Ecology in the textile and leather industry

This is how it all began over 30 years ago:
Manufacturers wanted to produce environmentally friendly and healthy clothing.
www.posseimo.de - Kollektion 2015

Ecology as it relates to textile produc­tion is IVN’s core compe­tence since its incep­tion. The conven­tional produc­tion of clothing and such impacts the environ­ment in many and various ways, many of them negative. Soil and aquifers are polluted, climate change is exacer­bated, diver­sity of species neglected, resources wasted, toxins end up in our clothing and much much more. Although our focus today is less on garments and more on other textile and leather products, environ­mental protec­tion and consumer safety remain two of the main focal points of our associa­tion and our members. We have only this one planet earth which only we can preserve. On a similar level, we as consu­mers are increa­singly respectful of our own health.

www.suedwolle.com - Färberei

Chemicals in every step of production

The key factor in textile ecology is the use of chemical substances and their effect on man and environ­ment. Begin­ning with fibre culti­va­tion but exten­ding to the produc­tion of yarns and fabrics, the tanning of leather, and inclu­ding dying, printing, finis­hing and surfacing…in every step the choice to be made is between hazar­dous and harmless chemi­cals. Thanks to current techno­lo­gical achie­ve­ments, almost every­thing is possible without the use of a chemical club.

There is a logical connec­tion between the use of chemi­cals in produc­tion and the health threa­tening substances found in textile and leather products. Many toxins can be removed during the produc­tion processes but, unfor­tu­n­a­tely, not all. Deter­gents or sweat can leach these toxins out of fibres or leather. They can then enter the body through the skin.  Or they can leak into the environ­ment through washing and do their damage there.

 

disana.de - Strickmaschine

The manufacture of textiles and leather goods:
A complicated and complex process

Not only the chemi­cals, also the processes used in the textile and leather industry are associated with many other environ­mental dangers. This is due to the fact that a textile or leather article is generally very complex. Many diffe­rent compon­ents are used for the finished garment or shoe, or are used in the proces­sing. From the raw fibre or raw animal skin to buttons, yarns, clasps and closures, and inclu­ding glues, deter­gents and other chemi­cals: the manufac­ture of each and every single compo­nent raises its own specific questions concer­ning humans and the environ­ment. The textile produc­tion chain includes a multi­tude of indivi­dual work steps.  Leather too is compli­cated to manufac­ture. Some produc­tion stages, for example the creation of fibre, tanning, dying and finis­hing involve a stronger environ­mental footprint than others. And depen­ding upon how a pair of jeans is dyed or treated deter­mines what hazar­dous effects it may have for the wearer’s health.

www.hessnatur.com - Rhoenschaf

Organic natural fibres – our specialty

Every­thing begins with the raw material.  The use of chemical pesti­cides and ferti­li­zers, the use of irriga­tion or animal rights are the most poten­ti­ally proble­matic issues involved in harve­s­ting natural fibres such as cotton, linen, wool, silk and similar. By contrast, the crux in genera­ting synthetic fibres tends to be energy input, parti­cu­larly the use of non-renewable energy, and produc­tion chemi­cals. There is no easy answer to the question which fibre is ecolo­gi­cally preferable or less hazar­dous to health. In deciding whether that new sweater should be made of wool, cotton or rayon, it may help to know that certi­fied organic natural fibres are produced according to strict legal standards that guarantee that neither the environ­ment nor the wear’s health is negatively impacted.

 

www.istockphoto.com - Farbpigmente Indien

The production process – the decisive parameters for sustainable products

A delibe­rate choice for organic fibre or sustain­ably produced raw skin for leather goods is only the begin­ning. The truly resource-inten­sive processes involved in the manufac­ture of a scarf or a leather handbag have yet to begin. Conver­ting raw material, no matter whether it is leather, natural or synthetic fibre, to a usable product involves the input of many chemi­cals, water and energy. And many of these substances and compon­ents enter into surface water or into the air or even into the garbage. It is there­fore of paramount impor­t­ance to work sustain­ably. Conven­tional produc­tion often results in massive pollu­tion of the environ­ment and a signi­fi­cant risk to the wearer’s health.

For textiles, the truly critical processes are the many treat­ments of the fibre, in other words dying, printing, finis­hing while, for leather, it is finis­hing. But textile products can be treated at many stages in their produc­tion chain. Yarns, fabric and even finished textiles are bleached, dyed, smoothed, finis­hings applied (wrinkle-proof, water-repel­lent, easy-iron for example). Leather is waxed, oiled or coated to make it smoother, more uniform and to improve light fastness. All of these produc­tion steps make inten­sive use of water, energy and chemi­cals. It is in these processes that the use of environ­ment­ally friendly and healthy substances as well as optimized produc­tion processes that use as few resources as necessary makes all the difference.

 

www.istockphoto.com

What is left at the end of a product’s life

The final question is what to do with a shirt or shoes when they are no longer usable. How easy is it to recycle products or how readily do they decom­pose? Creating products in such a way that they can be returned to a life cycle is one of the challenges that we will increa­singly have to face in the future. Our goal is to ecolo­gi­cally optimize the produc­tion chain for textiles and leather goods and thereby trans­form our industry as quickly and sustain­ably as possible into an environ­ment­ally friendly industry.