Choosing the right materials is crucial to designing a sustainable product. The material it’s made of will have a big impact on its overall ecological footprint.
Our process for choosing textiles takes into consideration its entire life cycle, from crop to compost.
We believe that a sustainable product needs to be one that people will feel good about using, so the right fabrics also need to perform well and look good!These are the fibres we currently use:
Cotton is the most produced natural fibre in history, as it's been used by humans for thousands of years. The earliest findings date back from 6000 BC.
Cotton is a wonderful fibre. It has a beautiful natural off-white tone to it, and it's soft but strong at the same time. Moreover, because it's a natural fibre, it's compostable!
Why organic though?
The thing about cotton though is that it's not the most eco-friendly textile as a crop. Farming cotton consumes a lot of water and, if it's grown conventionally (not organic), it consumes an enormous amount of pesticides. Cotton farming represents 2.4% of all cultivated land on Earth, but it consumes 16% of all pesticides produced. These chemicals cause a huge environmental impact, as they contaminate runoff water, air and soil. Synthetic pesticides also affect the health of farmers, surrounding communities and local wildlife. Learn more in this blog post.
This is why we only use organic cotton in our bags. Organic cotton is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, and there are studies showing that organically grown cotton uses significantly less water.
Why certified organic?
Sourcing cotton fabrics can be tricky. It's basically impossible to know if a finished fabric was produced using organic or conventional cotton. This is certification comes into play. A certified organic textile is assured to be made from organically-grown cotton and, depending on the specific certification, it can also assure that it was produced without the use of harmful chemicals.
Most of the organic cotton we use is GOTS Certified. GOTS stands for Global Organic Textile Standard, and it is the gold standard when it comes to textiles. "The aim of the standard is to define world-wide recognized requirements that ensure organic status of textiles, from harvesting of the raw materials, through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing up to labelling in order to provide a credible assurance to the end consumer." Bhajekar, Rahul. “General Description - Global Standard GGmbH.” Global Organic Textile Standard, https://www.global-standard.org/the-standard/general-description.html
Any cotton fabric we use which is not GOTS certified, is certified by the local farm's agricultural authority as being made from organically farmed cotton. This way we make sure that at least the farming section of the fabric's life cycle is organic, which is our main point of concern.
What about those colourful fabrics?
We always try to use as much greige (unprocessed) cotton canvas as possible, but adding some colour to our products really helps make them more visually appealing.
Dying fabric can be quite the nasty process, so we have to be careful and diligent here. Dying can significantly increase the ecological footprint of a fabric, and the chemicals used can also negatively impact the health of who will have frequent contact with the finished fabric.
For these reasons, all the dyed fabrics we use are certified by OEKO-TEX Standard 100. This means that no harmful chemicals are used in the entire dying process, including but not limited to: azo colorants, pentachlorophenol, cadmium, lead (US-CPSIA), etc.
Hemp is incredible!
Hemp has been used by humans since before agriculture was even invented. That's right! There are archeological findings of cloth that was made from gathered hemp, and that goes back 9 to 50 thousands years ago.
Hemp is a very strong fibre, with a high tensile strength. For instance, the hemp webbing used to make our Full-time Bags can bear hundreds of pounds. It is also naturally antibacterial (like mold), and it has a beautiful golden raw tone to it that makes us immediately think of nature.
So sustainable it's hard to believe.
Hemp is one of the most sustainable fibres because it has a very low ecological footprint throughout its entire life cycle.
As a crop, hemp needs virtually no pesticide to grow, and it consumes very little water. All you need is rain water and it will grow. So there's no need to go after organic hemp, as there is basically no distinction between conventional and organically grown.
Hemp heals the soil instead of spoiling it. You can have several harvests of hemp on the same area, and after that the soil is healthier than before the first harvest.
Hemp is also a powerful carbon sink. One hectare of hemp absorbs 15 tons of carbon in 100 days, whereas one hectare of trees absorb around 200 kg over the same time period.
The only problem about hemp is not its fault, it's ours. Hemp has been illegalized in the 20th century, and only now some countries are making it legal again. This makes the cost of hemp to be very high, which affects its adoption. We hope we can see hemp textiles' costs going down soon, so it can be widely used by many businesses.
Jute and hemp are neck to neck!
Jute has been used to make textiles since 5 thousand years ago. Its earliest findings are from the Indus Valley Civilisation, which occupied the area where today is Northwestern India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Just is also a very strong fibre, with a high tensile strength. That's why we use jute webbing to make handles of many of our bags, including the Farm to Table Bag, which is quite large and can hold heavy loads. This blog post we wrote goes through quick facts about jute.
As sustainable as it gets.
Jute is really similar to hemp, as if they were twins. Jute is also one of the most sustainable fibres because it has a very low ecological footprint throughout its entire life cycle.
As a crop, jute needs virtually no pesticide to grow, and it consumes very little water. All you need is rain water and it will grow. So there's no need to go after organic jute, as there is basically no distinction between conventional and organically grown.
Jute heals the soil instead of spoiling it. You can have several harvests of jute on the same area, and after that the soil is healthier than before the first harvest.
Jute has the same atmospheric carbon absorption power as hemp. One hectare of jute absorbs 15 tons of carbon in 100 days, whereas one hectare of trees absorb around 200 kg over the same time period.
And jute has a leg up on hemp, which is cost. As opposed to hemp, jute didn't get banned in the 20th century, and it is now the second most-produced natural fibre in the world, second only to cotton. This is wonderful, as it allows many businesses to design products containing a very sustainable material while still making it affordable.
Other bits and pieces
Other than organic cotton, hemp and jute, Rather Green bags also contain other materials here and there.
You can see that many of our bags use metals snaps to help them close. These snaps are made of steel and nickel, which are highly recyclable metals. We instruct our customers to separate these snaps from the fabric at the end of the bag's life cycle, and to include the snaps into their local metal recycling programs.