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How sustainable is bespoke tailoring?

Updated: Jan 7, 2021

(Image credits to Tengri)

Well, this is definitely going to be a fun article.

When I first switched my blog name to 'The Suitstainable Man', I wanted to focus more on the benefits of buying bespoke tailoring that lasts, as well as the importance of being conscious in the way we interact with our garments. To me, this is a concept of sustainable living that truly captivates me.

Now, while I still strongly believe in this 'ideology', if you may, to this day, my philosophy on this matter has grown more nuanced since then. This is perhaps due to my current work on climate mitigation strategies and pathways as it allows me to learn more about this subject matter more professionally.

So, for example, factors like personal style and our tendency to stick with it became more important to me. Just imagine, if you could keep it to one style for long enough and buy just the right amount, chances are you produce less waste than most people out there already.


Then, of course, it is hardly feasible, if not unrealistic, for one to stick to a particular style forever ― style evolves all the time. So sadly, the notion of permanent style doesn't work in practice really.

That being said, certain styles are definitely more suited to last than some others. (Pun intended.) And above all, you could certainly act more sustainably from a garment angle.

In today's write-up, I'm going to look at how sustainable bespoke tailoring truly is. We'll first examine that from a carbon footprint standpoint and then from a more holistic social sustainability point of view. Hopefully, this will make our conversation more balanced.

Let's start off with carbon emissions.

Before we jump right in, let me highlight the reason why I think it’s important to talk about the carbon footprint of bespoke tailoring when we talk about its (environmental) sustainability.

As you may be aware of this already, sustainability is a term that is increasingly being used by many within the menswear industry. All of this had been great except we have now reached a stage of over-saturation where the term starts to lose its meaning.

Worse, many brands are using the word without actually explaining what it is they do sustainably. Hence, the ones that are actually doing something extraordinary are often lost in all the noise out there.

Needless to say, if we were to demonstrate this in a more concrete way, we need some indicators like carbon footprints. And so in this part of our conversation, I will be using a method that resembles what is known as a Life-cycle Assessment (LCA). This would help us visualize the carbon footprint of a bespoke garment from its production to end-of-life.

Oh, and one more thing before we begin. As you all know how complex it is to produce a bespoke suit. For the simplicity of this little project, I will omit or speculate certain details with less impact ― say the footprint for producing the horn buttons and the shoulder paddings or the emissions for the transportation from the mill to the warehouse. We will, however, still cover the main bits to make this as realistic as possible.

(Image credits to

Alright, let's take an example of an 11oz wool-worsted 2 piece suit for a client based in London. The cloth, at a length of around 3.5m, would be sourced from an English mill and the bespoke commission would be with a local tailor in London.

We start with the wool extraction process. This is generally the most carbon-intensive stage throughout the whole bespoke journey, unsurprisingly.

Based on a case study looking specifically at this matter, it is said that for each kilogram of greasy wool, you would emit around 24kg of CO2-e. Now, considering a 3.5m cloth would require around 1.575kg of wool on average (based on a ratio I deduced from another study), this gives us a sum of 37.8kg up to this point.

Of course, this number would be lower if it had been a 2 piece linen or cotton suit.


That being said, I want to quickly point out these numbers don't really do the justice for wool.

Usually, many of these environmental assessments out there tend to criticize the use of wool for how carbon-intensive they are compared to alternative materials, like synthetics or other non-organic materials. What they miss out, however, is how these materials perform at different stages and hence its overall sustainability.

So first of all, wool would fundamentally be more carbon-intensive than other materials since it is an animal-based material. It would always have a higher footprint even if you try to reduce the amount the sheep consume or through other extreme methods. But then you'll be stepping into the animal rights territory.

Secondly, these arguments don't tend to elaborate on how these materials perform as a cloth, especially in tailoring.

The truth is, we use wool in tailoring more often than not because of its tremendous properties — like being elastic, insulating, and pivotally being able to drape beautifully if it comes in a decent weight.

After all, it is these factors that would make us want to keep our bespoke garments for years. It is just as important to look at a bigger picture if we were to address sustainability.

(Image credits to

Moving on, we have the wool manufacturing process.

From a study that I have looked into, the amount of energy required to turn the fibers into yarn (everything from shearling to spinning) would be around 63mJ/ kg. In comparison, this is almost half of what's required for polyester and other non-organic material.

After some unit conversion and factoring in the amount of carbon dioxide generated per kWh for the UK electricity grid, this would bring us to around 4520g of CO2-e. As for the remaining steps (from weaving to finishing), that would be another 287g of CO2-e; making a total sum of 4807g, or around 4.8kg.

On a quick side note, producing 2m of viscose yarn using 2kg amount of fiber would be around 9kg CO2-e, with the remaining steps to turn the viscose into lining accounting for another 164g CO2-e.

Needless to say, this is significantly less than the previous stage.