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ELSK® Materials

Making a choice is always difficult. Everybody wants to make the right one for themselves but also for each other, because we are all in this together. And while figuring out what exactly that is, we sometimes can get a little overwhelmed with all the (oftentimes contradicting) information that is out there. So we at ELSK thought we would make a little guide for you and introduce the fabrics we use up close.

Organic Cotton

Some might say ‘It’s organic- that’s a no-brainer’ and while that is a great way to see it, it’s also interesting to take a more detailed look at the pros and cons of organic and conventional cotton. When talking about these two it becomes clear that this is not a simple black and white issue. While organic cotton is great at eliminating GMO seeds and synthetic chemicals, such as pesticides and fertilizers it does have the downside of bringing in a smaller yield than conventional cotton. Thus, it needs more land to produce the same amount of product and more water. An organic T-Shirt uses 2500 liters of water in its production cycle, while a conventional one uses less than half of that (1098 l). However, not all water is the same. Most of organically grown cotton is rain fed. And since it doesn’t use chemicals the water remains a lot cleaner than in the conventional process, making it more sustainable .

You see- it’s a constant back and forth between yes and no, pro and con, better and worse. So I’m sorry to say it is still up to you, the consumer, to make the choice. However, one thing to take away from this for sure is that no matter which kind of cotton you choose, it leaves a massive dent in the world’s water supply. So choose long lasting clothes over fast fashion and the next time you wear a cotton shirt or pair of pants, appreciate all the work and resources that went into manufacturing it. It is so easy to forget those numbers, because they do seem too unreal to be true.

Also, we at ELSK have taken the debate of what kind of cotton to use one step further that will surely cheer up those in doubt. Because what is better than a resource consciously produced product? That’s right, a recycled one!

Wash Guide:

We recommend that you wash your organic cotton clothes at 30° in order to avoid any shrinking. Also it’s always a good idea to turn your clothes inside out, especially when they have a print. Wash with similar colors and avoid tumble drying it. In general we prefer to air dry our clothes because it saves so much energy.

pros:

  • no GMO seeds
  • no synthetic chemicals
  • 80% rain fed
  • water used is not polluted

cons:

  • smaller yield
  • more land needed
  • more water used

https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/pros-cons-advantages-disadvantages-of-organic-cotton/

http://aboutorganiccotton.org/

Recycled Cotton

What can be even better for the environment than Organic Cotton? The answer is Recycled Cotton! Though organic cotton is far more sustainable than conventional cotton, it still needs lots of water and land to grow the cotton. By re-using materials, the environmental footprint can be dramatically lowered than when you are using new materials. The challenge is to find the right fabrics and most importantly, make sure our quality standards are met. We are committed to increase our use of recycled cotton and we are working closely with our suppliers to find the right fabrics. Our first garments of recycled cotton were made in the autumn of 2017. One important step we have taken, is to take polyester out of all our garments. That makes it significantly easier to re-cycle our own products since garments made with a mix of polyester are. One challenge with garments made with a mix of polyester and other fabrics is that they are more difficult and often even impossible to recycle.

Wool

After having been around for 10.000 years one could say this material has truly stood the test of time, right? But let’s see what today’s wool standards are and which factors you have to watch out for.

Wool being a natural fiber it automatically brings a number of benefits, because nature always knows best. Of course, we value waste reduction so let’s start with this great feature: the average life span of woolen clothing is up to 10 years and when the time comes it is biodegradable. Depending on the density of the wool and which other materials are woven into it, pure wool can fully decompose after as early as one year. All the while it gives back to the earth by slowly releasing nitrogen-based nutrients into it which act as fertilizer.

This high nitrogen content combined with its high water content ensures a natural flame resistance which makes it a safe fabric that can be used in products that go beyond clothing. Also, wool combines the best of both worlds when it comes to providing your woolen garment with the right amount of breathability and insulation at the same time.

Another incredible property of this natural material is that it can absorb up to 30% of its own weight in moisture, which then evaporates into thin air. This means that perspiration does not form on your skin and won’t give bacteria a chance to produce any unpleasant odors. Of course, clean smelling clothes do not need to be washed as often and can simply be aired out. So you can save a lot of water and energy by wearing this fabric.

