Is Linen Environmentally Friendly?
Linen plays a huge role in sustainable fashion, and was rated by a recent report as the second most sustainable fashion fiber. However, when linen is produced through regenerative farming or regenerative agriculture, it quickly earns its place in the regenerative fashion movement.
What Is Linen Made Of?
For as long as humans have dressed beyond the bone, linen fabric has been the main material we’ve worn. As a bast fiber, linen is spun from seed-to-fabric using he inner stem of the flax plant. A plant so diverse its stems, leaves and seeds can be transformed into ingredients for multiple industries.
Since flax grows in almost any season, and in almost any type of soil (including soil which can’t be used for food production), it can be cultivated and manufactured as part of regenerative fashion through regional fiber systems.
How Does Linen And Flax Help Reverse Global Warming?
As a perennial plant, flax mobilises phosphorus in the soil, adding to organic matter as it grows and when it decomposes. Flax also acts as a perfect winter cover crop, and thrives best in crop rotations. Working to bring an end to monoculture farming, while also aiding in carbon drawdown and preventing soil depletion.
5 QUESTIONS TO ASK BRANDS TO FIND REGENERATIVE ORGANIC LINEN
Like any popular fashion fiber, there are many brands using conventional linen (promoted as sustainable) to greenwash their collections. Though conventional linen is still more sustainable than conventional cotton, it is important to understand a few things to prevent greenwashing from happening.
1) Is The Linen Organic?
Not all linen is created equal. And unless the linen is grown organically, or even better, regeneratively, it is not sustainable. Though conventionally farmed flax is still more sustainable than cotton, conventional linen still poses harms when it relies on agrochemicals which pollute groundwater, rivers and marine ecosystems.
Linen cultivated in areas that have a long history farming linen, are less likely to use these toxic-chemicals; however, organic linen lowers the risk of harm. So ideally, you want to find brands whose line was grown organically.
2) Does The Farm Use Crop Rotation & Cover Crops?
Flax is traditionally reliant on crop rotation. Some European flax will have a cover crop like alfalfa which is used in rotation with the flax plant in order to feed the life below ground. This protects the soil, and healthy soil sequesters carbon which helps protect the planet from global warming. When soil is left bare, it contributes to carbon’s overpopulation in the atmosphere, which is what causes climate breakdown.
3) Does The Farm Practice Dew Retting or Enzyme Retting?
After linen’s 100-day growth period, the plant is harvested by pulling it from the root and laying it across the field. In regenerative agriculture, leaving the roots in the ground is one of the principles. However, with linen, the whole plant must be harvested. So the rule slightly shifts in this case, as the process of extracting linen feeds the microorganisms in the soil.
The inner back of the flax stem which transports water into the living plant, is the part of the plant linen is spun from. To access that bark, the inner canal must be released from the ‘glue’ which holds that in place. To do this, the plant must be retted.
DEW RETTING LINEN is the traditional way this process is done. Where the peetins (glue) are released naturally through a combination of dew and sunshine over the course of a few weeks. This is the regenerative way of processing linen.
ENZYME RETTING is another way to process linen. This is a more recent and less traditional way. Enzyme retting speeds up the natural process to maintain higher consistency with the fibers. This is the sustainable way of processing linen.
WATER RETTING is the fastest way to process linen, but it is faster (by about 5 days). Making it synonymous with fast fashion. It is significantly less sustainable because the plant is removed from its natural habitat in the field (where it feeds microbes in the soil and helps reverses global warming) and is left to soak in the rivers or streams. This pollutes the waterways (especially if agrochemicals were used in growing) because the plant matter imbalances the eco-system.
4) Is the linen its natural colour or dyed with plant dyes?
During the retting process, the flax fibre and linen itself obtains its natural beige/ecru colour. Just like wine, the amount of sun influences the colour. So, it can be more grey or more golden depending on the local weather. If you’re looking for linen in brighter colours, look for plant-dyed linen. Brands using conventional dyes, or even eco dyes, wreak havoc on our ecosystems. For linen to be regenerative it needs to be undyed or dyed with plants grown regeneratively.
5) Has the linen been treated?
You want to avoid treated linen above all. If it says ‘wrinkle-free’ or ‘wrinkle resistant’ its been treated with formaldehyde. If the linen is marked as ‘stain resistant’ it’s been made with a chemical called PFOA which is carcinogenic (bad).
REGENERATIVE LINEN FASHION BRANDS
THE TRACE COLLECTIVE (UK)
Working solely with regenerative fabrics, including dew retted European traditionally grown Linen and Hemp. The Trace Collective takes their fashion responsibilities one more step, by offering a take back scheme and a repair-for-life guarantee
THE SUMMER HOUSE (India)
Effortlessly marrying ethical production, regeneration and affordability into a touching trinity; The Summer House creates their linen traditionally through organic and dew-retted crops.
100% organic linen underwear and clothing made free of pesticides, GMO, dioxin, formaldehyde, PVC, toxic dyes and industrial chemicals. Hypoallergenic, regeneratively grown and ethically made in Europe.
Solai’s collection of regenerative linen products produced ethically in the UK.
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