At Ecosophy, we aim to use natural fibres that have been produced in an organic or ecologically sensitive manner. What we mean by this is an approach to cultivation that is holistic – taking into account the long-term health of soils, ecosystems and producers – and which views the environment as a living community rather than just a resource. Below are the fibres we are currently using in our collections.
As a natural fibre, cotton is inherently more environmentally friendly than synthetic fibres, like polyester, which are made of petroleum, and regenerated fibres, like viscose, which are produced using chemically intensive methods. For most of history, cotton was considered a hardy, drought-resistant crop and was grown easily using environmentally friendly methods. However, in the 1800s, cotton became a global commodity and industrial methods began to be applied to its planting, such as the use of chemical inputs, irrigation and monoculture. While these methods initially resulted in higher yields, they also led to a loss of biodiversity on farms, soil degradation and sickness among farm workers - a toxic cocktail that led to cotton being labelled the world's 'dirtiest' crop.
Today, cotton accounts for around 35% of world fibre but only 1% of it is organic. The farmers who use organic methods are true environmental heroes. Instead of planting cotton as a monocrop, they grow it alongside other crops, such as lentils, rice and soy beans, which creates a biodiverse ecosystem. This reduces the likelihood of a pest outbreak, thus decreasing the need for pesticides, and enables cotton to be grown as part of a diverse cropping system that provides an array of ecological benefits. When pests do become a problem, farmers use natural methods of control, such as manure and neem oil, and plant 'sacrificial crops' which attract pests away from the cotton. Instead of using petroleum-based fertiliser, farmers enrich the soil with manure and compost, and plant legumes, which add nitrogen to the soil naturally. There is also an emphasis on employing rainwater harvesting techniques in order to reduce the amount of groundwater used for irrigation.
Organic production offers many benefits to farmers, but a key obstacle to its uptake is the lack of a reliable market for organic crops. The premium received by organic cotton farmers is quite low and there is still relatively little demand from consumer brands. By purchasing organic cotton, consumers can help organic farmers in their quest to transform cotton production into a financially and environmentally sustainable livelihood.
Our bed linen collection is made of 100% organic and fair trade cotton. Shop the collection here.
Like cotton, silk is a natural fibre whose popularity has had some negative impacts. Conventional silk comes from the cocoons of the mulberry silkworm. These silkworms, which feed on the leaves of the mulberry tree, have been domesticated to the extent that when they turn into moths, they are unable to fly. They are therefore reared in captivity, usually in rattan baskets, and are hand-fed leaves. The shininess of silk is due partly to the structure of the fibre, but partly to the fact that the silk worm is killed while it is still in the cocoon. This means that the cocoon is not broken and the fibre can be unraveled as one continuous thread.
Although silkworms are killed in the process of silk production, on the whole this is actually a relatively sustainable form of fibre production. It is a low-waste and largely chemical-free process, and is practised mostly by rural communities in developing countries. In many of these communities, the silk worms are eaten and they represent an important source of protein.There are also several ecological benefits associated with mulberry trees. However, as with cotton, the popularity of silk has led to mulberry trees sometimes being cultivated with chemical inputs in order to maximise short-term results. This has had negative impacts on the soil and the insects that live on the mulberry trees. In light of these concerns, we have decided to use alternative types of silk that have a better environmental profile. The two main types we use are listed below.
Wild silk comes from the cocoons of silkworms that live semi-autonomously in forests. Much of it is produced in the tribal areas of Eastern India, where it provides a source of income and an incentive for people to conserve the forests. Unlike mulberry silkworms, which are entirely domesticated and need to be hand fed, wild silkworms, such as the Tussar species, live on trees and are able to find food by themselves.
Wild silk comes in various shades of brown, beige and gold, reflecting the different trees the silkworms have fed on. The threads are shorter than those of mulberry silk and are hand spun rather than reeled. This creates a more 'slubby' fabric with a subtle pattern created by the different thread lengths and thicknesses. It is less uniform and shiny than conventional silk, but has a subtle glimmer instead. Our wild silk cushion cover is a good example of this.
Matka silk is a form of upcycled silk. It is made from short threads that have been discarded in the process of making mulberry silk. The short threads are spun into fabric that has an uneven texture, like wild silk, but a white colour. Matka silk produces a beautiful fabric that is both light and soft, like a combination of cotton and cashmere. When placed in sunlight, it shimmers subtly. Currently, we are using matka silk for our sofa throw and cushion cover.