We know that the fashion and textile industry is one of the least virtuous in the world because of the massive use of raw materials processed from oil (to make the synthetic fibres we know: polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc.), the chemical treatments it requires to make its synthetic or even natural fibres (cotton) and its enormous water needs at all stages of production, from the cultivation of plants (often Gmos), the manufacture of fibres until they are processed into final textile… not to mention its carbon footprint.
Far from being inevitable, a number of innovative companies are trying to change the situation and we have seen the appearance in recent years of new textiles that make the range of ecological clothing grow: organic cotton, linen, lyocell, modal, bamboo, hemp, etc.
We know that the cotton industry consumes a lot of water, pesticides and insecticides, contributes to the depletion of our resources and their pollution, and generates huge amounts of greenhouse gases. In addition, the majority of the world’s cotton crops are grown from genetically modified seeds. For all these reasons, cotton is therefore, with the synthetic materials derived from oil, the textile to be banished from our lives.
In response, industrialists have been developing an organic sector that is supposed to be more virtuous in recent years. The arguments put forward by the industry are that there is less need for water and chemicals, the use of non-GMO cotton seeds and taking into account the working conditions of farmers.
In 2020, organic cotton production accounts for less than 1% of global cotton production. It is mainly cultivated in India and China and its manufacturing is mainly carried out in Turkey (43%) and India (28%) so we will still have some doubts about the respect of the working conditions of the workers. Instead, opt for organic cotton labelled (Fair-trade/Max Havelaar, GOTS, OEKO-TEX®) to identify the products that are most respectful of your health and those that make them.
To choose, we will support organic cotton rather than non-organic cotton, but the carbon impact is still present and even if the use of water is reduced it is still significant, turning to organic cotton is therefore more an activist act of support to the sector (fair trade) than a purely ecological act.
Moreover, since organic cotton has a higher production cost, it is customary to mix it with traditional cotton so that the price of the finished product does not soar. It is therefore necessary to ensure the percentage of organic cotton in the final textile and to favour alternative blends (recycled cotton, linen, hemp, etc.) in order to evacuate any purely marketing product.
The advantages of organic cotton: it is softer, softer, thicker, resistant and anallergic (free of allergenic chemicals).
The customization of textile
There are different technologies to «print» a pattern on a textile and in a responsible approach, it is also necessary to look at this somewhat technical aspect.
We present here the main techniques but there are still other types of printing, the technologies evolving with the arrival of new machines and new inks.
This is the most expensive textile marking technique, it remains reserved for small-sized designs such as a chest logo or crest and preferably on thick fabrics.
Technically, it is a matter of sewing on a fabric of colored threads to reproduce a pattern. Because of its nature (sewing), the level of detail cannot be as precise and complex as digital printing. This method can be handmade or by using an embroidery machine in an industrial setting.
Advantages: the Noblest technique: relief rendering, durability.
Disadvantages: reserved for small motifs, not very detailed.
Ecological component: the point to watch for this marking technique is that embroidery threads are usually made of synthetic material (polyester, acrylic, nylon, plastics derived from petroleum). It will therefore be necessary to ensure at least that we are in the presence of recycled polyester (recycling of plastic bottles) and at best natural fiber yarn (organic cotton).
Textile screen printing is a technique of placing ink directly on the textile through stencils (one stencil per colour). The printing is done colour by colour. Because the ink is embedded in the fibres, the result is a better durability of the marking in the face of aggressions (wear, repeated washing). This technique is more suitable for the number of prints because it requires an initial implementation more expensive (preparation) than it is easier to make profitable on larger series and on projects where your visual contains few colours (more colours, more stencils are needed). It is ideal for tight-knit textiles, such as cotton t-shirts and sweatshirts and thick textiles.
Advantages: allows a strong ink deposit that guarantees an intense colour that lasts over time.
Disadvantages: does not allow the printing of colour gradients, not suitable for photos and visuals with more than 4 colours.
Ecological component: The industry has developed certified organic inks of very good quality, this technique is one of the most virtuous.
Digital transfer, Vinyl flock, Flexography
This printing principle (one of the least expensive), comparable to the principle of a giant inkpad, is based on a printed visual and cut out in a polymer film and then thermo pasted with a press on the textile. The cut-out flex is distinguished from the printed flex. The cut-out flex, more economical, does not allow complex and multicoloured patterns while the printed flex handles complex colours (gradients).
Advantages: the cheapest printing technique for small and medium series.
Disadvantages: the motif must be simple and little coloured (degradations impossible) in cut-out flex, marking lifetime more limited than other types of printing.
Eco-friendly shutter: new water inks have been created, alternative solutions to solvent based inks but the films (transfer carrier) remain in PVC or polyurethane.
Screen printing transfer
The screen printing transfer consists in hot transferring on a textile support (thanks to a press maintained at a certain temperature) screen printing inks previously deposited on an intermediate transfer paper. The technique of screen printing transfer is more advantageous for large prints with not too large visual.
Advantages: fine details on both light and dark fabrics, better durability than digital transfer, on any type of textile.
Disadvantages: does not allow colour gradients.
Sublimation printing is a recent digital printing technique that uses inks that transform into gas under the influence of heat. The visual is printed on a special paper and then hot pressed onto the garment.
Advantages: the ink diffused through the fabric is indelible, imperceptible to the touch. Reproduces the gradients and other shades of colours.
Disadvantages: technique usable only on white polyester supports, high cost.
Ecological component: This printing process is advertised as the least polluting (odourless aqueous inks, without solvent or dangerous products) but the textile must be made of polyester (at least 60%).
Direct digital printing
The ideal technique for printing all colour shades (gradients) on light textiles. The ink is deposited directly on the garment and penetrates into the fibers allowing a very smooth touch without relief. With identical use, digital printing will last as long as screen printing.
Advantages: good rendering on white textile, allows to reproduce all types of visuals with a faithful rendering.
Disadvantages: for small series. Printing on a dark substrate is not yet to the point and more expensive.
Ecological component: aqueous based inks, free of heavy metals, non-toxic and 100% biodegradable.
At Sheepbay we are sensitive to these problems that is why we use these different techniques depending on the product concerned in order to reduce our impact on the environment as much as possible.