What does it really mean when a brand says that the fabric they’re using is biodegradable? Is it going to fall apart in the wash? Or worse, is it greenwashing and marketing hype?
Byron Bay based fashion and lifestyle brand, and one of the trailblazers on the path to integrate sustainability into Australian fashion, Spell (they began transitioning their fabrications and looking deeper into their supply chain back in 2015 when sustainability was only in the vernacular of bamboo wearing Yogis!) decided to really put their claims to the test. Over a four month period, they put six fabrications from their Summer collection into their office compost worm farm (which by the way, is super beautiful, check it out here) to see what happened.
It turns out, the claims are correct, and all of the swatches broke down in the compost, with the exception of their swimwear fabrication (a synthetic fabric made from recycled polyamide and elastane, that gives new life to pre- and post-consumer nylon waste like carpet and
abandoned fishing nets).What does this mean for your clothes? It doesn’t mean they are going to fall apart or that the fabrics are not hearty, but what it does mean is that in the right conditions (like in a compost where microorganisms are flourishing and the ratios of nitrogen and carbon are in balance) the fibres will break down and return to the land, rather than slowly decaying in less than ideal settings.
Spell’s Sustainability Specialist, Angie Menghini said that whilst they primarily use plant based and certified fibres that are known to be biodegradable, it was really great for the Spell team to see these biodegradability claims in action.
“We always ensure the facts we share have documented evidence and have our annual Impact Report fully audited by an external auditor each year to verify all of our claims. Unfortunately there is little to no regulation at the moment on what brands can claim, which can make it hard for consumers to know what to believe!” Angie said. “Terms like ‘natural’ and ‘biodegradable’ have become such buzzwords as brands try to communicate their sustainability efforts and materials used, so for our team, this was an amazingly involved experiment to see first-hand that these fibres break down.”
According to a report by the Australian Fashion Council, Australians are currently sending 260,000 tonnes of their wardrobes to the landfill each year. That’s equal to about 10kg of clothing per person every year.
Check out Spell’s 15 week experiment:
We chose six of our fabrications from our Summer 2022 collection to be a part of our fibre composting experiment:
• 100% linen
• 45% LENZINGTM ECOVEROTM viscose 55% viscose
• 100% LENZINGTM ECOVEROTM viscose
• 50% organic cotton 50% LENZINGTM ECOVEROTM viscose
• 100% organic cotton poplin
• 85% recycled polyamide 15% elastane
After cutting each swatch to the same size, we secured a waterproof label to the fabric with a cable loop before tethering them to the side of the compost and burying them into the humus.
We use our office compost to dispose of our HQ team’s food scraps each day and balance the nitrogen with carbon by adding shredded paper from printed documents that are no longer needed. One to two times a week, we stir the compost in order to mix and aerate. There is also an abundant worm population that helps to break down the food, aerate the soil and keep unwanted bacteria populations in check. At the end of each week, we dug up our fabric swatches, snapped photos and noted the changes.
The final check at the end of week 15–all that remained was a couple tiny scraps of linen and organic cotton poplin! Visibly, the recycled polyamide blend still had not changed much, but the fabric quality, stretch and rebound has deteriorated (think of your very old bikini from the back of the drawer you pull out and stretch to put on but they crackle and don’t bounce back).
Shop Spell! https://usa.spell.co/