GOTS Organic Cotton
Unlike a lot of regular cotton, organic cotton is GMO free and uses no hazardous chemicals, toxic bleach, or formaldehyde to grow, harvest or process the fibre. (GOTS, Philosophy, 2021)
Acceptable dyes are low impact fibre reactive or natural, while oxygen bleach is used for whitening. The benefit of GOTS certification is that it also includes strict requirements around fair wages and treatment of workers and is traceable to the source. We dive deeper into cotton, including the rise of conventional vs organic and how much water is required to grow it in Fibre 101: Cotton.
Find products made with GOTS Organic Cotton.
Australian Super Cotton
Australian grown super cotton is some of the most sustainably grown cotton in the world. If you're shocked, check out We Do Grow Here to learn more.
But get this. Australian cotton crops produce, on average, double the yield of the rest of the world, per hectare, with the same average amount of water. And while it may not be organic, the farm we work with in St George, QLD is using organic cotton farming practises, like crop rotation and (very clever) natural pest management.
Find products made with Australian Super Cotton.
While recycled fibres in clothes are nothing new, our recycled cotton is pretty special in terms of softness, strength and colour. There are a few ways to recycle cotton, and you can learn more about them in our Fibre 101: Cotton.
Ours is either a blend of recycled post industrial and pre-consumer waste which is strengthened by the addition of virgin cotton or 100% recycled content mostly from pre-consumer cotton waste. Any blended virgin content will make up 20-80%, depending on the end finish. You can see the exact blends on each product page.
Find products made with Recycled Cotton.
We don't offer any products with chemically Recycled Cellulose materials YET. But watch this space. Recycled Cellulose is the futuristic side of textile recycling. Feed in an old garment, dissolve it down, and extrude new fibre at equal or higher quality.
While the technology is still developing and scaling for this kind of recycling, it's an area we'll be ready for when the time comes due to how our pieces have been designed from the beginning.
Meantime, you can learn more about recycling post-consumer clothing here.
GOTS Organic Linen
Organically grown + processed linen is nature’s secret weapon. This bast fibre hails from the flax crop, a non-land monopolising plant, that requires little water to farm (it still uses relative quantities of water in the processing stage) while encouraging bio-diversity and healthy soil. A tiny percentage on the global stage, flax makes up less than 1% of the world's fibre production (Textile Exchange, 2020) with organic linen making up around 0.1%.
Our GOTS organic linen is sourced from just one wind-powered Belgium mill who work with flax from organic farms in France that only use a natural retting process. The result is the most beautiful, soft organic linen. You can learn more about our linen’s processing from fibre to finish on Fibre 101: Linen.
Find products made with Organic Linen.
Hemp is a bast fibre, like flax. It’s durable, breathable and holds its shape. It’s also resistant to mould and UV light, plus it’s extremely water absorbent, which means it holds colour better than any other natural fibre. It has environmental advantages, too. It grows fast, producing more fibre yield per acre than any other crop: 250% more than cotton fibre yield, 600% more than flax.
Wondering why we aren’t all wearing more hemp? Well, it’s quite expensive to produce and notoriously difficult to trace, meaning there are a lot of “blind spots” in the earlier parts of the supply chain. While we know exactly where it’s milled and dyed, we still don’t have insights into where it’s grown other than “China”. You can read more about that on Fibre 101: Hemp. But we believe in this fibre, and will continue to push for more transparency as we grow our supplier relationships.
Find products made with Hemp.
At A.BCH we have chosen to use wool sparingly and only if, at a minimum it is Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) certified fleece or from recycled or surplus sources. Wool is an extremely special protein fibre, grown as fleece on a sheep’s body to keep them warm and there are many ethical implications to industrial sheep farming. Therefore besides RWS certification (which forbids the practice of mulesing), we also look for traceable fibres from local, regenerative farms.
Our approach to working with wool is slow and careful as we're acutely aware that even with certifications, there's no guarantee the animals will be treated fairly 100% of the time. That’s why we’re committed to working with trusted, small, regenerative farmers when choosing to work with this wonderful fibre.