Unfortunately, nothing is perfect. Surely, you have experienced that scratchy woolen sweater on Christmas eve. However, there are differences depending on what kind of wool you use. For example, here at ELSK we have fallen in love with the thinner and softer fibers of Merino wool (especially when it is blended with organic cotton).

One thing we can’t argue with is that wool is prone to being affected by moths, because it is a yummy natural protein snack. There are some tricks on how to keep your favorite woolen (or natural based textiles) safe. One idea is to use cinnamon, cloves and lavender, which have been found to be an effective helper against moths in your closet.

Also when it finally is time to wash your woolen garment it is a bit of a tricky endeavor because wool weakens when wet and can shrink when washed too hot.

But here is the biggest issue: similarly as with cotton, wool can be a very ‘dirty’ material. Conventionally produced wool comes from overpopulated sheep pastures, where sheep are chemically treated against lice and flies using pesticides that leak into the groundwater and are toxic to humans and animals. In some cases, sheep are even ‘doped’ with antibiotics to keep those pests in check and promote a faster growth of wool. When it comes to the processing of the wool the list of toxic chemicals used to bleach, clean, and dye the wool continues. In fact, those chemicals are the reason why some people have an allergic reaction to wool, and not the material itself.

You can avoid and boycott those problems by buying organic. Standards include a ban on mulesing, which describes the practice of removing strips of skin around the sheep’s buttocks to avoid flystrike, the use of synthetic medicines, as well as a standardizing of regulations to improve the quality of the sheep’s life.

Wash Guide:

Wool has a self-cleaning effect, so often you simply have to hang it and air it out. When the time has come and you think it should be washed, buy a special wool detergent and wash on a wool or handwash program. In the end, be sure to dry the product so that it does not lose its shape. It works very well to lay it out on a flat surface. Also you can lay a towel underneath your wet garment to soak up excess water.

Pros:

  • long lasting
  • biodegradable (fertilizing qualities)
  • flame resistant with multiple application possibilities
  • breathable and insulating at the same time
  • absorbs and evaporates moisture from your skin which makes it odor resistant
  • saves water and energy because it can be aired out

Cons:

  • some types of wool can be itchy
  • prone to moss infestation
  • can be difficult to launder
  • animal care issues

https://www.iwto.org/
https://www.wikihow.com/Keep-Wool-Clothing-Safe-From-Moths
https://ellaswool.com/blogs/news/soft-wool-vs-scratchy-wool-heres-the-difference
https://organicclothing.blogs.com/my_weblog/2005/11/wool_facts_behi.html
https://ota.com/sites/default/files/indexed_files/OrganicWoolFactSheet_Final.pdf

Hemp

We got something new coming your way: we want to bring back hemp! Open your minds to a truly environmentally friendly fiber and forget those negative stereotypes about it having a rough texture and limited possible uses. It has amazing qualities, both as a natural crop and as a finished product in your closet.

When it comes to its sustainability and eco-friendliness hemp is definitely at the top. It can grow in different climats and types of soil, uses little water compared to cotton, and is great at suppressing weeds. The latter ensures that there is not much need for pesticides and insecticides. Even the atmosphere around it is improved, because it has the ability to filter out one of the big climate changing substances, carbon dioxide. In the so called retting process, which is when the fibers are separated from the stem, 70% of the plants nutrients are returned to the soil. So hemp plants leave the soil better than it was before.

Another knock out argument is the hemp plants yield. It is 250% more per acre than a regular cotton yield. So it’s nice to the climate, the soil, the water and the available agricultural space.

But what about the actual hemp clothing? Because nature is smart, hemp will keep you warm in winter, cool you down in the summer and even protect your skin form UV rays. It is great for people who tend to be allergic to clothing fibers such as wool and cotton, because of its hypoallergenic qualities.

Even though its reputation precedes hemp, especially in the field of color variety it can be dyed in different colors. As always, when it comes to dying the fabrics it really depends what kind of dyes and possible chemicals are used to comment on its environmental friendliness. But the fact that hemp takes to colors well means that it is versatile in its production process. It can also be mixed with other fibers such as cotton and bamboo to achieve different textures.

A big problem with the hemp industry is that since it is so similar to marijuana there are different farming regulations world wide. The biggest hemp producing country is China, and it is so well established that other countries have problems to compete.

