Sustainable fabrics reduce the fashion industry’s environmental footprint. They prioritize eco-friendly production materials and processes, which minimize water usage and chemical waste. For example, hemp requires no pesticides to grow and returns nutrients to the soil. Lenzing modal is carbon neutral and made with a closed-loop process.
When shopping for clothes, choose ethically sourced down and other sustainable fabrics. Read on for tips for selecting the best sustainable material for your next project.
Linen is a classic summer favorite, known for its durability and timeless style. It’s also eco-friendly, requiring less water to grow than cotton, and can biodegrade when discarded.
The fiber comes from the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum), which grows well in cool climates and needs minimal fertilizer to thrive. Across its life cycle, the plant helps to sequester and remove CO2 from the atmosphere, helping to mitigate climate change.
When shopping for linen, look for OEKO-TEX or STeP certifications. These independent certifications indicate that the fabric was produced using environmentally friendly methods. Additionally, look for materials that are Fair Trade certified or approved, which means the manufacturer paid fair prices to workers and ensured a safe workplace. These fabrics were dyed using natural pigments, safer for the environment than synthetic chemicals. Finally, choose moth-resistant linen – this will reduce the need for chemical treatment of garments during storage and help preserve the textile’s longevity.
Despite being one of the most popular natural fibers, cotton has enormous environmental impacts when not grown sustainably. Conventional cotton farming often uses agrichemicals such as herbicides, insecticides, synthetic fertilizers, and growth regulators that pollute the soil water supply and negatively impact farmers’ health. Additionally, cotton is one of the most water-intensive crops. Rivers surrounding areas of cotton farming often dry up and devastate local ecosystems.
For sustainable fabric options, look for the Global Organic Textile Standard certifications to ensure the textiles are not made from chemically treated fibers. You also want to look for Fair Trade or Fair Wear certification to ensure workers are paid a fair wage and work in safe, hygienic conditions.
A final consideration is whether or not the fabric is recycled, as this can reduce the need for new materials to be produced. Choosing a biodegradable textile is also a good idea, as this can help minimize waste and pollution in landfills. However, if the fabric is not recyclable, choosing a more sustainable natural or synthetic material may be better.
This natural fiber has one of the lowest impacts on our environment. It is loved by cottage industry artists for hand spinners, knitters, weavers, and commercial fashion manufacturers. It is also strong, lightweight, quick to dry, stain-resistant, and odor-resistant.
It’s also hypoallergenic, which means it doesn’t contain lanolin, the oil that makes some people sensitive to wool. Because of this, it needs no lanolin treatment and can be spun untreated.
Alpacas also have a very light footprint on the planet, less damaging than other animals. They graze on grass or trees, which rip and tear into the soil with their hard hooves.
While the hollow structure of alpaca wool traps heat in winter, it expels moisture in summer to keep you cool and dry by wicking away sweat. However, it is essential to note that alpaca has the same sensitivity as other wools to moth infestations and should be stored in airtight bags or boxes to avoid infestations. It also requires careful handling and can be challenging if not carefully treated and spun.
Choosing sustainable fabrics is one of the most important steps to reduce your fashion industry footprint. While natural fibers can still be problematic, sustainable materials prioritize eco-friendly practices that minimize the impact of fabric production and limit pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Silk is a beautiful natural fiber completely biodegradable, although it can take longer to degrade than other fabric types due to dyes and other chemicals used in the manufacturing process. Look for tussah or wild silk to minimize the environmental impact of silk production. Opt for organic or Oeko-tex-certified silk to ensure it is free from harmful chemicals.
Cotton is another natural fiber that can be a problem. Still, organic cotton is far more sustainable than conventional cotton as it doesn’t require pesticides and is grown with less water. Also, look for GOTS-certified organic linen or hemp to minimize the use of synthetic chemicals. Lastly, consider using blends of natural and synthetic fabrics, as they are better for the environment than purely synthetic options.
Sustainable fabrics are necessary to fight against the fashion industry’s wasteful consumption. High-quality and durable materials help reduce textile waste, contributing to pollution as it enters landfills. Choosing sustainable fibers that are vegetable (linen), animal (wool), semi-synthetic, or synthetic (rayon) can help lessen the impact on the environment.
Bamboo rayon is a popular sustainable fabric option because it’s silky, soft, and breathable. It also has thermal regulating properties, making it an excellent choice for sleepwear and loungewear.
However, turning bamboo into a wearable fabric has its challenges. Conventional viscose, or bamboo rayon, is made through a chemical-intensive process that uses carbon disulfide and sodium hydroxide. These chemicals are hazardous to workers’ health and cause water pollution. Fortunately, there are alternative processes for producing bamboo rayon, such as Lenzing’s lyocell process, which is kinder to the earth and worker’s health. Choose products labeled as lyocell or Tencel instead of bamboo rayon when shopping for eco-friendly clothing. US regulations require this labeling to be honest about the product and its environmental impact.