Learn more on Fibre 101: RWS Wool or read about our origin trip to our local farm.
Find products made with Traceable Merino Wool.
Wool is one of the easiest fibres to recycle mechanically due to a long established industry of wool recycling in the UK, Italy and even Australia. While wool makes up a minuscule 1% of the world's textile fibre market share (Textile Exchange, 2021), it has traditionally been, and continues to be an important fibre due to its unique material properties.
We prefer recycled wool over virgin wool and actively seek it to use in our high end, made-from-waste range, Red Line. It isn't typically suitable for finer applications but it's perfect for outerwear and homewares. Recycled wool has a lower environmental impact than virgin and usually doesn't require further dyeing to achieve colour as first-life colours are expertly blended to achieve the desired result. Curious about the recycling process? Check out Can Clothes Really Be Recycled? to learn more.
Find products made with Recycled Wool.
Lenzing Tencel Lyocell
Lenzing Tencel Lyocell is the brand name for is cellulose-based regenerated fibre (AKA Man-made Cellulose Fibre), generically known as lyocell. Tencel Lyocell is made by dissolving wood pulp in a solvent, which is then extruded and hardened into fibres. The end result is a natural fibre of pure cellulose.
This kind of regenerated cellulose requires human and chemical intervention in order to take it from tree to fabric and is therefore considered to be man-made. We choose to work exclusively with Lenzing Tencel Lyocell fibres due to the manufacturer's commitment to only using FSC certified wood pulp as feedstock as well as operating a chemically safe, closed loop production process where solvents are reclaimed and used over and over.
While there is no perfect fibre and Tencel Lyocell isn’t suitable for all textiles applications, it lends itself to slinky-soft silk alternatives. Not all lyocell fibres are created equal though! Read more about that on Fibre 101: Tencel.
Find products made with Tencel Lyocell.
Recycled Polyester (PET)*
Back when we first started A.BCH we just couldn't find a supplier that would weave our brand labels in organic cotton. The next best option after industry standard polyester, was to use a recycled PET (rPET). It was a "less bad" option, but we didn’t want to settle either.
We continued looking, and in 2019, we found a supplier willing to try weaving organic cotton. That’s why from products A.31 onwards, plus popular styles like the A.14 and A.15, we've got organic cotton brand labels. However, we still need to use up the thousands of labels we already have for A.01-A.30.
We recognise not every garment is suited for natural fibres. When synthetics are absolutely necessary for function and safety, we’d opt for recycled versions like rPET and Econyl. However, don’t be fooled into thinking fashion brands switching polyester products into rPET ones are saving the world. In fact, the rise of rPET has only depleted the feedstock of the recycled plastic industry. Yep, no extra bottles are being “rescued” from landfill thanks to fashion, despite the narrative. Some companies are doing good, like Econyl, by cleaning up ocean waste and turning it into yarns, but there are significant microplastic pollution and end of life issues with even these materials.
Learn more about the issues on Fibre 101: rPET.
*We don’t make products from rPET right now.
Natural rubber is derived from naturally occurring latex sap from a rubber tree, which only grows along the equator. We source products that use natural rubber from small-holders in Malaysia that are also REACH and Oeko Tex 100 certified.
Used in many products from tyres to yoga mats, there are growing concerns about the clearing of land for rubber tree cultivation impacting biodiversity. It's important that any natural rubber products be fully traceable and certified.
This is nature's ultimate stretch material, its natural elasticity lending itself to elastic waistbands and even replacing elastane in fabrics like denim. So long as it's not treated or combined with non-compatible materials, it's also compostable and biodegradable in soil at the end of its life.
Find products made with Natural Rubber elastic.
Corozo is the fruit seed of the Tagua Palm which can only be successfully harvested for button making in the particular climate and elevations of remote Panama. The harvesting process is simple but with many steps, requiring thousands of people to collect, sort and deliver the seed at scale.
Manufacturing of the seed is done by mechanical turning machines, where they are milled into buttons for use in apparel. The result is a beautiful button that takes dye very well, but is just as beautiful in its natural state.
