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Silk, Merino, Tencel & Viscose: Why These Fibres and Fabrics?

At Fraser Crowe we love the tactile quality, language and symbolic nature of beautiful fabric; we care about cloth and select only quality fabrics throughout our process. While we believe that transparency in the clothing industry matters, at the same time, we have an understanding of what we can influence and change and what is beyond our scope of influence. We also believe that small acts can lead to systematic change, so we have undertaken to utilise a few fibres that are available to us, and promise to unravel their supply chain over time. 

ethical fashion, sustainable fashion, designer clothes, plus size clothing, textile print clothing, luxury online fashion, slow fashionSo why do we choose to design with these specific fabrics?

Fraser Crowe chooses to support our local makers. We design, cut, make and trim in Aotearoa New Zealand. However, this is not without some major issues of availability of raw materials. The textile industry in Aotearoa New Zealand collapsed with the reduction of apparel import tariffs in the late 1980’s. There is no longer infrastructure available to develop yarn or woven textiles in Aotearoa New Zealand and we are forced to source nearly all our raw materials offshore. Globally the textile industry is huge with enormous choice of textile product, but suppliers generally require bulk orders from buyers which means very large ‘minimum’ quantities per type, style & colour of a textile. Small businesses, in Aotearoa New Zealand, generally cannot afford to purchase at these levels and therefore source their fabrics and trims from the small local textile wholesale industry. It’s all to do with economy of scale and unfortunately, when it comes to choice of textile, we are limited by the selection from the wholesalers who of course are required to order in bulk from offshore suppliers. In saying that, Kiwi designers have always been resourceful with limited resources: while several designers may purchase the exact same cloth, each will uniquely adapt, manipulate, print, dye, pleat, deconstruct, bond and combine it in their own distinct way producing individual design statements.

For those of us who are endeavouring to ‘be the change’, the range of sustainable textile choices within Aotearoa are even more restricted. In 2018 some of our local suppliers are beginning to stock a small selection of certified and transparent supply chain fabrics and we are very appreciative of this. However, their current offerings are more suited for casual grades of fabric with a generally limited neutral colour palette. So given these obvious limitations, how do we take responsibility for creating an authentic product that considers the issues and consequences produced for both the people and the environment?

In the interim our design process places focus on other areas of sustainability best practice and we currently choose to use the least harmful textiles. Our design practice considers and implements work methods that maintain the integrity of the textile that is available to us. At the same time, we acknowledge that there are always pluses and minuses for each of our chosen fabrics.

Crepes woven from silk yarn provide superlight drape and handle and are ideal for many of our Fraser Crowe styles

Silk is a 100% natural, renewable, and durable fibre that generally has a very low environmental impact. Silk is the strongest of natural fibres, at the same time it creates a breathable fabric and a natural temperature regulator. Silk helps the body retain heat in cold weather while excess heat is expelled in warm weather, helping your body maintain a comfortable, natural temperature. Silk worn as a second layer warms without being bulky, making it great for transeasonal dressing. Satins and crepes woven from silk yarn provide superlight drape and handle and are ideal for many of our Fraser Crowe styles.

Silk is also biodegradable and will decompose gracefully if landfilled, however, given its durability silk is ideal for reuse and component reuse and we strongly recommend this alternative.

Currently the supply chains for the silks we source from our local suppliers is not fully known to us and therefore we cannot guarantee transparency. However, we consider silk textiles to be one of the least harmful textiles given that: silk is created naturally during the lifecycle of the silkworm that feeds from mulberry tree leaves; and mulberry trees require moderate fertilisation and irrigation to maintain growth; and there “is an indication of a positive correlation between silk garments and carbon footprint mitigation” contributing overall to a lower environmental impact.

Nevertheless it is at harvesting where there are still some ethical concerns with conventional silk, check here for more info on organic silk.

Merino wool is warm, super soft and breathable, it is a 100% natural, renewable and biodegradable fibre

Merino wool is warm, super soft and breathable, it is a 100% natural, renewable and biodegradable fibre. Wherever possible we choose New Zealand Merino wool that is grown by sheep using just fresh air, grass, sunshine and water. Merino sheep grow an exceptional wool with fibres that are about 1/10th the thickness of human hair yet extremely porous.

Currently the supply chains for the merino we source from our local suppliers is not fully known to us, but our supplier assures us that they source within New Zealand. Although we cannot currently guarantee transparency, we consider merino textiles amongst the least harmful textiles given that: merino is created naturally during the lifecycle of the merino sheep; these are generally farmed in the cooler mountainous areas of New Zealand on rugged hillsides that require little if any fertilisation and rely only on rainfall irrigation; and the New Zealand Merino industry prohibits the cruel practice of mulesing and merino sheep are regularly crutched (a targeted shearing technique) in the summer months to prevent flystrike; and the sheep are minimally dosed for parasites and vitamin deficiencies and their wool is shorn annually as the season warms.

