From Cactus Silk to Soy Fibre, there's Many a Sustainable Alternative

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    In this guest article for Urban Times, Raquel Gracia, founder of GRACIAWOMAN, discusses her inspirations for setting up her brand and provides an insight into the hard task of sourcing sustainable materials from around the world.

    The fashion industry plays a major role in today’s world. A single t-shirt uses more than a pound of carcinogenic pesticides, herbicides and other types of chemicals. These all contribute to the increase in poverty and debt, the destruction of our habitat and its biodiversity and animal cruelty.

    It is a fact that our beautiful planet is dying and I believe the only way to protect it is by going back to basics. Respect mother-nature, support healthy and pesticide-free soil, reduce water and energy consumption and stop killing our oceans and marine-life.

    When I was a child I worked in the fields in my parent’s cottage. I have always been enchanted by nature, my love for the countryside and its conservation has always been a priority in my life. I believe everyone can make a difference to help save our planet. Two years ago I decided it was my turn to provide a healthier and greener choice and so I created GraciaWoman.

    My inspiration comes from the countryside and my collections show a town and country style. I produce basic and everyday women’s clothing: tweed and navy blazers, shirts, soft knitwear and everyday denim. GraciaWoman offers an alternative to people who care about the environment and wish to move into a healthier and eco-friendly lifestyle.

    Graciawoman tweed blazer modeled at Fashion For The Brave (Image: Raquel Gracia)

    Sourcing pure, organic, sustainable, plant-based, fair-trade, hand-crafted, recycled and eco-friendly products and plants is a truly arduous and demanding task. I work with raw, unbleached, untreated textiles and I try to make a garment that does not compromise on style, providing the option to choose an environmentally- friendly product.

    I take pride in my work and make sure every product has been certified and produced with respect for the environment. I use hand-crafted materials produced by artisans, who help me find better and traditional natural resources instead of synthetics and plastics. I use vegan and sustainable plant-based silks from the agave cactus, local Scottish tweeds, pure Italian wools, soy beans, eco dyes and only organic cottons.
    I source my materials through organic and origin certifications, taking into consideration: water usage, fair trade regulations, craftsmanship, sustainability and energy consumption.

    Field cottons, including organic cotton, are destroying ecosystems, it is really important that we reduce our usage of cotton, which is why I use soy beans. I use soy fibre as a by-product of soy oil in my knitwear. Soy is a renewable resource and fully biodegradable. It is moisture-repellent which is great for the English weather and has allowed me to reduce 62% of the cotton in my knits.

    Silk is one of the most beautiful fabrics but it’s as equally unethical. Mostly women and teenage girls work in silk factories, working very long hours, for very little money. It doesn’t require a lot of skills or any type of education, so their earnings do not even get close to minimum wage. In the production of silk Mulberry Silk butterflies are boiled alive and extracted from the cocoon with a needle. The animal cruelty of silk is horrific.

    I always knew I had to find an alternative and I had heard about Sabra or Cactus Silk a couple of years ago when I was researching organic textiles. This specific vegan fabric has been mentioned in Arabic literature and folk tales and has been produced and sought after for its quality, strength and beauty. Even today, royalty in Arabic countries wear gowns and wedding dresses made of cactus silks.

    Production of the cactus silk used for the linings of Graciawoman blazers (Image: Raquel Gracia)

    Although this fabric has been produced for thousands of years, the sourcing and production of the agave filaments has been kept a secret, with the craftsmanship being handed down from father to son. It took months of searching and petitioning to councils to find a supplier that would allocate artisans to weave my silks. Thankfully I won this battle and now all my navy blue wool products are fully lined with agave cactus silks.

    I believe we haven’t got much time, we need to think about conservation, make a positive start and look after what we’ve got left in our planet. People need to be given the opportunity and choice of organic and sustainable fashion. The solutions rely solely in education and consumer behaviour.

    I believe the future is not just bright, but green, and companies and people in general will slowly move to a more eco-conscious life.

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