As we adapt our wardrobes for more sustainable ways of dressing, you'll be choosing an item off the hanger with a different looking list of ingredients. Many fashion brands are switching to new types of materials, most recently ethical brand People Tree launched a campaign to introduce a fabric called Tencel® into their line. I wanted to find out more about how these new ingredients lists were coming about, and how soon we as consumers should expect to try and understand what they mean.
Walking into many fashion stores you're probably used to being signposted to a label which tells you your clothing is made of cotton or synthetic materials such as polyester or nylon. You might even begin to see the word 'organic' fixed on to the start of the most popular of these materials, cotton. What's struck me more recently is the innovation happening around new types of materials, but also wider scale adoption of more sustainable materials such as Tencel®. Yes, this material is a registered trademark of the Lenzing Group, who supply a range of fabrics to the fashion industry. The fabric is also known as Lyocell, which is extracted from natural wood to create what is fast becoming an alternative to cotton with extra silky feeling properties. You can spot the material on the highstreet, for example with H&M investing in its properties for their conscious range.
People Tree, long standing Fair Trade fashion pioneer, is one brand making a significant investment in the material, announced by the launch of their crowdfunding campaign. They've recently launched a campaign to develop their Tencel® collection and upskill their producer partners. The company has operated a model of long term relationships with all their suppliers, and this adaptation to new types of materials is no exception.
I spoke with Jenny Hulme, their Head of Buying and Design about the objectives behind this decision and the campaign."We identify bringing new materials into the business as key for not only business growth and leadership, but also to creating greater impact. These new materials also help our producer partners grow their business and become more sustainable in the long term, which creates social impact in the communities their based in". This trickle down effect in the supply chain shows that a seemingly simple change in material can lead to a deeper change for the story of the people who make our clothes.
The change will also be felt by fashion designers, who traditionally dictate much of the sustainability of a product. This was emphasised during my time volunteering at Redress who run the Eco Chic Design awards for emerging fashion designers.
Jenny holds an interesting position as Head of buying and design, so I was interested to hear how these two areas of the business influence each other in the fight for sustainability."Our designers are able to create a greater variety of styles and can improve the fit of the product" is one way Jenny commented on how the change in practices around purchasing materials can also positively impact designers and the planet. It's said that Tencel® is known for giving a better drape and fit to a piece of clothing, meaning it will fit differently on your body and give designers a new approach.
So apart from the fit of these new materials, I'm really interested in how consumers will understand the impacts of these new fabrics. Jenny talked about how the company approaches trust and transparency for their customer by using certifications. This is why using the registered Tencel® brand of Lyocell comes in handy, as it's all certified under the same umbrella of Oeko-Tex and the EU Eco Flower which you can delve into for yourself here.
Researching consumer understanding of social labelling was my starting point for consumer awareness of sustainability a couple of years ago. Aside from certifications, I think we obviously need increasingly 'fun' and engaging ways to communicate the meaning of new ingredients lists to consumers, in language that they understand. That's why I particularly like the approach of this crowdfunding campaign, as I think it encourages the consumer to become a part of the conversation around new materials.
It was a great opportunity to speak to People Tree about this issue, and it will be interesting to see how the results continue to fuel investment in more sustainable and ethically positive materials. So watch out - next time you open your wardrobe, look out for a different looking ingredients list.