sewing · softies

Organic softies

Funny hats
Funny hats

I was recently asked to consider making some ‘eco’ softies for a local store, and its been something I have been thinking a lot about lately.  To be honest I know very little about fabric production methods, and bugger all about how hobbyfill is made.  So far almost my softies have been mostly made of all new materials (that are pre-washed in phosphate free detergent) and are all stuffed with polyfil.

On the internet I have found it hard to find simple and clear information.  From some reading it seems clear that world wide there is little clear definition around what constitutes a ‘organic fabric’, and the dyes used on it, and even less information on stuffing.

To clarify when I say ‘eco’ to me this means made with the environment in mind; either produced from environmentally sustainable material, using recycled materials, but also produced using locally obtained materials.  There seems little point in using organic materials if they are all shipped over from the other side of the world.  Is this what everyone else thinks?

So I have done some research on production of ‘eco’ softies from a cost and convenience perspective and would love if any of  you wanted to share your ideas and opinions.

Fabric options:

As far as I can tell there are three options for fabric.

Organic printed fabric – can be expensive starting at around $16 US a yard (compared to around $8)

Locally screenprinted fabric- again can be expensive but most seem to be screenprinted on environmentally friendly fabric with gentle inks.

Recycled fabric from clothes, sheets etc.  Requires a bit of luck and a lot of fossicking in Op shops… the fun bit.

Filling

So far stuffing seems to be a sticking point.  The closest I could find was pure wool stuffing which is again expensive at $35 p kg (including the $10 for postage as it’s from Victoria).  I have noticed some overseas softie makers using polyfil made from recycled plastic bottles but I can’t seem to source this locally.  Does anyone know of any other filling types available in Australia?

Selling

Is there a market for ‘eco’ softies outside of specific stores that specialise in this sort of thing.  Has anyone who sells handmade goods ever been asked about ‘environmentally friendly’ options?  As a purchaser is this something that would change your buying decision in handmade goods such a soft toys?

Here are some interesting links on these issues

Fashion to die for

The fabrics of life

Thursday, I don’t care about you

The role of Organic production in the cotton industry

“Certified organic clothing” what does it mean?

I’d love to hear what y’all think

Rachel

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8 thoughts on “Organic softies

  1. Ooooh, Rachel, I could probably talk your ear off on this one! Good questions, good questions. I have some thoughts because I’ve wondered about the same things, but they probably bring up more questions than answers…
    1. What is truly ‘eco’? To be honest the friendliest, most sustainable option for the world and the environment is to use recylced/reclaimed/second-hand fabrics. This makes a non-issue of production methods, water/chemical usage, and also saves used fabrics and fibres from landfill. In this case it doesn’t matter whether the material/filling is ‘natural’ or synthetic because either way it is going to be wasted if you don’t use it.

    HOWEVER:
    2. What do consumers think is ‘eco’? Generally I think most people are thinking about what is ‘pure’ and ‘safe’ for a child, in which case they want natural and organic fibres and fillings. Most people turn up their nose at synthetic fibres, assuming they are evil, but as you point out, organic cotton production is still very wasteful.

    3. Local production: NO fabric at this stage, good bad or ugly, is manufactured within australia. All cotton, organics, hemp/blends, everything is imported. So anything new that you buy will be imported somewhere along the line, even the base cloth that is printed locally.

    4. Recyled ‘eco-fill’: yes, it’s just available in the US. A group called Kunin make ‘eco-fi’ felt and other fibres by recycling PET. Good product but once again needs to be imported.

    PHEW! I reckon the most sustainable options would be vintage/reclaimed fabrics, using locally-produced wool stuffing. But this might not be what the shop is actually after…

    1. Thanks Gina… you are right, definately more questions than answers. I didn’t know that no fabric is produced in Australia. Vintage and reclaimed fabrics seems to be the way to go however it would certainly a lot more challenging to get materials that suit my needs.

  2. In a nutshell, I find it almost laughable when people sell their fabric-based products as organic. I hope most are doing so out of ignorance rather than a a deliberate deception. As one of your links mentions far more things are being sold as “organic” than could be plausibly supported by the amount of organic cotton being produced.

    To be completely eco-friendly, I suspect you would be looking at textiles free of all dyes and uncleaned, unbleached near-raw cloth. The amount of water used in textile product is ridiculously high, so using reclaimed materials would be a better option.

    If you were still trying to pursue an eco-friendly product, I’d go with the recycled route and reclaim stuffing from old softies found in the toy store.

    Because you asked, I’ll come clean. I’ve been silently mocking many sellers who are claiming to be ecologically responsible in the textile industry. I don’t doubt there are a few who actually fit the bill, but it seems like something being garnered around to exploit uneducated consumers.

    Being eco-responsible means addressing more than your base materials. I assume you would be moving to thread that is also environmentally responsible? I assume you wouldn’t use any disposable tools that contribute to landfills. That means no fabric markers, plastic chalk pens, moving away from plastic templates or moving to those made only of recycled plastic made in a responsible way. You would be buying thread on reused spools, needles not packed in excess plastic, etc… Are you going to make these kinds of changes along with with your material shift? (Maybe you already do all of this! I’m assuming many people haven’t addressed these issues.)

    Seriously… I find the notion of eco-friendly in the current textile industry a bit of a joke.

  3. And I also meant to add that you have a really great point on shipping materials across the world and the environmental impact of moving things. Sorry for so many comments! I just have a lot to say on the topic!

    1. Thanks so much for commenting Amy. These are great points… to be honest I had not even considered all the sundries that go with sewing (needles, pens etc). I think the challenge is that (like you) I love bright saturated colours and bold graphic prints and by and large these are going to be far more challenging to incorporate into my work if using reclaimed fabrics. I have to say I’m not keen to use stuffing from recycled toys (eww :)). Anyhow great to have your two cents. Rachel

  4. As a seller of organic cotton fabrics and supplies, I just wanted to add my 2 cents 🙂 I think your motivation for “eco-friendly” ultimately has to be how you decide which materials you will use. Are you looking for chemical-free? Low “air-miles”? Lowest possible impact on the Earth? Fair trade? Etc, etc. It’s all very overwhelming, I think. I’m a big believer in doing the best you can and it’s impossible to be perfect. I don’t think there are any perfect materials out there, it’s true that organic cotton does have to travel a long way, most of it is currently produced in India. We do have organic cotton fiberfil produced here in the US, but that’s very far from you. However, if it is cotton you decide to use, much of it is produced in India and Asia, so conventional cotton would travel a long way, too. By choosing the (3rd party certified) organic cotton you are choosing cotton that was produced without chemicals by farmers and workers who were paid fair wages. It is also a very high quality. But, quite expensive.
    When I informally polled readers of my previous blog what they would use organic fabrics for, they overwhelming said baby clothes, baby quilts, baby toys. So there probably is a small market for organic softies. I’m not sure about other “eco” materials because I agree that there does seem to be a bit of a bias about non-natural materials.

  5. I did read about a fiber artist who uses the lint from industrial dryers as fill. It’s not organic but is an interesting idea although not completely without problems of it’s own. For instance, how could you tell a customer for certain what was in the fill–could be wool (from very shrunken clothing), synthetics, cotton, dog hair, etc. These are great things to think about and ponder though!

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