Does “100% cotton” mean a garment is plastic-free?

At Honest Basics we are committed to making our products even more sustainable than they already are. Sure our t-shirts are GOTS-certified and made from organic cotton. But why stop there?

One of our focus points is becoming plastic-free. Or to be more precise: not use any virgin plastic in our products or packaging. And we hope to achieve this in the next 2-3 years. With virgin plastic we mean non-recycled plastic. In some cases it might still be interesting to use recycled plastic, for example to make outerwear from recycled polyester.

Circling back to the main question: does “100% cotton” mean a garment is plastic-free? No, most likely it doesn’t. We identified four areas in which hidden plastic is used in garments. And when you look around you’ll note that this hidden plastic is unfortunately in almost all garments, also in ours at the moment. We’re going to get a bit technical now!

  1. Polybag. It is standard practice in the fashion industry to pack each garment individually in a transparent polybag. You’ve seen them probably when you receive a package from e.g. Zalando or Asos. They are single-use (just for transport) and the first thing you do is throw them away.
  1. Stitching yarns. The yarns used to stitch the seams in your garments are made from polyester. Polyester has in these cases very specific functional benefits, such as the smooth surface which make it perfect to use on industrial sewing machines.
  1. Labels. The labels in your garments are usually made from polyester. For example that beautiful label with the brand name on it. Or the label with the care instructions on it.
  1. Elastane. A man-made fiber from non-renewable resources. It is added to garments to bring extra comfort to the wearer.

So, what are we doing at Honest Basics to get rid of the hidden plastic in our garments? First the easy one: all polybags are banned. For our new summer drop we use a paper-wrapper. And for the winter drop we’re checking out polybags from recycled LDPE (water bottles) that are also compostable.

Concerning stitching yarns we do not have a direct solution. Switching to yarns from natural fibers, such as cotton yarns, is not possible. Because these yarns are much less strong than polyester yarns, which might mean that seams might tear after a couple of washes. We can’t accept that of course.

As a possible solution we’re checking out Tencell-yarns. These supposedly have the same characteristics as polyester yarn, but are made from natural sources. We’re still in the first stage of researching this, it will take some months to find the right yarns and then check-out if we can use them in our supply chain.

For labels we’re checking possibilities to switch to recycled polyester for the labels with the care instructions. And for the sweaters that are launching end of this year we’re checking for labels made out of cotton!

Lastly elastane: for this one we do not even have a possible solution yet. We do use it in our garments, for example we have some tank tops coming at the end of March which contain elastane. We decided to use it, because these kind of garments without elastane would be quite uncomfortable. So this last point is something that needs a lot of work. We will keep looking and speaking with others in the fashion industry to see if we can find some solution for it.

To wrap it up: we’re on our way to achieve our goal of not using any virgin plastic in our products in the next 2-3 years. The easy solutions we’ve achieved. The slightly more complicated ones like the labelling and stitching yarn will need some work from us and our production partners. But we’re confident that we can achieve them eventually. Keep you posted!!

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