polyester is found in approximately 60 percent of garments on retail shelves today. That equates to approximately 21.3 million tons of polyester—a 157 percent increase between 2000 and 2015. The annual production exceeding 22.67 billion tons worldwide. Synthetic fabrics like polyester, spandex, nylon, etc, take between 30 to 200 years to degrade in nature.
It takes a special kind of dye to successfully color polyester. These dyes, known as disperse dyes, are insoluble in water and, like polyester, are made up of a complex molecular structure that does not readily decompose. Wastewater from textile factories containing leftover dye is difficult to treat and, as such, enters the local environment where its toxicity engenders serious problems to plant and animal life. In addition to causing environmental issues, polyester dyes are also toxic to humans. Dye workers worldwide report higher incidences of cancers and lung disease than the general population.
THE BIGGEST ISSUE WITH CLOTHES AND PRODUCTS MADE WITH VIRGIN POLYESTER OR REGENERATED POLYESTER PLASTIC IS MICROFIBERS
In the past few years, the sustainable fashion industry has begun to use recycled polyester and recycled plastics. Recycled polyester is usually made from recycled plastic bottles and/or recovered marine plastics. Buying recycled polyester means that some plastic waste has been diverted from the landfill or been collected from the environment and no new hydrocarbons have had to be extracted for your clothing.
Out of the 5.5 trillion particles of plastic waste on our planet, 95% were smaller than a grain of rice. Most of these particles come from the breakdown of larger pieces of plastic in the environment. However, every time you wash your polyester or repurposed plastic clothes, shoes, and other wearables, they shed tiny plastic bits that wash off of the items in the washing machine. All synthetic fibers come off in the wash and pass through to sewage treatment plants, which often don’t have filters fine enough to catch them. Treated wastewater is then often dumped into rivers or the sea, carrying a high level of microfibers.
As much as 1 million fibers could be released from washing a single polyester fleece. Washing synthetic clothing in a microfiber protection bag, significantly improves against micro-plastic pollution from washing and helps reduce the overall negative environmental impact of a reclaimed garment.
84% OF OUR CLOTHES ENDS UP IN LANDFILLS. THIRD WORLD COUNTRIES DON'T WANT OUR UNWANTED CLOTHES
While we may donate our old clothing to charity, or a clothing recycler, the truth is, even then according to the EPA, a staggering 84 percent of our clothing ends up in landfills and incinerators. To put it in numbers, the U.S. currently exports a billion pounds of worn clothing per year. Dr. Andrew Brooks, the author of Clothing Poverty states that in Sub-Saharan Africa, the constant flood of used clothing is so pervasive that it's even part of the language. In his book, he translates the colloquial Ghanaian phrase "obroni wawu" to "clothes of the dead white man." According to the Environmental Protection Agency, every year, Americans throw away 12.7 million tons or 68 pounds of textiles per person.
OUR COLLECTION OF CLOTHES
In an effort to reduce waste from the fashion industry, we focus on preventing the use of virgin polyester wearables and replacing it with natural fibers, which have a considerably smaller footprint in their life cycle. We anticipate that this approach will continue to evolve as biotech reaches new advancements in fiber generation and disposal methodologies.
COMPOSTABLE AND BIODEGRADABLE COLLECTION OF CLOTHES
We follow the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility in putting our pieces together.The Compostable Collection consists of pieces that are made of organic cotton, hemp, silk and linen. We believe dying natural fibers diminishes their unprocessed aesthetic and natural patina, so we leave a large share of our compostable pieces undyed with the remaining few vegetable dyed. We use no toxic chemicals in fixing the vegetable dyes or controlling the properties of the fabric. We use cotton thread to sew the pieces and natural buttons made of shells, wood, and coconut. We mix organic cotton with hemp and leave the final product undyed. Weight and texture variations are typically built into the fabric by inserting innovative weave configurations, and yarn mixes.This means at the end of each garment’s life cycle, you may place it in a house-hold compost and use the soil for organic vegetable gardening and all other organic garden practices. We recommend cutting the products into smaller pieces for faster degradation prior to placement in a house-hold compost.
Learn more about the biodegradation of textiles here.
COTTON: This is one of the easiest fabrics to decompose. In the right compost, the material should be gone in a week to five months.
LINEN: This very fine material can decompose in as little as two weeks. Linen is the fastest in the process of biodegradation. You can speed up the process by cutting the fabric into small pieces.
WOOL: Depending on the blend, it may take between 1 and 5 years to decompose.
HEMP: Hemp fiber is derived from plants, does not require excessive processing, and is highly biodegradable.
SILK: One of the most resilient natural fibers, silk gets tougher as time wears on. It can take up to four years to biodegrade.
The Biodegradable Collection also degrades in a biogeochemical cycle of recovery. The Biodegradable Collection consists of all-natural and organic fibers similar to the Compostable Collection, such as organic cotton, organic linen, hemp, mulberry silk, and modal. The difference between the compostable and the biodegradable collection is in the dyeing process. Although both collections are made of 100% natural and organic fibers, the biodegradable collection utilizes non-toxic, OEKO-TEX® certified and in some cases low-impact dyes in the manufacturing process. Because dyes have been used in the making of this collation, the pieces offer patterns and a variety of colors. If you are composting these pieces at home in a house-hold compost, we recommend using the soil for fertilizer for lawns and farms or taking the pieces to a compost facility at the end of their life cycle. Otherwise, we suggest composting these items at your local commercial compost facility.
We understand that in creating clothes for daily use, synthetic fibers may be necessary for high durability in activewear. This was the catalyst for our reclaimed collection, which turns plastic bottles and marine plastics into regenerated fabric.
Using regenerated polyester and nylon would reduce the global warming impact of nylon by up to 80% compared with material derived from oil. But as mentioned above, just like all other oil-based fibers, the garments would still shed microfibers in each wash. Although microfiber protection bags considerably reduce the amount of shedding, when we looked closely at the full life cycle analysis of synthetic fibers, there were still many issues around the dying process of the fabric and technical cycle of recovery at the end of its life cycle.At this point, we strongly believe plastic use should be reduced as much as possible. Although we are excited about LEONOEL’s Reclaimed collection, we will continue to work to improve the impact of this collection on our planet.
SUPPLIERS AND MANUFACTURERS
We count on global certifications in assessing the manufacturers around the globe. Our supply chain consists of factories that have obtained GOTS certification and rely on Global Organic Textile Standards and OCS Certifications in becoming part of the solution. By relying on teams that are already certified, in addition to our meticulous analysis of our suppliers, we ensure there is no ambiguity behind the fibers. Learn more about our process here.