Synthetics & Sustainability

Synthetics & Sustainability

While man-made fabrics often get a bad rap, our Tove & Libra team is of the belief that there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

Synthetic fabrics and blends have the ability to add both function and longevity to garments – but they must be used in the right way. So while that cheap poly top is likely to fall apart or trend out after a few wears, a responsibly-designed piece using synthetic elements that enhances comfort and function will actually help you purchase less in the long run. 

At Tove & Libra, at least half our collections make use of leftover designer fabrics that would otherwise be heading to landfill - and a good portion of this includes synthetic fabrics. We feel that upcycling these materials is a good compromise towards achieving our aim of providing functional modern style without compromising on sustainability. 

Besides, with advances in technology there are now man-made fabrics that have far less environmental impact than before. And in a world where no item of clothing can be perfectly produced, we feel it's important for each one of us to simply understand the environmental cost of various fibers, sans greenwashing – so while we can't be perfect, we can each make better choices. 

A semi-synthetic fabric, lyocell is produced using stringent eco-friendly processes. Also known by its trademarked name, Tencel®, you may have seen lyocell (rightfully) gaining all kinds of positive attention in recent years. 

It is also manufactured from wood cellulose, but in a closed-loop production process that minimizes waste. The consumption of dyes and energy is relatively low, which means that it uses less resources to produce than many traditional fabrics, synthetic or natural. 

The finished product is a win from both environmental, cost and style perspectives: Lyocell is every bit as breathable as cotton, while rivalling the softness and smoothness of silk. It is also extremely elastic and strong, making Lyocell clothing quite durable, and suitable for machine washing at home. Finally, the fabric’s superior drape makes it a fabulous choice for designers to create garments that can withstand the vigors of everyday life and still come out looking sophisticated.

We love this go-anywhere material so much that we now make our popular jumpsuits from 100% Tencel®, with more designs in the pipeline.

Let’s be totally frank: polyester is pretty much a type of plastic. It requires the input of fossil fuels, and it takes a very long time to degrade once discarded. But it's easy and cheap to produce and thus has become a favourite of fast fashion production.

While we abhor the widespread use of this material in disposable fashion garments, we do believe in the selective use of synthetic fabrics for the purpose of longevity. Polyester can make versatile and durable clothing – with Solotex® being an example of an enhanced polyester fabric which is wrinkle- and stain-resistant, as well as having excellent stretch recovery. These properties make it perfect for our go-anywhere pants, such as our bestselling Navy and Airy Pull-On Slim Chino.

Another upside is that polyester has the potential to be recycled almost endlessly, where producing recycled polyester requires less resources than producing virgin polyester. So it can be a less apocalyptic choice than most of us may instinctively think!

You may have noticed various types of recycled polyester, or rPET, popping up everywhere these days - the Textile Exchange actually forecasts 20 percent of all polyester to be recycled by 2030. We do try to make use of recycled Polyester yarns as well, but the limitations for small brands such as ours is usually that high minimum quantities are required to obtain these specialty fibers. This is where you have the power to be involved - as global demand increases for this option, suppliers can then make it more widely accessible.   

This group of semi-synthetic fabrics ( technically “man-made cellulosic fibers”) has risen in popularity due to their appealing softness combined with low prices. They are sometimes being touted as eco-friendly as they originate from wood pulp, usually derived from fast-growing regenerative trees such as bamboo, beech and eucalyptus. However, beware these sustainability claims, as the true story is more complicated!

Viscose and Rayon have sometimes been passed off as bamboo in a prime example of greenwashing. However, true garment-standard bamboo fiber is very different from bamboo-rayon, the former being mechanically produced which is a slower and more expensive process. Commercial Viscose and Rayon, on the other hand, are produced in a chemically-intensive process which results in an altered fiber that that is considered "semi-synthetic". This crucial distinction led the US Federal Trade Commission to rule that labelling rayon as bamboo is actually misleading – and therefore illegal – though this practice is still common.

Besides, due to their growing popularity, viscose and rayon nowadays often derive from various types of commercial wood pulp besides bamboo. The embrace of these fibers by fast fashion brands has led to a spike in the depletion of forests for this purpose.

Cupro shares a similar story. Traditionally recycled from leftover cotton yarns or garments, this fabric may be marketed as "eco-friendly". However its potential upside is then negated by a chemical process that results in toxic waste that is often improperly disposed of. Bemberg - often used in high-end apparel linings - is a type of Cupro that is made using a more responsible process, but accordingly costs more. 

Besides all this, cellulosic fibers come in varying quality levels. Generally, you will probably get what you pay for - where cheap items made with these fibers will likely tear, crease or pill quite easily, besides probably having been produced with lax environmental standards.

We do incorporate viscose and rayon blended with other yarns, due to its silk-like softness and smoothness. As with other synthetics we start by sourcing from deadstock materials. Where we do use virgin viscose, we ensure that it has been sourced from FSC-certified forests, and is of a high grade that minimizes creasing and pilling.