Image: Swedish Stockings
As winter temperatures drop down to single digits, even the hardiest among us can no longer brave bare legs. Reluctant to set aside our favourite skirts for another season, the moment has come to reach to the back of the sock drawer and dig out an infamous yet unavoidable wardrobe staple. Yes, you’ve guessed it: we’re talking about tights.
In the past, hosiery has earned itself something of a bad reputation. We’ve all been there: you buy a brand-new pair, and ever-so-delicately pull them on, only to make a hole and have to throw them out faster than you can say “30 wears.” Dubbed by The Guardian as “fashion’s most disposable item,” a staggering 225 million pairs flew off the shelves in the UK alone last year. With the fact that the average pair of nylon tights takes around 30-40 years to biodegrade in mind, thinking about the environmental impact of hosiery already has our pantyhose in a twist. Surely there must be a more sustainable solution?
From alternative materials to longevity-boosting quick fixes, there are many steps we can take towards lower-waste legwear. Extending the lifetime of the tights we already have can be as simple as the old-school trick of keeping a bottle of clear nail polish on hand, ready to apply to any ladders and stop them in their tracks. Avoiding wearing rings or other sharp jewellery when pulling them on is another easy way to avert snags and tears, while washing them in cold water by hand once every few wears means they won’t get damaged in your machine.
When it does inevitably come down to investing, it isn’t all bad news. Despite the short lifecycle of these products, Andrea Toca from Swedish Stockings explains that the hosiery industry as a whole goes some way to counter post-consumer waste by creating a naturally low amount of garment cut-offs in the production process: just 2-3% compared to as high as 15% for other items of clothing. The most polluting part is actually the petroleum-based production of the nylon itself. Although we rarely think of tights as a disposable plastic, they are usually made of the exact the same raw materials as plastic bottles and bags and so when buying new, it’s important to look out for recycled options or natural materials. The good news is that when it comes to ethical and sustainable hosiery brands, there are some great eco options. The perfect planet-positive pair is sure to be out there for you somewhere, and we’ve compiled a handy list of brands to help you find them.
Setting out to change the hosiery industry through an all-round environmentally conscious approach, Swedish Stockings have thought about every step of the production chain and how best to reduce its environmental impact. From using solar power and renewable energy in their factories to reducing water waste in the dying process through a state-of-the-art purification system, the Scandinavian brand have invested in the best technology in order to produce with care. Offering tights made from recycled nylon from pre and post-consumer waste as well as natural fibre options in bio-wool, bio-cotton and cashmere, they have even started to use recycled elastane for that much-needed stretch. Conscious that all tights will, eventually and inevitably, get a tear, Swedish Stockings also run a recycling system that invites people to send them their old tights to be recycled into filler material for fibreglass tanks – an admirable step towards circularity.
After partnering with ECONYL® earlier this year, Wolford has produced a line of fish nets from well, fishing nets. The regenerated nylon used to make their tights is created from ocean plastic and other nylon waste that would have otherwise gone to landfill, avoiding the polluting process of manufacturing new materials while helping to rid our world of waste. Woven more densely around the toes and waistband to minimise breakages, the Micro Fish Scale tights show just how hosiery can help the planet.
The Legwear Co.
Alongside offering their 50 Denier ECO tights made from recycled materials, The Legwear Co. also want to recover waste hosiery from households around the UK and Australia. Shocked by the statistic that an expected 250,000 tonnes of hosiery waste go into landfill each year, the team launched their Sustainable Hosiery Initiative: a scheme in that takes back your old tights to promote circularity in the industry. Having devised a way to separate the elastane from the nylon contents of the yards by removing it at a different melting point, the Legwear Co will send the extracted plastic to be repurposed once they accumulate 500kg of waste.
Seasalt’s commitment to using low-impact materials has them offering tights made from both recycled nylon and 70% organic cotton. Having achieved GOTS certification from the Soil Association, the company are always developing their patented fabrics with a view to lowering greenhouse gas emissions as well as helping to conserve water and energy. Manufactured in Italy, the company are also members of the Ethical Trading Initiative, assuring their suppliers commit to set codes of practice.