Also the process of separating the fiber from the stem can be time consuming. This is why some might fall back on using chemicals to ensure a quicker and cheaper process, which makes the manufacturing of hemp potentially less green.

Wash Guide:
Hemp likes to be washed in cold or warm water, again with a mild and eco-friendly detergent. It’s best to air-dry it and avoid tumble drying as much as you can, because hemp fibers don’t like the high heat.

Pros

  • grows with little water
  • is good for soil it grows in
  • moves carbon from atmosphere into soil
  • big yield
  • hypoallergenic
  • uv resistant
  • thermo regulating

Cons

  • strict growing regulations
  • hemp spinning takes long and can involve chemicals to speed up the process
  • dyes can be harmful

https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-hemp-sustainable-eco-friendly-for-clothing-fabric-textiles/
https://www.farmprogress.com/management/could-southwest-farmers-benefit-commercial-hemp-production-will-state-lawmakers-ever-appr
https://goodonyou.eco/material-guide-hemp/

Tencel / Lyocell

We are tired of toxic, water polluting, non-renewable fabrics. It is time for a change. It is time for: lyocell.

This fiber is an interesting one. If natural and synthetic fibers were the two extremes on each side of a spectrum then lyocell could be found somewhere in between. It is manufactured out of cellulose from wood pulp which is broken down in a chemical process and eventually shaped into a fiber, to be made into yarn and finally: your garment.

Let’s take a closer look at how lyocell fibers are made. The innovation behind it lies in its closed loop production process. This means that wood pulp from sustainably managed sources (for example TENCEL® lyocell fibers are made from fast growing eucalyptus trees) is transformed into cellulose fibers with high resource efficiency and low ecological impact. This liquid fiber-spinning process recycles its water and reuses the solvent at a recovery rate of 99%! Also, due to the fact that it’s a product made from plant materials, it is completely biodegradable and compostable within 4 months.

The makers of TENCEL® lyocell, Lenzing Fibers of Austria, were awarded the Environmental Award 2000 in the category “technology for sustainable developments” for this incredible innovation.

One downside of lyocell lies with its poor ability to accept dyes, so there can be harsh and sometimes even toxic chemicals that find their way into the production process. Here it is important to pay attention to the place of origin of your garment. While products made in the US and Europe are non-toxic, you should be careful with those manufactured in China.

The main concern, however, is the use of energy in the production process. This has been acknowledged by Lenzing Fibers of Austria and they are looking to address the issue by increasing their use of renewable energy sources.

In general, the fabric stands out with the following features: it is strong, long lasting and durable, which is an important factor in sustainable clothing; it is a breathable fabric that is soft on the skin, absorbs moisture and it won’t let bacteria grow because of that moisture management.

Wash Guide:

It is best to wash these by hand, but you can also throw them in the mashine at 30° and on a low spin cycle speed. When lyocell fibers are wet they lose nearly half of their strength, so be careful not to wring or twist them atfer washing. You can use the towel method again to soak up excess moisture. And if you want to make really sure all goes well you can use a mesh laundry bag to avoid pilling.

Pros:

  • strong, long lasting and durable, while being soft on the skin
  • breathable, moisture absorbent, anti-bacterial
  • made from natural, renewable resources
  • closed loop production process that recycles and reuses solvent at a recovery rate of 99%
  • biodegradable within 4 months

cons:

  • uses a lot of energy in the production process
  • can contain toxic chemicals depending on its origin

https://organicclothing.blogs.com/my_weblog/2005/11/tencel_sustaina.html
https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-are-lyocell-tencel-short-guide-uses-how-they-are-made-more/
https://goodonyou.eco/how-ethical-is-tencel/

https://www.tencel.com/sustainability

Lyocell/TENCEL/Modal/Viscose

To clear up the confusion, here is a quick guide to these regenerated, cellulosic fibers Lyocell, Tencel, Modal, and Viscose and how they are different. They are all plant-based fibers that use wood pulp to create the cellulose needed to make the fiber for each their fabrics, however, they differ slightly in their production processes and properties.

