Soft, sleek, elegant. Wonderfully tactile yet surprisingly hardwearing, velvet is the go to fabric for any interior designer or lover. So why are there none in my homewares collection?
After all, this business was started because of a piece of velvet I designed for my mother...
The environmental impact of the fashion industry has been well documented, but that of the interiors and homewares industry less so.
And whilst there are some magical and awe inspiring velvets out there, I don't use them for a simple reason - I can’t find any that are truly sustainable.
So why are they not sustainable? Simply, they are made from two of the most pollution fibres out there - virgin polyester or non organic cotton.
Traditionally grown cotton
Yes, classic cotton is astonishingly bad for the environment. “But it’s a natural fibre” I hear you say! Surely that’s got to count for something? Well, as we often know, sustainability can be a bit of a game of whack-a-mole. With so many different issues to take into consideration (providence, nature of the fibres, how it's grown, bio-degradability, manufacturing, workers rights etc), often as soon as one issue is resolved another pops right up.
Cotton is a tricky plant to grow, that requires sun, heat and a ton of water. It takes 2700L, or 27 bathtubs worth, to create enough cotton for a single t-shirt. It is also grown in naturally dry and hot areas, forcing farms to divert water from other crops and natural spaces. This has a huge knock on effect to the local environment, causing areas of drought. The Aral sea in Central Asia, once the world’s 4th largest lake, has now shrunk to less than half it’s original size due to unsustainable cotton farming.
Cotton is also extremely sensitive to pests, using an astonishing 6% of the world’s pesticides and 16% of all insecticides. These harmful chemicals not only affect the local fauna and flora, but also seep into the soil, poisoning water reserves. It is also industrially grown in single crop fields, degrading the soil so other plants will struggle to grow once the cotton is long gone.
All this before the raw cotton has been treated, spun, bleached, died and woven, and without considering the issues of human rights and worker conditions on cotton farms.
Polyester, on the other hand, is known to be unsustainable. The world’s most commonly used textile fibre, accounting for 52% of the world’s fabric in 2020, it is man made, cheap, hardwearing and easy to produce. But fundamentally, it is plastic in fabric form.
It is made by creating a chemical reaction between oils (fossil fuels), coal, air and water. Whilst it doesn’t have the same impact on land as natural fibres, its production requires a huge amount of energy. If the current industry continues to grow as predicted, the production of polyester could use up to a quarter of our carbon budget* but 2050 (*That’s the amount we can pollute each year without creating a complete ecological breakdown)
Polyester is also known for shedding microfibres each time it is washed. These microscopic shards of plastic then get into the waterways, wildlife and, as of recently, have been even found in humans.
All the fabrics I use are as sustainable as I can find, and I am constantly trying to update and improve wherever I can. In 2 years of running this business, days of research and probably a hundred emails, I have yet to find a sustainable velvet fabric I can print my art on.
Sometimes I kick myself for staying firm in my resolve to be as sustainable as I can. After all, just throwing sustainability out the window would make this business so much easier to run. I would be able to make a lot more products. I would have more time. And I would definitely be making more money.
But I have a fundamental belief that you can never create a thing of beauty if it causes harm.
No matter how stunning, no matter how nice to look at, no matter how uplifting, inspiring, magical…. If it causes harm then it simply has become ugly.
So that’s why there are no velvets, only sumptuous linens, elegant organic and recycled cottons and high tech fabrics like Tencel. I am not willing to compromise!
Explore all my beautiful and sustainable pieces below!