At TOAST, we believe in the importance of timeless design and are committed to creating long-lasting garments. The process starts with sourcing the finest materials to bring our designs to life.
Not all fibres are created equal. Whether natural or synthetic, each has environmental impacts. When sourcing fabrics, we take many factors into consideration, such as: water usage; energy input; land use; carbon emissions; chemical treatment; availability; price; and the impact on our global community of craftspeople and suppliers. We also take into account garment care, longevity and durability.
We value natural fibres such as cotton, linen, hemp and wool because we believe they are better for both people and the planet, especially reused and recycled ones. Natural fibres tend to have a smaller environmental impact than synthetic fabrics. They are naturally hypoallergenic, breathable and have unique antibacterial qualities. When properly cared for, natural fibres can last a lifetime. In the long term, they are biodegradable and recyclable.
We strive to minimise our use of synthetic fibres, and are seeking recycled alternatives to polyamide, polyester and nylon used in socks, swimwear and knitwear yarns, as well as recycled PVC in footwear.
There is no single solution to ensure all materials used in garment production are sustainable and ethical. Each fibre presents its own strengths and weaknesses in terms of impact and quality.
Cotton is a natural fibre that we use widely in our collections due to its soft hand feel, breathability and biodegradable nature. Biodegradable fibres are inherent to traditional craft, which we are committed to supporting. It’s a very versatile fibre which can be woven into a range of fabrics, from cord and weighty denim to crisp poplin, ikat and gauzy mulmul. We love how it’s easy to care for and becomes softer with wash and wear.
The fabric is made from the soft fibrous substance which surrounds the seeds of the cotton plant. First the leaves are removed from the cotton plant, before a machine harvests the cotton and forms it into large bales. Planting to harvest takes approximately 55 - 80 days. A cotton gin separates out the seeds, then the fibres are carded to form longer strands. Then, the cotton may be treated and dyed before it is woven into a fabric.
Cotton accounted for 70 per cent of the total materials produced in our 2021 range. We also use recycled cotton, which reduces the need for virgin materials. Our core lightweight denim contains 6 per cent CCS (Content Claim Standard) certified repurposed cotton waste.
We intend for 80 per cent of our cotton to be organic by 2023; currently, 29 per cent of our cotton Womenswear products are organic. Organic cotton is grown in a way that has significantly fewer negative impacts on our environment. No hazardous synthetic pesticides are used, less energy is used, fewer greenhouse gasses are released and due to the improved soil quality, the process uses significantly less water. Increased demand for organic cotton has led to scarcity of yarn, meaning that it is sometimes difficult for our suppliers to source it.
All of our cotton cord, from wide wale to fine needlecord, is organic, with dresses, jackets, shirts, skirts and trousers crafted from the supple fabric, which is Organic Content Standard-certified, verifying the organic content through the supply chain.
Our organic cotton denim is a blend from two organic farms in east and west Turkey, occasionally using organic cotton from Kyrgyzstan when supply is low. It’s crafted by Orta, founded in 1953, which began as a spinning and weaving mill before turning to denim production in 1985. TOAST has been working with them for the past five years, driven by their use of organic, locally sourced cotton and the quality of the resulting fabric they produce.
We have been assessing which certifications are most important for us at TOAST. Through our research, we have found that organic cotton certifications have been criticised for being awarded without adequate assessment. However, we are working to gather more information on this so that we can prioritise and obtain the relevant certifications. Organic certificates can be costly for mills to obtain, especially in India.
It is not always possible for us to buy organic cotton due to a range of factors, including increasing demand across the world, higher minimum order quantities, prices and technical issues. In these cases, we use regular cotton.
We use wool as it is durable, warm, breathable and biodegradable. It also doesn’t require frequent washing, reducing the life cycle impact. When designing, we often look for qualities in the raw material which are characterful or textural, and sometimes use the natural colour of the fibre. For example, our Bluefaced Leicester Wool Sweater is made from fine undyed wool from Bluefaced Leicester sheep, sourced from farms in north-west England then scoured and spun locally. The sheep, pictured below courtesy of Herd Wool, are thought to be the British breed with the softest wool.
Sheep fleece is the raw source for wool, which is shorn once a year. Then, the fleece is cleaned and scoured before it is carded and spun into yarn for knitting or weaving.
As wool is considered a renewable and high-value fibre, wool products are likely to stay in use for a long time and be washed less, ensuring they last longer. At the end of their usable life, the wool can be recycled or biodegraded.
Photograph of Bluefaced Leicester Sheep courtesy of Herd Wool.
We use alpaca yarn for its warmth and texture – it often has a lofty, characterful quality. It is also very soft, and can be as fine as cashmere.
Alpaca fibre is up to five times warmer and stronger than sheep’s wool, due to air pockets which trap more heat. Alpacas graze where the land is not so suitable for agriculture, and consume less than other fibre-producing livestock.
Obtained from cashmere and pashmina goats, cashmere fibres are known for being supremely soft. As a result, we choose cashmere to create soft sweaters, scarves and loungewear trousers. We use it for its lightness and drape, and it takes colour well.
To gather it, herders clip or comb out the fibres during spring when the goats moult. It is then washed, sorted and de-haired, where the coarser outer hair is removed, leaving the underdown which is then spun and woven.
The virgin cashmere in our collections is sourced from China, created by some of the best textile manufacturers in the world. We are proud to be working with vertical suppliers – meaning that they handle every stage of the production process from farm to garment – which champion durable and biodegradable materials.
Our recycled cashmere is sourced from Prato, Italy, where there is a long tradition of recycling wool and cashmere. Premium cashmere garments are broken down and the fibre is re-spun into a new yarn for knitting. This produces an equally soft and luxurious yarn.
At TOAST we like viscose for its drape and movement, and for its ability to carry intricate prints and rich colour. Viscose is a regenerated manufactured fibre made from wood pulp, which makes it biodegradable. However, it isn’t truly natural like cotton, wool or silk, or truly synthetic like nylon or polyester – it sits somewhere in-between.
The wood pulp is often from fast-growing plants and trees such as beech, eucalyptus, pine and bamboo. It is dissolved in a chemical solution and then spun into fibres and threads. The viscose we source from India is FSC-certified. This means that the trees are replaced or allowed to regenerate naturally, so the source of wood pulp is monitored.
We are keenly aware of our impact on people and the planet. By looking at our impact areas, we have set out a roadmap to enrich and educate, contribute through collaboration, cherish our materials and minimise our waste.
Carefully considering our materials is one of the ways we work towards reducing our environmental impact.