The Best Fabric Choices For Your Baby And The Earth
The Best Fabric Choices For Your Baby And The Earth
When was the last time you turned down an adorable romper for your baby because of the fabric type it was made from?
Never? We get it.
As parents we have so many things related to our children’s health and development to think about, and extremely limited time to do so.
Within this post we’ll break down why you might want to contemplate the fabric your family wears, along with what fabrics are best for both people and the planet.
Why It Matters
Our skin is the largest organ on our bodies, so protecting it from environmental toxins can be part of a healthy regimen. Babies are particularly susceptible to chemicals, as their skin to surface area ratio is higher and their metabolic systems aren’t as advanced as adults.
Organic Cotton Versus Conventional Cotton
Conventional cotton has been found to use around 20% of the world’s insecticides and 8% of the world’s chemical fertilizers. Water use in cotton production is also incredibly high, putting pressure on local water-based ecosystems, as well as the global water cycle. Conventional cotton production relies on chemical dyes for clothes, which further pollute the ecosystem and aren’t healthy for our bodies.
Organic cotton may not be perfect (it does still require a lot of water to grow), but practices involved in producing it are significantly better for both the environment and for you and your baby’s delicate skin. Organic cotton uses practices that build diverse ecosystems, replenish soil, and refrain from the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers. This means that, by purchasing organic cotton, you’re helping to protect the environment and refraining from wrapping yourself or your infant in toxic chemical remnants.
To make sure that the cotton you’re getting is definitely organic, it’s important to look for third-party certification. At Little Lentil, all of our clothing is made with G.O.T.S. certified organic cotton and are certified through the USDA National Organic Plan. These certifications ensure that the cotton used to produce your clothes has met stringent criteria to protect the environment and people. Plus, once it reaches the end of its usable life, organic cotton is completely biodegradable.
While you might have enjoyed flax seeds in a smoothie, you might be surprised to learn that the flax plant is also where we get linen from. Linen is a breathable and absorbent fabric and can be produced in a very sustainable way.
Growing flax typically requires less water, fewer pesticides, and less fertilizers than cotton and can be done on ground unsuitable for food production. Some linen farming does utilize pesticides, so it’s important to look for organic options (similar to cotton). Plus, almost all parts of the flax plant can be used to produce products, limiting waste from textile production.
The possible drawback with linen is that it can be stiff when new and is prone to creasing given its lack of elasticity. Because of this, it may not be the ideal fabric for dressing little ones in, unless it has been thoroughly worn in and has softened up accordingly.
Sheep naturally produce wool each year as long as they are able to graze, so this can be an incredibly sustainable and natural fabric. Wool is known for its strength as an insulator, but it’s also breathable, elastic and able to retain its shape, and is completely biodegradable at the end of its life.
Wool tends to have a longer life than many other fabrics and its natural stain-resistance and waterproofing (wool can absorb 30% of its own weight in water before feeling damp) make it a great fabric for youngsters.
The biggest issue with wool production is methane produced by the sheep. Sheep naturally release methane, which is a greenhouse gas, so, while this is a natural process, it is worth noting that wool does contribute to greenhouse gases. Also, despite avoiding microfiber shedding that can happen with synthetic materials, if you’re vegan and eschewing all animal products, wool likely isn’t the material for you.
Bamboo is an incredibly hardy and rapidly growing plant. It requires little support in the form of water, fertilizers, or pesticides to grow and is fully biodegradable. As a fabric, it can have a rough, linen-like texture, or, more commonly, a silky smooth feel and is known for its breathability. The issues begin, though, when bamboo is processed into fabrics.
Fabrics listed as being “bamboo” have gone through extensive chemical processing, essentially breaking down the bamboo entirely. Bamboo rayon is somewhere between a natural and synthetic fabric and is formed when bamboo is crushed, soaked in chemicals, and then woven into a silky soft fabric. The chemicals used have varying degrees of impact on the environment and the disposal of them is the worrying part from a sustainability perspective. It is best to avoid those that have been soaked using chlorine-containing bleach, given the impact this can have on your body (such as respiratory irritation), as well as the planet.
Similar to bamboo rayon, modal is a semi-synthetic cellulose fabric, made from pure beech tree pulp. Modal is breathable, stretchy smooth, and has better water absorption than cotton, making it a common fabric for leisure- and sportswear. It is also color-fast, with low levels of shrinkage and pilling.
Tencel, produced by Lenzig, is a sustainable source of modal with environmentally friendly practices, but modal from other sources have some drawbacks. The Rainforest Action Network has reported forest destruction in Indonesia in the production of modal from other producers and there may be issues when turning the fibres into garments, depending on the dyes, chemicals, and amount of water being used.
Polyester is one of the most commonly used plastics on the planet and is derived from petroleum. This means that polyester is not only a synthetic material, it is also produced from a non-renewable resource.
Polyester is popular in the textile industry due to its affordability and versatility, and arose after the 1940s introduction of man-made fabrics in a bid to produce cheaper and faster textiles. Polyester’s popularity also benefits from the fact that it is both quick drying and tends not to need ironing.
However, polyester, like most plastics, is not environmentally friendly. It does not biodegrade and the disperse dyes, used to color polyester and make it stain resistant, are insoluble in water, meaning that waste products get into water systems and are toxic to animals and humans.
Synthetic fibers also contribute to microfibers that pollute waterways. These invisible fibers are not biodegradable, but, they are capable of binding with toxic chemicals and being eaten by aquatic life, which then allows them to work their way up the food chain and into our bodies.
While no fabric is without any drawbacks, what is evident is that there are some that are far more damaging to us and the environment than others. The best way to support sustainability is to purchase natural fibers and focus on those which are certified organic, so you can be sure that they are meeting high level criteria to protect the environment and your family.
In order to prevent your clothing from massively outlasting you, concentrate on fewer, high quality, long-lasting items that you can reuse or repurpose and which will biodegrade once they reach the end of their usable life.