Fibres, fabrics and the environment
The choice for a certain fabric not only influences the final piece of clothing, but also the production process and the environment. That's why with every design we carefully evaluate different aspects of a fabric: look, comfort for the wearer and the environmental impact of the production process.
Environmental aspects of fabrics
Producing with respect for people and planet has always been and will always be an important aspect of Cora Kemperman. Nowadays, clients are more aware of the environmental impact of fashion and want to know more about sustainable alternatives. Still, there is a big misunderstanding going on about natural fabrics and their environmental impact.
A lot of people assume that natural fabrics (like cotton, wool and natural dyes) are less harmful to the environment than synthetic ones. On the contrary: processing cotton and producing denim for instance, are the most damaging processes in the textile industry. Large scale farming and the industrial processing of natural fibres have a huge impact on the environment. Cotton and wool are very polluting: producing the basic fibre alone has a huge impact on the environment. Synthetic fibres are made in such a way that they won't require a lot of processing in the later stages of making yarn and fabric. Besides that, most synthetic fibres are produced in industrialised countries, in well equipped factories under strict environmental regulations.
Growing cotton requires the use of large amounts of pesticides (like DDT) which have been prohibited in the Western nations decades ago. Cotton plantations ask for a lot of water and space, using up drinking water and fertile grounds for food crops. Since 2005 organic cotton is gaining ground among cotton and textile producers. Organic cotton farming does not use pesticides and other chemicals. The percentage of organic cotton plantations in the world's total of cotton plantations is only 1.1%, but this percentage is increasing by the year (Source: Textile Exchange, 2010 Farm and Fiber Report).
If possible, we would only use organic cotton in our products, but due to differences in quality of organic and conventional cotton, we cannot use 100% organic cotton for our collection.
For the production of wool several polluting processes, like defatting and chemical cleaning, are needed. During transportation, wool is treated with chemicals to prevent it from getting damp or mouldy. Furthermore, sheep farms deal with excess manure, which also causes environmental problems.
Viscose fabrics are made of wood fibres (cellulose). Obviously this requires cutting down trees. The wood is turned into cellulose through various polluting, chemical processes. Finally, the fibres go through chemical stages of bleaching, dyeing and finishing.
Linen and hemp are immune to insects and plant diseases and grow very well on poor soil. Growing these natural materials does not harm the environment. Unfortunately, turning the fibres into yarn and fabric is a different story. This process can be, depending on the desired results, as polluting as processing cotton.
Natural dyes aren't necessarily better or less damaging for the environment than synthetical dyes. One of the most toxic, natural dyes is the famous blue dye from the indigo plant, which is used for blue denim.
From fibre to finish
Choosing the right fabric has a big influence on the quality and comfort of our clothes. The basis for a high quality fabric starts with the selection of the raw materials. Later in the process the type of yarn, knitting and weaving techniques and finishes have a decisive influence on the final quality of the product.
Fabrics are made of yarns. These are made of raw materials like crude oil, cotton, wood, wool and silk. Roughly we can distinct two types of yarn: spun yarn and filament yarn.
1. Spun yarn
(a.o. cotton, wool, linen, staple viscose)
These are being made of staple fibres; pieces of fibre that have been twisted around each other (spinning). The quality of the yarn depends amongst others on the length of the fibres. A long fibre is stronger than a short one. Fibres that are too short, may lead to 'pilling' of the fabric. Also the amount of twists in the spinning process influences the quality. Fabrics that are made of high twisted yarns are flatter, smoother or shinier than fabrics of low twisted yarns. Low twisted yarns increase the risk of pilling, shrinking and felting of the fabric.
2. Filament yarn
(a.o. silk, polyester, polyamide, acrylic, elastomer, rayon, acetate)
These are long, endless threads, that are not built of loose fibres. A lot of filament yarns are synthetic. Silk is the only 100% natural filament yarn.
To make filament yarn, raw material is pressed through a machine head with a tiny hole, into long, thin yarns. The raw materials are natural (wood) or synthetic (crude oil). The fineness and form of the hole in the machine head defines the quality and look of the yarns. Fabrics made of filament yarns are in general very strong. They do not pill and they hardly shrink. To get a more natural (wooly, structured) effect, filament yarns can be cut into small fibres again and after that, spun into new yarns. These yarns are called spun-polyester or fleece. Pilling and shrinkage of these 'rebuilt' yarns is the same as regular spun yarns.
By twining different yarns together or by covering a yarn with another yarn, new yarn types with special qualities are made. These so called composite yarns may have the same strength and shrinkage of a synthetic yarn, but at the same time feel like cotton or wool. Clothes made of composite yarns can be recognized by the different fabrics on the label, for example: 30% polyester, 70% cotton.
In the last decade a lot of new yarns with special characteristics have been developed. Some of these yarns aren't very well known with consumers and therefore may have the image of being synthetic, uncomfortable, sweaty, sticky and static. Polyester and polyamide for instance are often being treated alike, but polyamide is not static and has a far better breathing quality than polyester.
