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Swiss Company Develops Sharp Looking, Compostable Fabric

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Leadership & Transparency

There’s no question that the global textile industry has a massive effect on the planet, much of it negative. From workers’ rights to factories to the pesticides used on cotton farms, the social and environmental impacts are evident across the entire supply chain. Efforts such as the Better Cotton Initiative have started to make a difference, but the industry still has a long ways to go. The Swiss company, Freitag, however, is on not only on a quest to transform how fabric is manufactured, but to change how it is disposed—as in composting.

Founded by two brothers, Freitag has been in business since 1993 and employs about 160 people. The company owns 10 stores in central Europe and Japan, and has over 50 products on the market. In addition to turning truck tarps into heavy-duty bags, the company produces what it says is 100 percent compostable fabric.

The trick is the blend: linen, hemp and modal, which is reconstituted cellulose from beech trees. This fabric, or what Freitag calls F-Fabric, took about five years to develop. The raw materials are all grown within Europe, therefore reducing imports from across long distances. True, cotton is a natural fiber, but Freitag shunned it for several reasons: it has to be imported because Europe’s climate is too cold for the crop; requires too much water; needs a vast amount of space; consumes heaps of pesticides; and finally, the company estimates 100 million cotton farmers across the world live below the poverty level and work in terrible conditions. Instead, flax is sourced from Normandy, hemp is resilient in just about every climate and beech trees self-propagate—no planting regimen is required. Not only is the fabric sustainable, but Freitag describes it as truly local.

The result is fabric and garments that are also biodegradable and completely compostable, and that includes the thread and selvage (the finishing edge on woven fabric that prevents it from unraveling). The one exception is the buttons—which are metal and just need to be removed, or actually, unscrewed, before the garments are pitched into a compost heap—and of course those buttons can be reused. The material is woven into a broken twill, jersey, or herringbone, and is also in several colors. One exception, however, is indigo: Freitag found hemp and linen fibers were weakened and torn after the dyeing process.

One of the results is Freitag’s chino workpant, made from compostable twill fabric that according to the company is moisture-wicking, antibacterial and strong enough for any work environment. At the moment a pair will set you back $230, or about €190. But if more companies can take Freitag’s lead and develop scalable, and more sustainable, alternatives to the cotton and synthetic materials on the market, eventually these fabrics could become price competitive. Between labor conditions in some countries and questions whether the enormous fashion industry can really be responsible and ethical, watch for companies such as Freitag to score more attention in the coming years.

After a year in the Middle East and Latin America, Leon Kaye is based in California again. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Other thoughts of his are on his site, greengopost.com.

Image credit: Freitag


Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

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