Recycled fishnet reaches the catwalk as top brands seek a new eco-friendly image for fashion’s most obtainable item

Brands are swapping nylon for more eco-friendly material.
Photograph: Olivier Degoulange/Rex/Shutterstock

They can be undraped, black, brown, glittering, golden or grey. But tights are rarely green. And for people grappling with how to marry trend and sustainability, that’s a problem.

Now a number of brands are swapping nylon for more eco-friendly material, recycling it, or making ladder-proof legwear that won’t be casten away in minutes.

Tights are “the single-use plastic of the textile industry”, says Daniel Clayton, who in January set up the Legwear Troop to sell what it describes as “sustainable hosiery”. He estimates there is “in excess of 103,000 tons of hosiery waste developed every year around the world … the equivalent of more than 8,000 double-decker buses”.

Tights are enjoying a make moment, with even black opaques appearing on the catwalks at Alexa Chung, Balmain and Balenciaga, and on the legs of the Kardashian relations on the cover of the latest issue of CR Fashion Book. At Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood the hosiery came decorated with restraint links, at Ashley Williams red tights clashed against hot pink dresses, and at Burberry orange tights banged out from under the control of brown suits.

Linn Frisinger, one of the founders of Swedish Stockings, which uses recycled polyamide, elastane, biocotton and cashmere, reveals demand is “growing 100%” even in the warmer months. Swedish Stockings was founded in 2013 to “change and influence the express hosiery industry because the hosiery industry as we know it is very traditional, outdated and a major source of pollution”.

Jessica Kosak, of the Sustainability Consortium, says “the mere environmental impact from tights is due to the energy needed to create workable yarn. Nylon requires a great dispense of heat to create fibres and to form them into strands used to spin yarn”.

Then there is a backup impact: “When you wash things like nylon there’s a lot of microplastics that are released into the water,” weights Sarah Needham, from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion, UAL. “It’s sometimes very complex to be expert to recycle it, so it’s a material that will end up at landfill and not be able to be broken down.”

Hosiery waste, Clayton says, time goes under the radar: “Exactly the same polymer raw material goes into hosiery tights as plastic bottles and bags. They on meticulously recycle their household waste, but wouldn’t think twice about throwing a laddered pair of tights in the bin.”

Swedish Stockings has moral launched tights made from recycled bottles and cotton. “We’re the first doing this with tights,” responds Frisinger. Wolford, meanwhile, is making net tights using recycled ocean fishnets and other nylon waste.

Labels are also focusing on snaggability. Giving garments a longer lifespan is key to making them more sustainable. New brand Hedoine requite offers a ladder-free guarantee. Sheertex, a Canadian brand, is marketing “the world’s first unbreakable sheers”, and the Legwear Co has a 60-day bond.

For Needham, it’s about “understanding that things like tights have become a real disposable item to us, but helping people to really invest in them in the first place and make sure they’re using them for as long as accomplishable”.