These new yarns are developed in order to optimize comfort and maintenance of the clothes. These developments have worked out very well with yarns like micropolyester and micropolyamide (Tactel and Meryll). These fabrics do not stick, are not static and they easily transport moisture to the outside of the fabric. Clothes from new yarns are comfortable during Summer and Winter and are easy to maintain.
New types have also been developed in viscose fabrics: easy maintenance, low shrinkage yarns. For example: Lyocell, Tencel and Cupro.
Tencel is a registered trademark of the manufacturer Lenzing. It is a 100% natural and very durable material and carries the European Ecolabel. Tencel is made from cellulose from eucalyptus wood. This wood comes from special, sustainably managed forests where a new tree is planted for every used tree. The material is produced via a closed loop system in which water and solvents are permanently recycled. Clothing from the fabric Tencel is skin-friendly, has a very good moisture and heat regulation, a nice silk-like shine, falls smoothly, and is fully biodegradable. In addition, it is easy to wash and it hardly shrinks and creases.
In the finishing process, fabrics are coloured or bleached or enhanced with specific qualities. Finishes may add a protective, water-repellent or shiny coating. Also fabrics can be made softer and more pliable in the finishing stage.
Colour can be added to the yarns (yarn dyeing) or to the final fabric (piece dyeing). Yarn dyed fabrics are very colourfast. The colourfast factor of piece dyed fabrics is defined by the yarn combination, type of dye and the dyeing machine. Linen is a strong, hard fibre that hardly absorbs pigments, so the dye remains on the outside of the product and isn't very colourfast. Polyester and polyamide fabrics can be very well dyed with a high pressure dyeing system, that results in a very colourfast fabric.
Besides regular (organic) cotton we use mercerised cotton in our tricots. Mercerised cotton has a subtle lustrous appearance because of a special finish that is used on the yarns. Mercerised cotton needs less colour pigments than regular cotton, to obtain deep, rich colours. It is strong, doesn't shrink or pill and remains its shape. It has a cool touch and a luxurious look. Clothes made of mercerised cotton are easy to recognize in our stores by the special hangtags. Organic cotton has a different fibre quality than regular cotton and therefore – unfortunately - cannot be mercerised yet. A small disadvantage is the use of polluting materials in the mercerising process. Our manufacturers in India execute the mercerising process in a safe and controlled way. Workers are not exposed to the chemicals and the used water is being neutralised and recycled. Mercerised cotton easily absorbs pigments and therefore asks for less dye than regular (organic) cotton, which is an interesting advantage. Furthermore, clothes from mercerised cotton last longer, which is also an important quality.
Yarns are made into fabric by weaving or knitting. Machine adjustments, the required pattern and the thickness of the yarn define the final look of the fabric.
Knitted fabrics made of yarns are stretchy and pliable and comfortable to wear. There are different knitting techniques:
Circular knitting machine
This machine knits finely spun yarns and also elastic yarns like Lycra. Tricot and jersey are regular names for single jersey knits (common fabric for T-shirts and dresses). The machine produces circular, seamless fabrics.
Warp knitting machine
This machine knits smooth synthetic yarns with or without added elastics (Lycra), like polyester, polyamide and viscose. It produces knits with a woven look. A lot of variations are possible, depending on the thickness of the yarns. The machine also makes lace fabrics. A warp knitted fabric does not ladder.
Rectilinear knitting machine
On this machine thicker and wooly yarns are knitted for sweaters and fake fur, but it also knits flat textiles for scarfs. The machine also knits elastic yarns and fine spun yarns.
Specialised computerised knitting machine
Computerised machines are used for 3D-knits, like ready-to-wear sweaters and gloves.
Jacquard knitting machine
These machines knit intricate patterns with colours and structures and are being controlled by a CAD-CAM system that translates designs into a knitting pattern.
Knitting by hand
Knitting by hand with needles is still done by a lot of needlework lovers. Fashion brands have exclusive designs knit by hand.
In general, woven fabrics cannot stretch, unless elastic yarns have been added. Weaving-looms use warp and weft: the warp is the set of lengthwise yarns that is held in a frame. The weft is the yarn that is inserted over and under the warp threads, following a specific pattern.
Looms can be divided in four categories, based on the type of fabric:
• Silk loom: for fine, delicate fabrics like viscose, silk, voile and linings.
• Looms for medium weight fabrics: to make trousers, skirts and jackets. The fabrics mostly are madeof linen, wool or combinations with viscose and polyester.
• Looms for heavy fabrics: for heavy woollens like woollen tweed.
• Jacquard looms: for fabrics with woven patterns
The art of washing
Different types of yarns, fabrics and finishes make every piece of clothing into a special item, but also require specific care. By using the proper cleaning method you'll be able to enjoy your clothes for a long, long time. In the chapter the art of washing you'll find washing tips and information about how to prevent common textile problems like pilling and shrinking.