Sustainable textile innovation is happening at a rapid pace. The new fabrics entering the market are both far more ecologically sustainable than existing options and have better performance qualities. Piñatex, TENCEL, Cupro, hemp, and upcycled fabric are just a few of these innovative textiles.
Made Trade proudly carries many products using these impressive materials in our curation of ethically elevated goods. Here we will dive into five sustainable fibers and share some of our favorite brand partners using these earth-friendly materials.
Piñatex (Pineapple Leather)
Piñatex is an extremely innovative and sustainable vegan leather alternative made from pineapple leaves that have been discarded by the pineapple industry. By using byproducts of pineapple agriculture, Piñatex “leather” not only reduces waste but also provides an additional source of income for pineapple farmers by selling the by-product of their plants.
Piñatex Founder Dr. Carmen Hijosa witnessed the widespread environmental damage of mass leather production in the Philippines. This lead Dr. Hijosa to create a socially and environmentally-responsible, non-woven textile that could replicate leather on a large-scale while creating a minimal environmental impact. She spent seven years researching and developing Piñatex into the product we know and love today, and she is still involved with the continual improvement of this incredibly unique textile.
Behind the Process
After collecting the pineapple leaves, the fibers are extracted from the pineapple leaves using a decorticator, a machine that removes the skin or bark from raw materials such as plant stalks and wood. Nothing is wasted in this process since the leftover biomass can be used as a biofuel or natural fertilizer.
Pineapple leaf harvesting. (Photo: Piñatex)
These pineapple leaf fibers that have been extracted are then degummed before being manufactured into a non-woven mesh. The non-woven mesh is then sent to Spain for finishing -- creating a flexible, yet durable material.
The degumming process. (Photo: Piñatex)
The final product is the pineapple leather textile, called Piñatex, now used by designers around the world in footwear, accessories, and upholstery as an alternative to leather.
Brand using Piñatex: Tooche
Tooche is a women-owned, women-run ethical shoe brand working with skilled artisan shoemakers in Latvia who handcraft each shoe with care. All artisans are paid living wages and each shoe is composed of earth-friendly natural materials such as responsibly sourced wool and Piñatex.
Tencel is an impressive sustainable fabric utilizing environmentally sustainable production processes from Austrian manufacturer Lenzing. Tencel has great performance characteristics and is lightweight, smooth, soft, and durable, retaining its quality wash after wash. It’s uniquely smooth surface also makes it absorbent, hygienic, and breathable.
Behind the Process
Upcycled cotton scraps from clothing factories are blended with eucalyptus wood pulp sourced from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified farms to create Tencel. This environmentally responsible process recycles and incredilbe 99% of the solvent for the next batch, creating a closed-loop process.
Brands Using Tencel: Hoot, 3rd Season and Left Edit
Hoot was founded in 2017 when founders Laura and Chris couldn’t find a bedding option that met their standards for sustainability and transparency. Their environmentally conscious brand is committed to providing one of the most sustainable and comfortable options for bedding on the market. For more on HOOT, read our spotlight on the brand here.
Left Edit is a bold ethical fashion brand with vibrant pieces made responsibly in Los Angeles, Californa using sustainable materials, including Cupro and Tencel, along with GOTS-certified dyes. This sustainable fashion label also uses buttons made from crozo nut, as well as zipper tape and linings made from recycled materials. The brand's collection consists of five styles, all designed with versatility in mind.
Cupro is known as a sustainable, plant-based, vegan alternative to silk. The material is sleek and drapes beautifully (just like silk) but is breathable, body temperature regulating, and washer-friendly like cotton, while silk is not.
Behind the Process
Cupro is a regenerated cellulose fiber made from recycled cotton linter, a by-product of the cotton production industry. To create Cupro, the cotton linter must be dissolved into a cuprammonium solution before it can be spun into fiber. Though this is a chemical process, the chemicals and wastewater are reused in future production, creating a closed-loop system.
Brands Using Cupro: 3rd Season and Altar
3rd Season is a conscious fashion brand based in Los Angeles, California with beautiful, one-of-a-kind clothing made from responsibly sourced fabrics. The label uses eco-friendly deadstock and rescued textiles such as Cupro and Tencel that are all sourced in LA.
Dedicated to local, sustainable production, 3rd Season's pattern making, sampling, hand-dyeing, and hand painting is all completed in their studio and their collections are produced in small batches right in Los Angeles.
Altar is a women-owned fashion brand based in Portland, Oregon creating consciously made clothing and jewelry. Dedicated to slow and sustainable fashion, Altar crafts each piece in-house in Portland or in Los Angeles. Altar sources deadstock fabrics, locally-milled textiles, and organic or naturally-dyed textiles.
Hemp is among the most sustainable crops to grow -- it grows quickly, doesn't require herbicides or pesticides and needs very little water. Additionally, since hemp grows densely, farmers can yield more hemp per hectare or acre than other crops, such as cotton.
Behind the Process
After cultivating the hemp plant, the fibers from the plant stalk are extracted using a process called retting. Retting breaks down the pectins that bind the hemp fibers together. Once these hemp fibers are released, they are spun into thread and woven into hemp fabric.
Brand Using Hemp: Kathrine Zeren
Kathrine Zeren is a women-owned ethical fashion brand creating neckties, bow ties, and pocket squares. All of Kathrine Zeren's pieces are consciously handmade in small batches in the U.S. from natural, ecologically sustainable materials -- recycled hemp and organic cotton.
Upcycling is the process of reusing material to create a product of higher value. This is generally preferable to recycling, which reuses a material to create something of equivalent value or down-cycling, which reuses material to create a product of lower value than the original. In terms of fabric, an example of upcycling is when remnant fabric scraps or rolls of deadstock are used for clothing and an example of downcycling is if remnant fabric is used as stuffing for sofa cushions.
Brand Using Upcycled Fabric: tonlé
tonlé is an ethical fashion brand based in San Francisco and working with artisans in Cambodia. The brand is committed to zero waste, utilizing fabric scraps from garment factories sourced from local remnant markets in Cambodia. By using upcycled fabric scraps, tonlé does not create any new cloth for their pieces. The brand also uses recycled packaging and hang tags.