October 18 2021 – Diana Aldescu
What is fleece and how sustainable is it?
Hello everyone, welcome to our Fabric of the Week series. This week we are going to take a look at yet another fabric, fleece. Curious to know more?
We have never used this fabric before, but we did some investigation. We found how this fabric is made, and its pros and cons. Of course, you know us, we will be answering the big question, is it sustainable? We will keep it 100% real and let you guys know our thoughts on this fabric. Let’s dive in!
Origins of fleece
Fleece may not be very old but it has its history. Fleece originated in the 1970s and was created by Malden Mills. Malden Mills was a manufacturing company from Hudson, New Hampshire. They are known for producing faux fur and faux wool garments and of course, all modern fleece. The company was keen on replicating the insulating nature of natural materials. But, without actually using any animal products. So this is how a replica of wool was created, named fleece.
Aaron Feuerstein, the owner of Malden Mills, decided not to patent fleece. This allowed fleece to be accessible to the rest. The company is now known as PoalrTec and continues to make its famous fleece today.
How is the fleece fabric made?
Fleece is made by combining recycled yarn with virgin yarn. From trash to textiles, the recycled yarn is often made of recycled plastic. The recycled plastic often comes from soda bottles. Fleece offers warmth from waste.
The process involved in making fleece has a lot of steps. We have put together for you the main ones:
-The yarn unwinds into a huge circular knitting machine.
-Hundreds of tiny needles grab and stitch the recycled yarn and virgin yarn together. The machine can generate almost one meter of this fabric combo every two minutes.
-Big metal brackets flatten the knitted fabric so it can be taken up by a spool.
-This is then taken to the laundry department where the fabric is washed and dried.
-The fabric gets dyed under pressure with a water-repellent chemical.
Benefits of the fleece fabric
Warmth: Fleece is super warm. Everyone knows this, but there is more to it. That fuzzy inside of your fleece has a cool function. It creates room for air pockets that hold your body heat inside the garment with you. We call this a smart fabric.
Water-resistant: Plastic plays a role in this function. You’ll notice after doing your laundry, your fleece clothes will dry the fastest. Super convenient.
Wrinkle-resistant: Who doesn’t love a fabric that never wrinkles?
Machine-washable: Always a plus. Not everyone has the budget and effort for dry cleaning, let’s be honest.
Vegan wool: Fleece is a great alternative to wool and has similar properties.
Comfy: The fabric is knitted, so it is stretchy. This makes fleece a super comfy fabric.
Inexpensive: It is fairly cheap for manufacturers to produce this fabric.
Lightweight: Compared to wool, fleece is a very lightweight fabric. It is also soft and flexible. Ideal combo.
Durable: Fleece is a very durable fabric. In the long run, fleece will outlast other natural fabrics such as wool. Fleece also tears better.
And now, some cons
Flammable: Fleece is highly flammable as it is made with plastic. Maybe don’t stand too close to a fire wearing this fabric.
Not windproof: Although fleece is a very warm fabric, it is not windproof as some people might believe.
Sensitive to high temperatures: Fleece will not survive high temperatures. So, this fabric cannot be tumble dried or ironed.
High maintenance: Fleece is prone to attract dust, pet hair, lint and all sorts of things flying around. This is due to the fabric having a high amount of static electricity.
Now comes the real questions…
Is fleece sustainable?
Well, fleece is made from non-renewable sources. On top of that, it also needs an extra chemical coating. The primary ‘ingredient’ in fleece is plastic. Although this plastic is recycled, it still poses a problem to the environment. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, so sooner or later it will still end up in landfills.
Despite its durability, fleece is prone to pilling. After some washes, these annoying balls on the fabric will make an appearance. This makes the fabric look dingy, making people more likely to throw away their garments. This goes against all sustainability principles. This means fleece fabric has to be replaced relatively often. So much for buying long-lasting products, huh?
Now let’s get more sciency. Let’s talk about the air and water pollution caused by fleece production. As fleece is made using plastic, it is a petroleum-based fabric. The production of petroleum requires a large amount of energy and water. This puts a huge strain on our planet’s resources. It will eventually lead to something we cannot control any longer.
To make fleece waterproof, a special chemical coat has to be added. The chemical is called fluorochemicals, also known as “forever chemical”. This means, the chemicals never truly break down in the environment. These chemicals have long-lasting effects on the environment, but also on people. Fluorochemicals are associated with many health risks. Some of these are cancer, an increase in cholesterol and a weaker immune system in children. Now imagine all that released in the air.
How are these issues addressed?
Nowadays, most manufacturers use eco-fleece. Eco-fleece uses recyclable plastic, often from recycled plastic bottles. This can be seen as sustainable as it reduces the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills. It also saves up on energy and water as there is no need for new plastic to be produced.
Other versions of eco-fleece include blending fleece with other sustainable materials. You can find fleece blended with bamboo or organically- grown soy or cotton. Bamboo and organic cotton are some of the most sustainable materials out there. This is a nice mix, sustainable fabrics and recycled materials together.
So, should you buy fleece?
Well, this is a tricky question. For all you animal lovers out there, fleece is a great alternative to wool. It is cruelty-free and a pretty great fabric overall. But, there are still environmental concerns involved.
If you are looking to buy fleece, the best and most sustainable way at the moment is a second-hand fleece. You can find many local thrift stores that will sell your lovely pre-loved fleece. As well, wash it only when it is absolutely necessary to prevent the fabric from wearing off.
Sustainable brands are looking to make fleece more sustainable. Eventually, we will have a future fully eco-fleece. So, don’t lose hope! In the meantime, if you find yourself in doubt, you know where to find us, firstname.lastname@example.org.