Not to be mistaken for plastic these buttons are unable to withstand high temperatures or harsh dry cleaning processes.
Find products with Corozo Buttons.
Materials We Avoid
According to the Textile Exchange Preferred Fibre Report 2021, fossil fuel derived synthetic fibres, including polyester made up 62% of the world’s total textile fibre market share in 2020.
While the fibre market is set to grow 34% by 2030 on the current trajectory, a mortify of the increase is expected to be in synthetics. A 2021 article from Environmental Sciences Europe calculated the extraction and processing of crude oil into polyester requires approximately 27.2kg of CO2/eq per kilogram of fabric, around three times higher than a kilogram of cotton. Besides this, synthetic fibres are likely to never break down fully, only fragmenting into smaller pieces, which contributes to landfill, further greenhouse gas emissions and micro plastic pollution.
So why is the world addicted to polyester? Well, it’s cheap to make and it does have useful technical properties, but is it really worth it? With so much plastic in the world already you'd think we'd have figured this whole recycling thing out by now. Science Advances, a peer reviewed journal, released findings in 2021 that of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic produced, 6.3 billion metric tonnes have become plastic waste. Of that, only nine percent has been recycled, while 78% is accumulating in landfills or leaking into the environment as pollution. With at least 14 million tonnes of plastic making its way into our oceans annually (like dumping a full garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute), this is a huge problem and fashion is making it worse. Even laundering polyester clothes is harmful, as thousands of micro-filaments shed in each wash, ending up in our waterways, posing a threat to fish, birds and other sea life.
Nylon, Acrylic + other synthetics
The global apparel industry manufactures over 400 billion square metres of fabric per year, and that figure is climbing, despite a slight reduction in 2019/2020 due to COVID-19 impacts on the supply chain. If you need some context, just imagine enough material to cover the state of California each and every year.
Unlike natural fibres, synthetic fibres begin their life as a petroleum or natural gas. They are man-made fibres, created via chemical reaction between petroleum by-products and various chemical substances. The fluid that is manufactured is pushed through spinnerets to make fibres. Each chemical process is slightly different, however, all involve the use of oil, gas or coal and require energy intensive process while emitting greenhouse gases.
Some examples of synthetic fibres include Polyester, Nylon, Acrylic and Spandex (Elastane). The dyeing process is also more bad news. As natural and low-impact dyes cannot be used in synthetic fibres, petrochemical dyes and dye fixatives are used for colour which are extremely difficult to dispose of sustainably. The result is often dumped, untreated petrochemical dyestuffs and heavy metals that runoff into community waterways. With textile dyeing being the second largest polluter of fresh water, this is problematic. Just like polyester, other synthetic fibres have a heavy environmental toll and should only ever be used in mono-material, recyclable products that are fit for purpose (think safety gear or high performance wear).
Natural + Synthetic Blends
Check out the care label in any garment. What's the material makeup? Many, if not most garments made today are blends of natural fibres and synthetic fibres. This is almost totally unavoidable, unless you know what to look for.
A very common blend is polyester and cotton - why? Because it's cheaper to make a "cotton-feel" t-shirt if there's some poly in there. It's also common to find blends of natural fibres with a percentage of elastane (aka spandex) for stretch. So why is this a bad thing? Well, recycling capabilities today favour mono-material (or at least pure cellulosic or pure PET) and to separate these fibres is chemically intensive, expensive, fraught with issues and frankly, unnecessary if they just weren't blended together in the first place.
Garments with complex or even simple blends will most often end up in landfill where they can leak toxic chemicals and micro-plastics. And as for the natural component? Well these practically loose all degradability virtues once blended with a technical material like polyester or elastane – in fact the entire garments would be better off being made out of polyester! At least then it could be recycled again. With 'end of life' so severely impacted by these blends, so we avoid them at all costs.
