By Wanda Jankowski
Options in home textiles created with natural fibers
No longer solely the province of “tree-hugging” environmentalists, goods created with natural fibers are being sought out by a broader range of consumers who seek to maintain their health using preventative measures, surrounding themselves with foods and furnishings that promote wellness and comfort for themselves, their children and the planet.
“The ‘green’ trend is becoming invisible,” writes Jill Sands, in the Winter 2013 Edition of “The Trend Forecaster.” “Like technology, it’s become a part of our everyday lives, so we don’t see it. It’s here, it’s all around us, yet no longer in our faces!”
Surya recently announced its membership in the Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC). The council, formed in 2006, serves as a repository of knowledge on issues involving sustainability and provides best practice guidelines.
Surya has been increasing its collection of products made with natural materials in response to the growing need in the marketplace. “As a home accessories manufacturer, we look for ways to work smarter and eliminate waste wherever possible within the supply chain. Joining the SFC organization will give us more tools to affect industry change and a platform to share valuable information with other manufacturers and retailers,” says Satya Tiwari, president, Surya.
An important reminder in offering products made with natural fibers is that there are quality differences when it comes to the fibers themselves as well as how they are processed, woven and finished.
“Mulberry silk, which refers to the leaf silkworms digest, makes the finest silk in terms of color, durability, long strand and feel. Habotai silk has good properties and a place, but it is inferior to Mulberry,” explains John Kenmuir, who is vice-president of Manito Silk, a company that uses only 100 percent long-staple Mulberry silk in its products.
Product quality is also judged by the weight and weave of the silk. “All silk threads are extremely fine. It takes many fibers to make a visible thread and many threads to make a fabric,” says Kenmuir. “This is why silk is measured by weight or momme count: 100 yards of material 45 inches wide weighs ‘X’ pounds. If the number (X) is 22, it’s 22 momme.
“The thread count is irrelevant; most quality silk fabric for bedding would be in the 400 range (we offer 450). If somebody claims a high thread count but a similar or lower momme count, their threads are too thin,” says Kenmuir.
“Weave should also be considered. We use a lush charmeuse weave. So you tell good from not so good by momme count, weave, silk type, but also the credibility of what is being claimed and the look of the product,” concludes Kenmuir.
Creative Women uses Ethiopian cotton in its products. “First of all, not many people know about it,” says Ellen Dorsch, Creative Women founder. “I have found that there is an appeal for many stores to carry something that other stores don’t have and is slightly exotic, yet contemporary. Second, the Ethiopian products Creative Women sells are made from hand-spun cotton, which is softer than machine spun. Most hand-woven cotton textiles are made from machine-spun cotton. Third, there is a district in Ethiopia that has the perfect climate for growing cotton; it is still grown by small producers who can pay more attention to the growing cycle than bigger farms.”
Abyss & Habidecor, with its factory based in Portugal, uses 100 percent Giza 70 Egyptian cotton. “We are the factory, unlike many companies selling textiles,” says Leslie Connell, vice-president of U.S. sales and operations, Abyss & Habidecor.
Although not all products made with natural fibers are produced in an eco-friendly or sustainable way, all of Abyss & Habidecor’s products are Oeko-Tex certified.
“In fact, our factory exceeds the standards of Oeko-Tex,” says Connell. “We have a complete waste water filtration system on site. The water used for dying is placed in a three-stage water filtration system. The tanks are teeming with micro-organisms that consume the dyestuffs remaining in the water and convert them into environmentally harmless solids that are pressed into sheets used for garden compost. The water that remains in the last tank can be released into a stream without causing any harm to nature. However, we reuse the water.”
Whether it’s wool, cotton, linen, silk, jute, hemp or other more exotic fibers, you can’t solely rely on the fact that they come from Mother Nature in evaluating the degree of “organic” or eco-friendly production and the quality of the finished good. That process requires the human touch.