We have North America’s leading selection of environmentally responsible, ethically sourced and sustainable apparel and materials in the promotional products industry. We work with our clients to ensure their merchandise reflects their values and animates their story. Learn how you can make better decisions about the merchandise you’re buying with the beginner’s guide to sustainable materials.
THE FAIRWARE GUIDE TO SUSTAINABLE APPAREL
PRODUCT WITH PURPOSE
Fairware helps you to better engage your customers, employees and partners through the creation of sustainable, custom branded products. We ensure your promotional merchandise helps tell your story and animate your brand.
Our mission is to change the world through the simple act of buying. We’re committed change makers and we’re serious about sustainability.
We bring emerging retail, consumer and sustainability trends to the forefront of promotional campaigns and product assortments. We’re sustainable brand strategists and merchandise is our medium.
We do the homework on ethical sourcing and sustainable materials so you can rest assured that your marketing merchandise lines up with your values.
Thanks, Team Fairware
Fairware is a full service promotional merchandise company and certifie d B Corporation – we provide custom branded promotional products and corporate gifts to North America’s leading sustainable brands and change makers. We have North America’s leading selection of environmentally responsible and ethically sourced promotional products from a vetted supply chain and we work with our clients to ensure their merchandise reflects their values and animates their story.
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What Makes a T-Shirt Sustainable? 100% Organic Cotton Organic Cotton Blends Recycled Polyester (rPET) Fabric Blend Conventional Cotton Conventional PET Tri-Blend OEKO-Tex 100 Overview PFC-Free Bottom Line
WHAT MAKES A T-SHIRT SUSTAINABLE?
We make a lot of t-shirts for our clients. Over the years, we’ve seen a wide range of styles and designs and we consider ouselves experts on materials, fit, and quality. Here’s a primer on our favourite sustainable fabrics. While we set out to help our clients design the perfect tee, we can’t lose sight of the fact that global textile production is one of the planet’s most polluting industries. Trucost estimates that the textile industry is responsible for as much as 17-20 percent of industrial pollution in our rivers and land. Roughly two billion t-shirts are sold annually worldwide.
The environmental cost of the textile industry makes it critical to design shirts that are low impact and high quality so that after they’re worn once, they’re kept to be worn again. We all have one or two dozen t-shirts in our closet, and when we ask our clients, they admit they wear the same four or five tees over and over. Our goal is to create those t-shirts, the top drawer tees, the go-to favourites. With that in mind, here is a rundown of the different types of textiles commonly used in t-shirts. We focus on sustainable textiles, but have added our top selling conventional materials as well.
Certified organic cotton fabric contains no pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers or genetically modified seeds (GMOs). There are different standards for organic agricultural compliance in each country, so the country of origin of the organic fabric is a key component to designing a t-shirt in line with your values. Organic fabrics hold many sustainable benefits . Simply put, they prevent water and soil contamination, decrease pollution caused by pesticides and improve biodiversity.
T-shirts made with 100% organic cotton have a smooth texture and feel softer than a traditional 100% cotton t-shirt. Organic cotton is hypoallergenic and breathable.
100% ORGANIC COTTON
Check out this detailed Life Cycle Assessment Report by the Textile Exchange on Organic Cotton.
ORGANIC COTTON BLENDS ORGANIC COTTON + BAMBOO RAYON BLENDS When bamboo is blended with organic cotton, it makes for a breathable and durable t-shirt. Bamboo fabric has the natural ability to absorb moisture, is antibacterial and mold resistant. The bamboo plant has sustainable attributes itself. It’s renewable, a great carbon sink, and fast growing. The processing of bamboo is chemically intensive and in the past few years has garnered the attention of the Federal Trade Commission for misleading consumers as to its environmental benefits. Most bamboo fabric is created through a chemical process very similar to the production of rayon from wood or cotton. As such, it has to be labelled as ‘rayon from bamboo’ to avoid overstating the benefits.
ORGANIC COTTON + HEMP BLENDS Hemp is considered to be one of the most
environmentally friendly textiles as it needs very little water, grows fast and does not use any chemicals. Impressively, this also applies to conventional hemp farming. Hemp and organic cotton blends are very light, insulating, durable, and hypoallergenic.
