We cannot really say which item is more ecological: a t-shirt made with organic cotton, or an activewear top made of recycled synthetic material. Moreover, an ecological material is neither a guarantee of ethical conditions in the supply chain nor proof of future longevity. Organic cotton does not mean that the cotton has been farmed or the fabric has been made in fair conditions. Recycled materials are not a guarantee of a perfectly-fitting item that you want to use month after month. We are sure you can see the problems around being sustainable; there are many ways to be sustainable.
When it comes to the sustainability of an item, instead of just checking the material in the care label we should look at the whole supply chain. There are 11 major steps in the supply chain; an item can only be sustainable if all the steps are ethical and transparent.
In the textile industry, raw materials are either natural (from nature) or petroleum oil-based. The raw material is processed into fibres.
The process of transforming raw materials into fibres for yarns and fabric making depends a lot on the used raw material. Fibres can be natural, semi-synthetic or man-made. Natural fibres are usually farmed and can be plant-based such as cotton or animal-based such as wool. Semi-synthetic means the fibre is man-made but based on natural raw material such as bamboo and cellulose. Man-made fibres can be non-organic, meaning glass or metal, or organic meaning oil-based or wooden fibres.
Transforming oil to fibres is a chemical process and in fact, synthetic fibres can be dyed during this stage of the supply chain.
Different fibres can be spun individually or mixed into yarns that are used to weave fabric.
Népra uses a mix of polyamide and elastane in activewear items and a mix of recycled cotton and recycled polyester in lazywear. We always choose recycled material if we find a material that is a match for our high requirements of durability and comfort.
The fabric making process includes weaving the fabric, dying processes, and different treatments to finalise the fabric with the right features. It is normally heavy in chemical use but an activewear fabric completely without chemicals is not suitable for long-term sweating, for example. Synthetic materials need fewer chemicals in the treatment process than natural materials.
Companies who make fabrics need to ensure that the wastewater is dealt with properly, and ideally after purification that it is reused. Big factories use lots of energy for electricity and heating and there are ways to keep these on track too.
Our design process including preliminary ideas and concepts, pattern making, and prototyping takes place in Hämeenlinna, Finland. Design, that is planning the item before creating the item, is a crucial part of Népra’s sustainability values. Our goal is to only design long-lasting items that are suitable for holistic training, sweating, and washing time and time again.
Material choice, together with the following step of pattern making, are the most important parts of the design. For our purpose, a synthetic material is still a better long term choice than a cotton t-shirt, which does not survive under the demanding conditions of intense training and washing. We are closely following the discussion about the possibilities that new technologies enable in the future.
Pattern makingOnce we have the perfect fabric the most ecological thing to do is create a perfectly-fitting item. Pattern making is the core of this. We sweat and constantly move in our activewear. Népra activewear needs to feel comfortable and stay in place while resisting abrasion, and it needs to last and last after many washes. This longevity makes our activewear environmentally friendly as well.
This part of the supply chain we try to keep as short as possible to avoid unnecessary waste. If pattern making and material selection are the core of a perfectly-fitting and long-lasting item, prototyping is there to ensure that the product meets the criteria.
Cut & Sewing
The textile industry is the most labour-intensive industry in the world, meaning there are human beings like you and me behind the sewing machines. All humans ought to be equals and that means ethical manufacturing is non-negotiable for us.
We aim to produce only small batches of timeless items without seasons. We would rather sell out of a small batch of contemporary items than produce too much of something that could just as easily end up in waste.
A commonly-forgotten aspect of sustainable clothing is transportation. Clothes that are made close to you are a more ecological choice than clothes transported from far away. Our activewear fabrics come from northern Italy and our activewear is manufactured close to us in Tallinn. Our stock is located in Hämeenlinna, Finland.
It is also often forgotten that 15-30% of the environmental footprint of any garment comes from its ongoing use. We as the users of clothing play a key role when it comes to the lifespan of an item. The longer you can use one piece of clothing, the more ecological the item is. The average person buys 60% more clothes, while keeping them for just half as long, as 15 years ago [Fashion Revolution/Greenpeace].
If you need tips on how to take better care of your clothing, read our Take Care Guide.
At the moment, it is still not possible to recycle clothing in a closed loop, meaning used clothing cannot be used for new clothing. The problem is that clothing waste is hard to sort out per material. In addition, elastane has been possible to remove from polyamide or polyester only under small-scale research circumstances.
What if you don’t want to use your Népra item any more? If the item is completely worn out, you can recycle it with your plastic waste, which is normally burned for energy. If the item is still in top condition, you can sell it, change it with a friend to another item, or give it away for somebody else to use and enjoy.
Recycling raw materials
The quality of oil-based raw materials does not suffer from recycling and in fact, plastic can be recycled endlessly.
It is more common to see recycled synthetic fabrics than recycled natural fabrics. Recycled natural materials always need the support of synthetic material to guarantee better quality.