However, whilst the fibre is mostly environmentally friendly there are still some environmental concerns with the cleaning and bleaching processes during the production of yarn and potential ethical concerns with the textile processes that follow.

 

Tencel/Lyocell is sold as the branded fabric TENCEL®, it is produced in a closed loop system and is a highly sustainable fabric. It is a super soft equivalent for silk. Beneficially Tencel is comfortable to wear, breathable and resists odour retention.

Currently the supply chains for the Tencel we source from our local suppliers is not fully known to us, but our supplier assures us that they keep their supply chains as short as possible, they work with the manufacturing mills and visit them in person. Along with this we consider Tencel textiles amongst the least harmful textiles given that: it is produced from sustainably harvested eucalyptus trees; and eucalyptus grows very quickly and without any artificial irrigation, pesticides, fertilizers; and eucalyptus can also be planted on “marginal” lands which cannot be used for the production of food products; and the closed loop system captures virtually all of the chemicals to be reused, rather than being emitted into the environment as pollutants.

However, as with our previous mostly environmentally friendly fibres there are still some environmental concerns with the textile processes that follow.

Viscose Rayon crepe has a beautiful handle, it drapes well, and is colourfast in a wide range of colours.

Viscose/Rayon was the first generation of regenerated cellulosic fibre. Rayon is known by the names viscose rayon and art silk (abbreviated from “artificial silk”) in the textile industry. It usually has a high lustre quality giving it a bright shine and was the first a super soft equivalent for silk. It maintains properties and characteristics similar to those of natural cellulosic fibres, such as cotton, flax (linen) and hemp, in that it is comfortable to wear, breathable and resists odour retention. Rayon is more moisture absorbent than cotton, drapes well, and is colourfast in a wide range of colours. It does not build up static electricity, nor will it pill unless the fabric is made from short, low-twist yarns. Rayon does not insulate body heat making it ideal for use in hot and humid climates. Many of our local wholesalers hold stocks of a variety of ranges of viscose fabrics. This is beneficial for small businesses enabling them to purchase smaller quantities as suits their current production and budgets with the possibility of reorders in future production without having to stockpile themselves.

Currently our local suppliers for the Viscose textiles that we source assure us that they keep their supply chains as short as possible, they work with the manufacturing mills in Korea and China and visit them in person. Although these supply chains are not certified, our supplier is working towards transparency. We consider Viscose textile to be a less harmful textile because it is produced from regenerated cellulosic (natural) fibres rather than synthetic fossil fuel. Viscose is the name of the manufacturing process whereby purified cellulose is regenerated to emerge as a filament from the spinneret. However, the manufacturing process for viscose is generally of environmental concern. As we unravel our supply chains we will be looking for viscose rayon equivalents that are produced in closed loop systems and sustainably harvested crops.

 

Deadstock or using end-of-line cloth is a sustainable approach to sourcing textiles, especially when sustainable textile choices are limited. Many of our local suppliers purchase end-of-line stock from offshore suppliers because the ‘minimums’ are easier to achieve. We will select from these limited stocks from time to time.

Unfortunately, because of the nature of end-of-line cloth, supply chain transparency is highly unlikely for deadstock textiles. But buying deadstock is a sustainable option for keeping the unwanted textile from landfill, it ‘makes use’ of the resource and prevents it from contributing to carbon emissions for many years to come, while it slowly breaks down. But this is only a good option if the item/s made are well considered so as not to end up being designed into a product that is destined to be thrown away. And unfortunately, sometimes dead stock was pre-destined to be landfill anyway (often because it was made from inferior fibres or ‘fast’ fibres or made quickly by skipping the less visual but important textile processes).

 

Fraser Crowe believes that small acts can lead to systematic change and every successful change is a step closer to a better industry.  We believe that transparency in the clothing industry matters, at the same time, we know what is beyond our control.  However, we know we can influence the assembly of our garments - so we work with the most amazingly talented Kiwi makers. We see textile waste as a design problem and know we can do better at reducing it, so we elevated zero waste as a primary design criterion throughout our first collection. The silk, merino, tencel and viscose fabrics are the fabrics currently available to us and we have begun by acknowledging the large areas of each of their supply chains that are impervious. However, we are working on unravelling them and sourcing more sustainable alternatives as our Kiwi suppliers also step up to the plate.


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