Gabrielle Cave shares how she’s building her eco-luxury brand of plant-based sustainable silk pajamas.
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As someone who cut her professional teeth as a production intern for a womenswear label, I have many memories wondering about the ethics behind the fashion industry. So, I wasn’t surprised to learn that designer Gabrielle Cave’s sustainable journey began questioning textile and production methods. Like many in the industry, she believes fashion doesn’t have to be synonymous with waste, animal cruelty, or toxic chemicals. So, she spent nearly two years researching environmentally friendly alternatives to some of fashion’s environmental problems.
The result is her brand Orchard Moon, a collection of luxurious sustainable ‘silk’ pajamas built from the ground up to have as small an impact on the environment as possible. Instead of using silk, Gabrielle focuses on ‘silk-like materials. Her time researching sustainable materials showed her better alternatives to silk that offer certified proof that the materials cause less harm and that being plant-based fits in well with her already vegetarian lifestyle.
To learn more about this plant-based silk, Gabrielle answered a few questions and shared other insights about how she is building her sustainable brand.
Orchard Moon Ephemeral Bloom Pyjama Set $361
These luxe pajamas are made from TENCEL™ and Lyocell filament derived from sustainably managed woodlands.
How did you start your sustainable brand?
My aim was to be totally sustainable, and we are as close to that as possible right now – of course, there will always be room for improvement. We set out to make Orchard Moon as sustainable as possible and build it from the very beginning. For me, it is so important that every element of our products, production workflow, and manufacturing is a carefully considered choice. Orchard Moon is a brand with sustainability at its core.
There are several key areas for us when it comes to defining a truly sustainable brand; the materials we use, our supply chain remaining small and as local as possible, the quality of the products we produce, ensuring we treat everyone fairly involved in the production and how we give back to the planet.
What obstacles did/ do you face as a new sustainable brand?
It took 18 months of research and development to find the right materials and elements for our pajamas. The main fabric we use is unique, feeling very similar to silk but being 100% plant-based, using no animals as part of its production process.
To keep our supply chain small we wanted to make our garments in Europe and refrain from sourcing anything in the Far East, which only made this more challenging. Some of the solutions we came up with have not been used before, so a lot of time went into research and testing. I really care about the details and was determined to make every single element as sustainable as possible, right down to the care labels and string on the hang tag, we’ve thought of everything.
Why did you choose Tencel instead of using peace silk as your material of choice?
We use a unique combination of Tencel and Lyocell, that gives us a quality very close to silk whilst being 100% plant-based. Our fibers come with certifications from FSC and PEFC which guarantee that they come from sustainably managed woodlands, which helps to prevent illegal logging and protects ancient forests. Tencel (the branded version of lyocell produced by Lenzing in Austria) is made in a gentle process that uses minimal water and a harmless solvent, 99 % of which is recovered and reused. The water leaving the factory is as pure as it went in and must be within 2 degrees centigrade so as not to upset the wildlife around the factory.
Peace silk is problematic on many levels. It still forces animals to live and die for farming. They are treated as a commodity, not as living creatures. Many silk producers claim that the materials were collected after the moths naturally emerged, but no certifications exist to guarantee these standards are upheld. There are even reports of conventional silk being sold as “peace silk”.
In any case, the Bombyx Mori moth has been bred in captivity for so long that their mouths are too small to eat and they cannot fly. Some of the male moths are put in the fridge and are brought out to mate with the females, shortly after that they lay their eggs and then starve to death. Being labeled as peace silk is also no guarantee of fair treatment for the workers either. Children as young as 5 are reported to be working in the silk industry in India and they have to plunge their small hands into boiling water to agitate the cocoons to loosen the strands. They are often left with blisters and permanent scars.
Do you notice the industry becoming more sustainable?
It’s really fantastic to see so many smaller brands emerging over the last couple of years that make sustainability a core principle of their company. Larger companies and fast fashion outlets have certainly seen the trend towards sustainable options, but for them, it can be more of a marketing opportunity. For large businesses with profit margins to maintain and shareholders to remain happy, ultimately the only thing they really care about is the bottom line. If consumers demand it, of course, they will put the wheels in motion to give fuel to the marketing department; release a token sustainable collection, or make a big deal about recycled polyester- which at the end of the day is still plastic and releases microplastics into the environment. We breathe it in – it’s inside our lungs!
What dyes do you use?
We don’t use dyes, as the amount of water and dye waste involved in the process wouldn’t fit with our ethics. Plant based dyes often need strong mordants to fix the colour, some of which are extremely toxic which causes other issues regarding waste disposal. We use digital printing, which uses minimal ink and water, and is a process where no ink is wasted. The ink we use is vegan and not derived from animals.
Looking at the end of a garment’s life, what’s the best way to dispose of a piece?
We have worked very hard to ensure all of the materials we use are plant-based, from the buttons made of corozo nut, to the elastic made from natural rubber to the thread made from Lyocell. Our items are plant-based so they are technically biodegradable, but like most biodegradable items they can’t just be put in regular landfill. Our roadmap includes plans to offer a free end of life service, where we would collect and send end of life products to a specialist company who have a process to chemically recycle the material.
How do you and your family live sustainably day-by-day?
We are avid recyclers, not just with our normal collections, but using schemes like Teracycle for items that can’t be recycled with the local authority.
We use public transport or walk whenever we can, and only use the car when there is no other option.
We don’t buy products from fast fashion retailers. Buying quality products that last a long time is a really important thing to do when trying to live more sustainably.
We have all been vegetarian for many years and are making steps towards becoming vegan. We prepare most meals from scratch which means less packaging, and buy loose fruit and vegetables where possible.
We use shampoo and soap bars instead of liquid in bottles to reduce our single use plastic consumption. We also wash our clothes on a gentle wash at 30 degrees, and I often steam items to freshen them up between wears instead of throwing everything in the laundry basket.