SAN DIEGO, Calif. — From fungi to pineapple fiber, a growing number of clothing brands are embracing eco-friendly materials.
“I don’t think they have an option. I think consumers are waking up and asking for it," said Kris Cody, founder of Paka apparel.
His sustainable fabric of choice is alpaca wool.
"They might know merino. They might know cashmere," said Cody. "But I realized people had no idea what this fiber was. And it was so functional, and it held such a special place in my heart.”
He discovered the versatile textile while backpacking through Peru. Native to the Andes Mountains, alpacas can withstand hot days and freezing conditions at night.
“Evolved for millions of years in this extreme climate. And so, I started looking at the fiber under a microscope, and you see these air pockets in it that carry warmth but also repel moisture," said Cody.
He says the lightweight textile is as warm as polar bear fur and softer than cashmere. It's also hypoallergenic and odor resistant.
Paka employs over 100 women weavers in Peru, paying fair wages while creating a product that's better for the planet.
“When you make something really great, it lasts. And the goal is to make clothing that you hold with purpose," said Cody.
Leaders in the sustainable fashion movement encourage consumers to check clothing labels as closely as they do food labels.
"Which are mainly petroleum-based, like polyester, nylon or spandex, acrylic," said Cody. "We don’t believe in wearing fossil fuels for our clothing."
Mounting research suggests the growing market for cheap clothing is taking a toll on the environment. Scientists say excessive water use and microplastics are among the concerns.
“If you’re always discarding your clothing or always buying more, what connection do you have to that?” said Cody.
Seaweed fiber is also making its way into products.
“Nature is already sustainable. We're just trying to put more of it into the products we make," said Cody. "To change the way we connect with the earth.”