Designer Yue Jiang, shares how Má + Lin’s linen shirts are traceable, ethically-made, and more sustainable than cotton
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Most of us think of cotton as the ideal summer fabric. It’s breathable and lightweight. But, according to the word of science, linen is the coolest fabric of the summer. The reason being its high moisture absorptivity. A.k.a it’s ability to absorb sweat, leaving you dry on even the most humid of summer days. There was even a time when the fabric was so precious, that it was reserved for only the wealthiest members of society in ancient Egypt. Still just as chic today (albeit more accessible), designers are crafting linen shirts and dresses for conscious consumers who not only enjoy its functionality, but its natural and sustainable qualities as well.
The Wellness Feed dove into the world of linen and its sustainable (and not so sustainable) pedigree before. So, this time around it’s exciting to talk about the fabric through the lens of a designer who works with it. Designer Yue Jiang worked in fashion for a decade for the likes of designers like J.W Anderson, before starting her label- Má + Lin in 2019. Focusing on a minimlaist aesthetic, from farm to studio, each garment is made to reserve waste and made to last. Organic linen fabrics, certified to meet the highest standards, are sewn in Portugual by a family-run company established in 1983. And, Yue’s elegant style is seen in each thoughtfully crafted piece that will outlast the trends of fast fashion.
Yue shares why she designs with linen and how she approaches designing her collection of linen shirts in a way that is transparent and the opposite of fast fashion. And, in honor of The Wellness Feed and Má + Lin’s shared ethos to empower women to embrace slow and better fashion, the brand is giving one reader a beautiful linen shirt.
Why did you prioritize Belgium and Portugal-based suppliers instead of those based in China?
China has beautiful linens and talented garment makers. However, we are very mindful about the carbon footprint of our supply chain. As a UK business with our targeted market in Europe, we are keen to produce locally within Europe, in order to keep our carbon footprint as low as possible.
Tencel and organic cotton are two materials that have sustainable credentials. Why was linen your fabric of choice?
TencelTM (Lyocell and Modal fibers) is a beautiful sustainable material coming from certified and controlled wood sources. However, the woods are sourced globally which makes a higher carbon footprint. Besides, we can’t neglect the chemicals involved during the manufacturing processes. The cellulose from wood pulp has to be broken down chemically in order to reform the fibers.
Organic cotton is of course a perfect sustainable alternative to the conventional one. However, the cotton farms are mostly in the US, China, and India which again brings a higher carbon footprint for European buyers. Besides, there is hardly any traceability all the way back to the cotton farm. Furthermore, the organic cotton does not grow optimally due to no fertilizer used, so fine counts/fine fabrics are not usually available. It is always mixed with conventional cotton in order to make a high-quality fabric. Even the most prestigious GOTS certificate allows 30% of conventional fibers in the finished fabric ( it requires a minimum 70% organic fibers). There are unfortunately many Greenwashing built around the “organic cotton” in the market today.
Linen, on the other hand, checks all the sustainable boxes. Linen is made from flax plants, a plant which grows without the need for fertilizers or pesticides. It requires far less water than cotton. Across its lifecycle, a linen shirt takes up just 6.4 liters of water, far less than the 2,700 litres that go into cotton. Plus, flax sequesters carbon from the atmosphere as it grows, helping to erase some of the harm done to our planet.
Flax can also be grown and produced locally. The linen we use is 100% Masters of Linen® certified, which is a guarantee of traceability for linen made by European companies on European sites, from the European Flax® fibre, to yarn and fabric.
Flax is very low waste. The entire flax plant can be woven into a fibre, with almost no waste left over from the spinning and weaving process. Chemicals are only involved during the dyeing and finishing process. All our linen fabrics are OEKO-TEX® certified which ensures no harmful chemicals are used during the manufacturing processes.
Last but not least, linen is 100% biodegradable and recyclable.
Traceability wasn’t a buzzword in the fashion industry 10 years ago. Based on your experience, why is it important now? How have you built your traceable brand?
We can’t possibly talk about Sustainability without talking about Traceability. How can a brand be sustainable, if we don’t know where the products are coming from? Ten years ago, when I first joined the fashion industry, no one was talking about Sustainability, let alone Traceability. The whole supply chain was opaque, we barely know where the fabric was coming from and where the garments were produced, let alone at what conditions they were produced.
One of the brands that I worked for even changed the “Made in” country after garments arrived from overseas. Because the “Made in” country only needed to be the last place where the product was finished. By sewing some labels onto the garments, it considered this was the last finishing step and therefore claimed “Made in Europe”, which is a total lie!
Luckily, people started to talk about this issue and traceability has become a true subject over the past years thanks to movements such as “Who Made My Clothes”. At Má + Lin, we’ve pushed the line even further– our customers will not only know who made their clothes, but they will also know who made their fabrics, and from which raw materials the fabrics are coming from.In order to build a fully traceable brand, we are only working with suppliers who are transparent themselves and who can provide us with such information. Our main fabric supplier- Libeco, supplies 100% Masters of Linen® certified fabrics with part of them GOTS certified as well. We know that the flax they use is cultivated in Normandy, then spined in North Poland before arriving in Belgium for weaving and finishing. We have built a supply chain map on our website to show the full information to our customers.
What initiatives do you and your suppliers take to reduce waste?
We buy stock fabrics from our fabric suppliers, which means we only purchase what we need to produce the garments. We don’t follow traditional fashion seasons. Every piece we develop is part of our permanent collection. That means we don’t have to throw away the “past season” garments, fabrics or trims. We only produce limited editions, so that every piece we make feel special.
Linen is an ancient fabric, yet it still isn’t as popular as polyester or cotton. What are some of the beautiful aspects of this fabric?
We are on a mission to make the linen the new black. Although linen is becoming the favorite to many fashion brands in recent years, it is still limited to Summer wardrobe, whilst polyester or cotton is considered to be for all seasons. However, linen is much more than that. The linen fabric is not just a thin, semi-transparent material that we often imagine on the Summer beach. The linens we are using are all medium to heavy weight (between 160 gsm to 210 gsm) which are perfect to be worn throughout the seasons. Besides, it can keep us warmer when the temperature drops, thanks to its thermos regulating property. Some of the other beautiful aspects: linen fabric is very strong (approximately 30% stronger than the cotton), therefore it will last for years. It becomes softer overtime with the wash. It creases easily, which is the main thing that people are complaining about, but the natural creases add charm to its character. And it can be ironed with a high temperature, thanks to its strength.
As the founder of a sustainable brand, how do you work towards having a sustainable wardrobe?
I stick to the principle of buy less, choose well and make it last. I stopped buying Fast Fashion brands. A few months ago when I moved house, I found a Zara top I bought many years ago and never worn, because it’s got forgotten hidden in my wardrobe! This is a good example of how people (including myself) buy clothes for their pleasure, but not for their needs.
I only buy what I need now and carefully make my selection. Last year I bought 1 x pajama set from Asceno ( a sustainable British brand that I like a lot), to replace the one that I’ve had for 15 years, and a 1 x pair of jeans from Levis. Of course I sometimes get tired of my old wardrobe, like everyone else. But it’s important to give my clothes a second life when I no longer want them. The local charity shop is always my best choice to give away my old clothes.