Elastane can be categorised as having all the pitfalls of other synthetic fibres like polyester. For example, it’s extracted from fossil fuels, requires heavy chemical processing, contributes to micro plastic shedding and retains all the typical end of life issues - like not degrading safely. However, elastane goes a step further. The addition of elastane can impact on the life of a garment. While initially adding stretch and bounce, it typically deteriorates quicker than whatever material it is knitted/woven into.
What this means is that typically, garments with elastane (especially those that are continually being stretched) just don’t last - think underwear, activewear and swimwear as easy examples.
Elastane is also a major headache for textile recycling. Even though some technology is developing and even commercialising to seperate polyester and cotton fibres and break them back down to the molecular level, this technology does not yet exist for elastane and any in the system can clog it up severely. Some textile recyclers have said they can tolerate up to 5% elastane containment however, the preference for the technology to work best is 0!
While some companies are developing degradable alternatives, the jury is still out on the true impact of these materials. You can read more about that on our blog post - Stretching the Truth.
Viscose, Rayon + others
Rayon is the oldest cellulose fibre and was developed as a cheap alternative to silk in the 1880s. There are several techniques used to make rayon, the viscose process being the most common. Essentially, viscose processing begins with wood pulp (similar to Tencel), which is treated with sodium hydroxide and carbon disulphide, converting it to a honey-coloured, highly viscous liquid. The fluid is pushed through a spinneret and put into a chemical bath of sulphuric acid, where it hardens.
Exposure to carbon disulphide can cause damage to our nervous system, while disposal of sodium hydroxide and sulphuric acid can be damaging to waterways and harmful to plants and animals. Any industry that uses sulphuric acid runs the risk of accidental leaks and many industrial plants do not dispose of it correctly. There’s simply not enough transparency in viscose manufacturing. Even if chemicals are reclaimed, they pose a serious risk when unregulated.
Learn more about it on Fibre 101: Viscose.
While the bamboo plant is touted for its sustainability credentials; it grows fast and requires very little water, the viscose chemical process used to make bamboo fabric is notably problematic for people and planet. We dive into the issue of bamboo on our Fibre 101: Viscose.
But did you know, 99% of bamboo labelled fabric isn’t even bamboo? In the USA, marketers aren’t legally allowed to label bamboo viscose products as bamboo, because after the chemical process, there’s virtually no detectable trace of bamboo left in the material. It would be like labelling Tencel as 100% Eucalyptus or modal as 100% Beechwood. Bamboo Viscose is permitted terminology, but many people in the industry are still bamboozled, while there are no such restrictions for labelling in Australia.
Beware when bamboo fabric is marketed as eco-friendly and hypoallergenic among other things. Sadly, it’s just not scientifically proven. We agree the feedstock is fantastic, the process… not so. There are two kinds of bamboo labelled fabrics we’d consider to be better, those include “Bamboo linen”, which is produced using natural enzymes to break down fibres. On the downside, it’s extremely labour intensive, and near impossible to find. "Bamboo lyocell" is another, which uses the same process as lyocell production. However, regardless of the source (bamboo, eucalyptus, beech) the end product should STILL be labelled "lyocell" as it contains no more bamboo than viscose bamboo - precisely none.
Cotton is a natural fibre that, according to Textile Exchange 2021, accounted for 24% of global fibre production in 2020. 20 million tons of cotton are produced each year in around 90 countries. Cotton is therefore an incredibly diversely grown crop, in methodology, water use, chemical/pesticide use and ethics. There are some horrible histories that must be understood to see the full picture of cotton production, including slave labour, water theft and exploitation, issues with crop monoculture from poorly managed GMO seed and biodiversity loss.
There’s a lot to unpack around cotton, however as a general rule, cotton should be traceable (as all fibres should be) and grown using regenerative farming practises with good water management, while workers from field to fabric making should be paid fair wages and employed with fair working conditions. This sometimes happens with conventional cotton, but sometimes it doesn’t. That’s why we opt for our preferred cottons (see above) like GOTS Organic Cotton and Australian Super Cotton.
Recycled Polyester (rPET)
yep, it's in both lists. Coming soon.