LEONOEL merges design, environmental science, and technology striving to achieve the smallest environmental footprint through the entire life cycle of a garment.
In 2018, we started a comprehensive research on the fashion industry relative to waste management and social and environmental sustainability.
This analysis started by conducting full life cycle assessment of basic 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, Ocean Plastic, etc.)
In this research, we picked the world’s top 20 sustainable fashion brands and investigated each brand by analyzing the distinct parameters which went into the process of making various garments from seed to disposal.
The case study contained clothes made of different fabric content, farming practices, and disposal methodologies.
The study paid particular attention to crop production/fabric generation, ecological Footprint, water requirement and the cycle of recovery of each garment.
Environmental issues not only take place during the disposal of a garment, but often the entire life cycle of a garment is problematic from seed to disposal. For example, 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 some environmental degradation that can deplete biodiversity. Based on this research, we concluded that 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 tonnes worldwide. Unfortunately, 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 causes 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 best overall performer was organic hemp. In terms of water consumption, cotton required 3 times as much water as organic hemp.
In our analysis of carbon dioxide emissions, we calculated the amount of energy needed to produce oil-based fibers vs natural fibers. This calculation on its own had many complicated factors such as context, factory conditions and use of renewable resources vs. raw resources which had to be considered.
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 sphere has been introduced to recycled polyester and recycled plastics. Recycled polyester is usually made from recycled plastic bottles and marine plastics. Buying recycled polyester means you’re minimizing waste and cutting out the fossil fuel industry but unfortunately with every wash, these garments have alarming consequences by shedding thousands of microfibers in each wash.
Out of the 5.5 trillion particles of plastic waste on our planet, 95% were smaller than a grain of rice. Every time you wash your polyester/ 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. Without the intervention of textile recyclers, our enormous surplus of charitable donations would be rendered useless and sent to landfills. This excessive amount of clothing ends up in landfills, making mountains of trash in developing countries and disrupting local economies. 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
Based on the research briefly outlined above, we concluded that our focus should be placed 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, which is a magical crop in reducing water consumption 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.
We have broken down the biological cycle of recovery of our fabrics below. Learn more about the biodegradation of textiles here.
COTTON: This is one of the easiest fabrics to decompose, especially if it’s 100% cotton. 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 is derived from plants and does not require excessive processing, it 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 biological 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.
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 are still working on improving the impact of this collection on our planet and anticipate launching when we get a better handle on all the remaining issues.
SUPPLIERS AND MANUFACTURERS
We count on global certifications in assessing the manufacturers we work with around the globe. Our supply chain thus far 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.