RECYCLED POLYESTER (RPET) FABRIC BLEND RPET stands for Recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate, also known as Recycled contamination, air and water pollution, and requires less
Polyester. It is made from discarded plastic water bottles, which helps to keep them out of the landfill and reduce the amount of petroleum used to produce new polyester fibres.
energy to manufacture than new polyester. Most importantly, plastic degenerates each time it’s reheated, so it can’t be infinitely recycled into new water bottles because it won’t meet food grade standards. Recycled polyester provides a great new use for that plastic.
The Textile Exchange promotes the use of rPET, as it reduces soil
RPET blends have a smooth texture, good drape and are durable.
We recommend staying away from conventional cotton. Yes, organic cotton is a premium material, but it’s worth the investment. The chemicals used in conventional cotton farming have detrimental impacts, notably reducing biodiversity, disrupting ecosystems, and contaminating water and soil. While organic cotton t-shirts are priced higher than your low cost event give- away tees, if you’re accustomed to buying nice quality t-shirts, you’ll be surprised to learn that the prices are comparable or sometimes even less for organic cotton. Depending on the source of the fabric, the final aesthetic of the cotton will vary. A conventional cotton fabric has a matte finish and a soft hand feel.
While many people are unaware, slavery is still in practice in modern conventional cotton farming, specifically in Uzbekistan.
What is PET?
Petrochemicals make polyester (PET). It is a synthetic nonbiodegradable and unsust ainable fibre. Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the world’s commonly used polyester fibre. Conventional PET is often used for athleticwear. Polyester is a low-maintenance, fast drying and wrinkle free material. It can be treated with a myriad of finishes for different technical benefits like adding wicking and anti-bacterial properties. Keep in mind that these finishes are chemical additives that
impact of this material. Also consider that this fabric will be in contact with your largest organ, your skin, and these chemicals will be absorbed into your body. In the cases where we can’t use an rPET fabric, we recommend sourcing from a reputable supplier with a strong commitment to environmental management practices and
As its name indicates, there are textiles that are composed of tri-blend fabrics: polyester, cotton, and rayon. Each fiber adds a specific function to the material. The polyester adds strength and durability, the cotton provides wicking and breathability, and the rayon brings softness. While we’ve learned already about polyester and cotton, we haven’t yet touched on rayon. Rayon is a wood fibre, but it doesn’t always have a sustainable supply chain. Old growth forests are often cleared and/or subsistence farmers are displaced to make way for pulpwood plantations.
Some manufacturers of rayon are working to create sustainable supply chains for their fibre sources. TENCEL®, for example, is a branded rayon with a transparent supply chain. The material is obtained from eucalyptus trees grown on farms. The pulp produced for TENCEL® has earned Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, which means it comes from responsibly managed forests. Tri-blends are popular for their super-soft feel and stretch properties. Essentially, they are a good match for activewear or a vintage look and feel.
Screen printing on tri-blend shirts does present some difficulties due to the properties of polyester and rayon.
OEKO-TEX 100 OVERVIEW
When we source conventional t-shirts we look to suppliers that meet the international OEKO-TEX® standard. As an independent textile testing institute, the association works for enhanced product safety to ensure that fabrics:
• Do not contain allergenic dyes or colouring agents, which can deliver carcinogens and Azo dyes • Are tested for residues of pesticicdes and chlorinated phenols • Have been tested for heavy metals being dispersed as a result of contact with sweat
• Have no formaldehyde or the formaldehyde present is under the North American limit • Have a pH close to your skin’s own pH level
Perfluorinated carbons (PFCs) are manufactured compounds that are used in durable water repellent (DWR) treatments of high-performance outerwear to create a breathable fabric that is water and oil repellent. Studies have shown that PFCs have the potential to cause environmental and health issues, leading many industry- leading brands to move away from PFCs. Our trusted suppliers have begun to eliminate harsh chemicals, transitioning to safer alternatives and processes that are better for the environment, and their DWR outerwear is as durable and resistant as ever. Ask us to show you PFC-Free options.
BOTTOM LINE We’re working to ensure our clients are educated about the product that they’re receiving. Our clients trust our deeper understanding of product and supply chain and are grateful to be provided with information they can share with their team and the recipients of their branded merchandise. At Fairware, we like to think of ourselves as brand guardians; we make merchandise that aligns with our client’s values.
Check out some of our resources below to learn more about sustainable products and some projects we've done in the past!
START A PROJECT
Knowing a t-shirt has sustainable fabric doesn’t say anything about the factory conditions that make them. View our e-book Ethical Sourcing - Assessing Your Supply Chain for more details on how to ethically source through the entire supply chain.
No one else does promotional merchandise quite like we do.
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