You can picture those fibers as a family with Viscose being the first born back in the 19th century. It was invented as artificial silk with properties focusing on comfort, ability to dye, moisture absorbency and breathability. This fiber is made by dissolving the wood pulp in a chemical solution (carbon disulphide and sodium hydroxide) which produces a pulpy viscous substance that is then spun into fibers.

Then Modal came into the picture, because there was a need for higher wet strength and more softness. Lenzing Modal® entered the markets in the 60s as a green version of the material, using sustainably harvested beech trees and an environmentally friendly bleaching method for the pulp processing. Modal fibers in general differ from viscose in that the fibers are treated differently after spinning them in order to make them stronger. Micromodal® takes the materials softness to the next level, because it is made from finer fibers. We use that fabric for ELSK underwear and let us tell you: it is soft.

Finally, a third, even more improved fabric was introduced in the 90s. It is advantageous over both viscose and modal in its properties and ways of production. We are talking about lyocell, which absorbs moisture into the core of the fiber where bacteria can’t grow, and releases it again into the atmosphere. This makes it an ideal fiber for activewear. Plus, it is so soft to the touch that its application possibilities are far reaching. Also, lyocell production uses a different solvent compared to the modal and viscose process. It is organic (amino oxide) and can thus be recovered and reused.

TENCEL® is the brand name for a type of lyocell that is owned by Lenzing Fibers of Austria. Michael Kininmonth, a spokesman for Lenzing Fibers, says, “the blend composition of a fabric must be a minimum of 30% TENCEL® to be able to use the brand name.” Unique to their process is their closed loop production, and the renewable raw material they use, such as beech wood and eucalyptus.

For a more detailed scope on lyocell find our article Lyocell/TENCEL®

Wash Guide Modal:

This one is super easy going when looking at the cleaning process. Unlike lyocell, modal retains its shape when wet and proves to be durable. Still, it is good for the environement and the longevity of your clothes to wash at 30° and avoid dry tumbling. Also, be picky with your detergents. The milder the better.

Pros:

  • have the potential to be produced in an environmentally friendly way (Lenzing Fibers of Austria)
  • strong fabrics that are versatile in use
  • produced from renewable resources
  • all three are biodegradable

Cons:

  • chemicals can be used in production process
  • different fabrics have different qualities, viscose can shrink and wrinkle, and modal can lose its shape and is prone to pilling

https://www.life.ca/naturallife/0908/ecofiber_or_fraud.htm
https://goodonyou.eco/material-guide-viscose-really-better-environment/
http://timetosew.uk/lyocell-sustainable-alternative-viscose/

SeaCell

What if we told you that you could wear algea? In a fashionable way of course. The idea comes from a company called smartfiber AG from Germany and they found a way to combine lyocell components (see lyocell/tencell) and seaweed. That way the incredible properties of the seaweed are stabilized and enhanced and it makes a durable fiber.

Seaweed contains valuable substances such as vitamins, trace elements, amino acids and minerals. By securing them in a fiber and turning that fiber into a garment, your skin goes into an active exchange with the fabric, profiting from those elements. It’s anti-inflammatory and acts like a protective layer on your skin, meanwhile being smooth and soft to the touch.

Just as Tencel, SeaCell is produced in the same closed loop process that ensures no chemicals are released as waste. And the best part is that the yield of seaweed is basically endless, because the harvesting only removes the part of the seaweed that regenerates itself. So it’s completely sustainable and the final product is 100% biodegradable.

Since it is such a new invention the jury is still out how well it will be received from consumers and if all that is promised actually comes true, but we are definitely excited enough to try it out and see how you will like it.

Wash Guide:

Since this is a mix of cellulose and seaweed fibers, it reacts quite similarly as pure lyocell. We recommend you wash your SeaCell clothes in cold or warm water, either by hand or on a gentle mashine wash program, and air dry rather than tumble dry it.

Pro:

  • soft to the touch
  • contains health benefitting elements
  • sustainable
  • biodegradable
  • durable
  • anti-inflammatory

Cons:

  • new on the market, little hands-on experience

http://www.smartfiber.de/en/fibers/seacelltm/

https://prezi.com/0qkgthq3mxep/alternative-lyocell-seacell-sustainable-choices/

https://www.the-sustainable-fashion-collective.com/2017/05/11/new-sustainable-seaweed-fabric-seacell