That time I green-washed you... and what we are doing differently now

by Amelia Barnes on September 20, 2018

Truth: five and a half years ago I started Prana Vida not having a hot clue what I was doing. I would go to the fabric store, pick out the fabrics I loved the most and then run around the city buying up every roll, cut leggings in my windowless basement laundry room, walk them over to my seamstress Alicia who lived down the street, and then pick them up, pack them and ship them. Things have come a long way since then!

In the beginning, sustainability wasn’t even on my radar when it came to fabric selection. But as I learnt more about the horrendous environmental impact of the fashion industry, I knew I needed to make a change. In fall 2017 I launched my line of bamboo leggings (made of 66% rayon from bamboo, 28% cotton, and 6% spandex) and they were an instant hit, receiving over 450 five star reviews in just a few months!

In 2018, I decided to really align my actions with my values and go "zero waste", and this opened up a whole new perspective on what it means to be truly eco-friendly. As you know if you’ve been following along over this past year, I’ve been writing emails about this transition in all areas of life, shedding light on deeper layers of truth and some of the hard realities that often get ignored. (which I'll now be sharing in blog form as well!)

With the upcoming launch of our Winter collection (pre-sale begins October 4!), I want to share with you why we have now fully transitioned to a new Eucalyptus-based fabric for our leggings and (NEW) bras, and what some of our longer-term sustainability goals are!


Why not bamboo?

When I started digging deeper into the textile industry at the beginning of 2018, I felt confident that I’d just turn up more of all the amazing ways bamboo fabric is eco-friendly and sustainable. Because at the time that is all I had read and what I believed! What I didn’t know about was:

a) the thick layers of greenwash that overlook the negative impact processing wood-based cellulose fibres (aka rayon, viscose) often has on the environment, the workers and the people living near the factories (this 2017 report exposes all of the issues), and
b) the huge problems associated with non-organic cotton, which accounts for 28% of the fibre content of our bamboo fabric to add strength and stability. (read this email to learn more)

The more and more I researched, the stronger I felt that although the bamboo fabric is better option than polyester and the growing of the bamboo plant itself is very eco-friendly, I had to do better. I mean, bamboo viscose and conventional cotton are only ranked as Class E on the environmental benchmark for fibres! Yikes. 

But what else could we use? I knew how disappointed everyone would be if we stopped making your beloved leggings, and I know I couldn’t live without them! I trusted that I would find a solution, and that it would be just as amazing as the bamboo. And oh boy did I ever!

Tencel® Lyocell

All our leggings and bras will now be made out of a blend of Tencel® Lyocell from eucalyptus (66%), GOTS certified organic cotton (GOTS ensures the growing and manufacturing/dyeing is organic) (28%) and spandex (6%). Lyocell and organic cotton are ranked Class B on the environmental benchmark.

We will be offering two variations of this fabric: Euphoria, which has a fleecy interior that is nearly identical in feel to the Bliss fleece-lined bamboo leggings (so fear not!), and Breeze a non-lined medium thickness fabric (a bit thicker than the Light bamboo leggings, similar to your typical yoga leggings like Lululemon). The fabric is even more silky, buttery soft than the bamboo (I know, hard to believe that’s possible!), and just as breathable and temperature regulating. It's also OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certified, meaning that it contains no harmful substances.

Why Tencel® Lyocell?

Lyocell is the new kid on the block when it comes to cellulose fibres. I could go on and on (and if you are interested you could dive into Lenzing’s 126 page 2017 sustainability report, or this article provides a clear summary and explains how lyocell compares to earlier generations of cellulose fibres), but I’ll just sum up some of the main advantages for you:

  • The Tencel® Lyocell we're using is made by Lenzing, a renowned Austrian company, and has won many environmental awards like the European Eco-Label, which means it complies with high environmental standards for production and products

  • What’s revolutionary about Tencel® manufacturing is that 99.8 percent of the solvent (magnesium bisulphite) is recovered and reused using a closed loop manufacturing process. The remaining emissions are broken down in biological water treatment plants. The solvent is not acidic, does not remain in the fibre, and has been proven harmless.

  • Factories producing Tencel® are designed and operated to achieve low levels of emissions and minimize energy consumption.

  • The eucalyptus forests from which its cellulose is obtained are also carefully managed and harvested. Eucalyptus grows quickly and without irrigation, pesticides, fertilizers or genetic manipulation; it can also be planted on marginal land that cannot be used for food crops.

  • Lyocell is the first cellulose fibre to use nanotechnology, which produces ultra-fine fibres (nanofibrils). The nanofibrils create an extremely soft fabric, optimize absorption of moisture, and regulate temperature.

  • It is naturally antibacterial and remains odour-free for multiple wearings, which means fewer washings and saving on water. Synthetics like polyester have hundreds to thousands of times higher bacteria count over the same time periods as lyocell.

  • The success of the Tencel® manufacturing process has provided a template for the potential improvement of production methods for other fibres and textile recycling. For example, Lenzing just launched their REFIBRA™ technology, which uses cotton scraps from the textile industry as a raw material in addition to wood cellulose to produce Tencel® lyocell. Lyocell has also been made from hemp (LyohempTM), and from bamboo (Monocel®), but I haven't been able to find sources of these yet.

What's next?

Two things I'm not satisfied with are: the 6% spandex (a synthetic that ranks as a class E on the environmental benchmark for fibres), and the fact that cotton requires a huge amount of water to grow. It takes 2,700 litres of water to make one cotton T-shirt. That's enough for one person to drink for 900 days. What's more, organic cotton needs even more water than conventional cotton to grow.

Now that I have more buying power I’m currently working with my fabric supplier to make a blend of lyocell using organic hemp instead of organic cotton (organic hemp requires far less water to grow and is ranked a class A). And the evolution of plant-based biodegradable spandex is around the corner. I'm sure in the not-so-far future we’ll be able to kick our sustainability up another notch!

Much love and gratitude,