Sustainable Fabrics

There’s ongoing discussion in the sportswear industry about the sustainability merits of synthetic versus natural fibres. Both have their positives and negatives, so at Presca we are constantly testing and experimenting, making our fabric decisions based on a large number of factors. See all the fabrics in our range.

Synthetics

Synthetic fibres are extremely versatile and fit for purpose, and thus they currently make up approximately 60% of all materials sold for clothing. They’re very hard wearing, which is great for longevity but ultimately becomes an issue at the end of a garment’s life. What do you do with fibres that last so long?

Polyester and nylon lend themselves especially well to functional sportswear for several reasons. They are:

Hydrophobic, meaning they dry quickly
• Hard wearing
• Versatile
• Flexible
• Recyclable
• Cheap to produce, with very little land requirement

However, the creation of cheap, virgin synthetic fibres is disastrous in terms of energy use, carbon emissions, resource depletion (crude oil and water), and a plethora of chemicals used in the production.

All Presca’s technical garments are made from synthetics. But here’s the key: we have years of experience in selecting and testing recycled synthetic fabrics. The two fibres we currently use most in our garments are:
1. Mechanically recycled polyester, derived from end-of life plastic bottles. This saves approximately 60% energy and 94% water compared to a polyester from virgin sources. Garments made from 100% polyester are also recyclable, meaning we can use them again and again to make new sportswear.
2. Chemically recycled nylon, derived from ghost fishing nets and end-of-life carpets. This is a very high-quality material, which because of the way it is processed has the same qualities as a virgin nylon.

We can make garments more recyclable/biodegradable through the fabric choices we make. Specifically:

Avoiding blends of synthetic and natural fibres.
• Reducing the use of Elastane, which is very tricky to recycle.
• Avoiding complex blends. Some fabrics on the market have up to five constituent fibres. Greater complexity in the fabric = increased complexity in recycling.
• Focus on mono-material construction wherever possible. We’re also embarking on a trial of a novel enhanced recycling process to deconstruct polyester fabric into its constituent elements, so that it can be reformed into virgin-quality polyester, and then made into new clothing. We will never stop looking for ways to improve and push boundaries.

Natural fibres

Natural fibres with excellent technical properties, such as merino wool, are especially appealing to us. Merino is naturally biodegradable and can be recycled, so it is much easier to dispose of at the end of life compared to synthetics. But all wool (not just merino) has to be carefully sourced so as to avoid mistreatment of animals, and a lot of land is needed to farm the sheep. Added to that, merino is a fine fibre that tends to wear quickly – not ideal for withstanding the rigours of high-performance sports, such as triathlon.

We are currently reviewing the potential for incorporating more natural fibres into our garment range. The two natural fibres that we currently use are:

Organic Cotton
A very versatile fabric that can be used for hoodies, sweaters, shirts, and more. But the impacts of cotton farming are well documented, accounting for 16% of global insecticide use and 9% of global herbicide use. Cotton is also a very thirsty plant, requiring 2,700 litres of water to make a single t-shirt. To reduce the impact of our garments, we choose certified Organic Cotton. Research by the Soil Association shows that organic farming creates healthier soils, able to retain moisture better and store more carbon, therefore reducing water use and emissions per kg of cotton. Additionally, avoiding pesticides significantly reduces the impact of the farming on surrounding ecosystems.

Ecovero
This is part of the viscose family – a type of natural fibre derived from wood pulp that has an incredibly soft feel, is lightweight and makes a fantastic t-shirt material. The downside with viscose is that processing of wood fibres requires some fairly unpleasant chemicals, and any release of these can be very damaging both to workers’ health, and to the environment. We have chosen to use Ecovero, which is made by a company called Lenzing in a process that is ‘closed-loop’ and thoroughly audited, meaning it’s a far cleaner viscose than others on the market.

And we continue to investigate other natural fibres that may have an application in our garments, to ensure we are always using the best possible materials for our customers and our planet.

Presca & microfibres

We are reducing our impact through using recycled synthetic fabrics, but as per Newton’s third law, every action has a reaction. Synthetic fibres have been shown to shed small particles when washed, which can be released to the waterways and ultimately to the ocean. There is increasing awareness of the issues around microfibre pollution, and while in developed countries the water treatment system is effective at removing most of this microfibre pollution, where these fibres do make it to the ocean they are easily ingested by marine mammals.
Given their high surface area microfibres are prone to trapping toxic chemicals on their surface. These can then bioaccumulate in the food chain and ultimately end up in our food.

Many organisations and bodies are carrying out research into the microfibre problem – outdoor clothing giant Patagonia and the industry-wide Microfibre Consortium, for example – and an increasing number of companies, from yarn spinners through to washing machine manufacturers are all working on technological solutions. (We will always keep up to date with the newest developments to ensure Presca garments are as sustainable as possible.)

It’s going to be some time before microfibre shedding is entirely eliminated, so until then we always advise our customers on the best way to minimise their impact right now.

Buy well, buy once. The cheapest clothing is shown to shed most microfibres, not to mention having the impact on labour, etc.

• Wash less often, and at lower temperature. It means shedding fewer fibres as well as reducing energy and water consumption.
• Use a front-loading washing machine. This is shown to shed approximately five times less than top loading machines.
• Use a laundry bag for washing your clothes. We love Guppy Friend… you can buy one here.