Understanding “Green” Apparel

The Atlanta Apparel Market is always an exciting time as merchants look for the latest trends in fashion and fabrics. One of the most exciting developments in fabrics is now referred to as “sustainability” or “going green,” but let’s take a look and see if the fibers we are using are actually what they appear to be.

Organic Cotton

Organic cotton is a great product and a great fiber, no chemicals on one of the Hannamost chemically intensive crops in the world, what a great story. Before you purchase make sure your supplier can certify the source of the fiber and their certifications. Bottom line: make sure your organic cotton has integrity. Companies such as MantraMeds a U.S. manufacturer of fashion medical apparel, takes the approach of purchasing Texas Organic Cotton  and following the flow of the fiber. Like many other companies their comfort level is in knowing the farmer, seeing the Department of Agriculture certifications, and working closely with the spinner.

Recycled Cotton

The concept of recycled cotton is to take good fibers out of waste and in turn reduce the need to actually grow more cotton. In a lot of ways recycled cotton is much better than organic cotton; it reduces the acreage of cottoncottag grown. It’s important to remember however that the process of reclaiming fibers is difficult on the integrity of the fiber itself. You simply cannot make a fine count yarn out of short fibers, but you can make beautiful blends and coarse counts. Patrick Yarns (www.patrickyarns.com) is a domestic leader in placing recycled cotton in the correct market


Bamboo is the source of cellulose in rayon; it’s not the fiber. Rayon can be phenomenally harsh in manufacturing with the cellulose put in a slurry of acid and then extruded into fiber. Rayon was originally made in the U.S. out of wood pulp, but economics and environmental issues stopped domestic production. One item of note is that it is against FTC regulations to label a product as just “bamboo,” it must be labeled as “cellulose” or “rayon.”

Modal and Tencel are cellulosic fibers but made by Lenzing in a close loop system. If you like cellulosic fibers such as bamboo, it’s imperative to ask your supplier about Modal and Tencel. These fibers have the attributes of rayon, including the great “hand,” plus more, and all are done in an environmentally friendly way.

Recycled Polyester

Recycled polyester (rpet) is a fiber that is making great strides for all the right reasons. RPET saves energy, reduces our dependence on oil, and can save millions of plastic bottles from our landfills. Much like organic cotton it’s imperative you trust your source. One leader in the industry is Unifi with their U-Trust third party verification on their Repreve brand of recycled poly. One of the most attractive aspects of RPET is that the fibers have all the attributes of virgin polyester, but with a great environmental story.

Earthspun Apparel  has just launched an intriguing new RPET that is the colortsgrass of the feed stock. Brown recycled plastic bottles make brown fiber, green/green, blue/blue, etc. The color of the garments are derived without the water and energy consumption of the conventional dying process.

There are many other fibers on the market with some very unique features. Fibers today are being made from unique products like coconut shells and corn sugars,  each new fiber has its own set of attributes and each has a great story. The best way to understand the products you purchase is to ask the simple questions, and to build a relationship with your vendor.

Jack Miller is a partner with SustainTex LLC, and he would be delighted to discuss sustainable fabrics and practices in more detail during Atlanta Apparel Market.

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