What are eco-friendly fabrics? How can you make leather or plant-based fabrics out of apples and bamboo? You might wonder how your clothing can make a positive environmental impact, but it is possible with alternative and recycled fibres.
The fashion industry uses chemicals to process and create products that are not easy to recycle or compost, causing a negative impact on the environment. They contribute a great deal to the pollution that directly affects microplastic contamination, soil degradation, greenhouse gas emissions, and landfill and post-consumer waste.
However, eco-friendly fabrics are made of recycled clothing or biodegradable materials that are friendly to the environment. These sustainable substances go hand-in-hand with the ethical treatment of animals and workers, making them an exceptional product for the planet and people around the world.
Sustainable fashion is somewhat easy to find if you know what to look for and where to look. Many shops carry more well-known textiles like cotton, linen, and silk, but there many more options out there.
To help you in your search for sustainable textiles, we’ve found some of the best available on the market today. Below are some of the most eco-friendly fabrics to meet your fashion needs.
Simply put, natural fabrics are textiles made using natural fibres without requiring chemical production. They can derive from both plants and animals. The fibre is dissolved, spun into yarn, and then made into textiles.
As one of the most natural fabrics on the market, organic cotton is grown without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Organic cotton farming requires little water compared to conventional cotton. Traditional cotton plants require a lot of water because of the chemicals and pesticides used. However, organic cotton uses 88% less water than conventional cotton and 62% less energy, making it a better crop ecologically.
Organic cotton needs to go through a certification method to ensure it is an ethical and sustainable crop. First, it is examined to see if it was grown without machine harvesting and if the final product is free of any chemicals.
Other certifications are required for safe conditions and fair pay for cotton farmers, making this an ethical product for the fashion world and consumers to invest in.
Organic cotton is used by clothing brands for a variety of garments, such as organic T-shirts, maternity clothes, mattress protectors, bras, and much more. The fibre is suitable for sensitive skin because it is naturally hypo-allergenic.
Hemp is one of the most eco-friendly fabrics on the market. Known as a "super fibre," it derives from the cannabis plant and is grown specifically for its natural fibres. Hemp is very durable and sturdy, and it requires a lot less water than cotton. It also absorbs CO2 from the air as a carbon-negative raw material.
With so many benefits, such as being naturally resistant to mould and the ability to hold its shape, it is slightly more expensive than other sustainable fabric. Clothes made of hemp fibre are more absorbent and lightweight. It is more robust than cotton, allowing your clothes to last for a long time.
This crop produces significantly more fibre per acre than a cotton or flax plant. It does not need pesticides, controls topsoil erosion, and produces oxygen while taking in CO2. Not only is it eight times stronger than cotton fibre, but it is also hypo-allergenic and non-irritating to the skin.
Often, organic hemp fibres feel rough to the touch, which is why they are blended with other textiles to create durable and softer clothes. Hemp fibres soften with age and washing, though they wrinkle easily.
Hemp is breathable and UV resistant, making it perfect for summer weather. It also absorbs sweat and other moisture without getting mouldy.
Single use plastic is a huge pollutant affecting wildlife and our natural resources. It requires immense energy consumption and piles up in landfills. However, recycled polyester is a vegan synthetic fabric that reuses these single-use plastic items in a sustainable way.
It is very versatile and can be used to make different clothes with a variety of functions. It can be made into anything, from thick, sustainable fleece to light and stretchy athleticwear.
Brands that prioritize sustainable fabric, such as Reformation, Patagonia, and prAna, have used this recycled textile for many years. It helps prevent plastic from piling up in landfills or being disposed of in the ocean.
However, upon washing, recycled polyester still releases microplastics. You can prevent this by washing it in a microplastic filter bag. Despite some of its drawbacks, recycled is superior to virgin polyester because of its lack of toxic substances, leaving a minimal impact on the environment.
There have been some concerns with the toxic chemicals remaining in virgin polyester and the effects it may have on the consumer. When looking for sustainable fashion, recycled polyester will always be safer than virgin.
When your old cotton T-shirt reaches the end of its lifetime, it can be recycled to create a fabric often called cupro cupro or cupra. Cupro fabric is extremely fine and is reasonably stretchy. It is known as a variation of alternative vegan silk.
However, the production of this textile requires large amounts of caustic soda, ammonia, and copper. Any one of these chemicals can be toxic if disposed of improperly. During the process, the recycled fibres dissolve in a solution called cuprammonium, which allows the fibres to harden and be woven into a new fabric. This solution contains several toxic chemicals, which can harm the planet.
However, cupro fabric is a synthetic fabric that looks and feels the most like silk. It is used almost exclusively in apparel, such as scarves. Cupro textiles mix with others to make blouses, T-shirts, tank tops, and other light or sheer clothes. It is biodegradable and cruelty-free, making it an eco-friendly product.
Cupro fabric does not contain any animal by-products, and it is anti-static, hypo-allergenic, durable, and stretch-resistant. It also dries quickly, combining the practicality of synthetic fiber and the soft feel of natural fiber.
This sustainable product is produced in China and exported all over the world.
Leather comes from the skin of animals raised for their meat. One billion animals are slaughtered for either their skin or meat every year. Though leather is a by-product of the meat industry, ethical and environmental concerns arise regarding its production.
Tanning leather requires about 250 chemicals in its process, including cyanide and arsenic. Not only are these chemicals bad for the earth as a non-biodegradable material, but they are harmful to workers as well.
Vegan leather is usually made from polyurethane, which looks and feels like real leather. This fabric can also be made from sustainable waste, such as apple peels, pineapple leaves, other fruit waste, recycled plastic, and cork.
It is a versatile leather used to create motorcycle jackets, boots, shoes, dresses, and even undergarments. Designers like Stella McCartney use this in their sustainable fashion pieces. This cruelty-free textile is an incredible way to avoid polluting the planet and promote better animal treatment.
Bamboo is a sustainable plant that renews itself very quickly. Like hemp, it takes in more CO2 than some trees and can survive solely on a lot of water. It can create a soft and silky type of linen that is popular among people who are conscious of the environment.
There are three types of fabric manufactured today, but only one is considered the “true” material. The majority of this textile is bamboo viscose, where the cellulose is extracted and exposed to chemical solutions, like caustic soda. It is a cheap process but harmful to the environment and creates hazardous waste.
The second is a lyocell-type of fibre, which is similar to viscose but is produced by a closed-loop system. The bamboo’s cellulose is not altered, retaining many beneficial qualities. However, the fibre is still exposed to harmful chemicals.
The last type is made using the mechanical method, and this type is considered the “true” bamboo textile. It is made using a natural enzyme on crushed wood pulp and then is washed and spun into yarn. The yarn often has a silky texture, which is why it is usually called bamboo linen.
The linen made by this method is durable and long-lasting as well as environmentally-friendly fabrics since it does not require any harmful chemicals. However, it is not easy to find manufacturers that make linen through this mechanical process.
This type of linen is generally used for any articles of clothing that are usually made with cotton. It is versatile and highly breathable, making it a luxurious natural fabric for bed sheets, blankets, or towels. This linen is also used for underwear, bras, T-shirts, socks, and other clothing that directly touches the skin because of its soft texture.
Bamboo sheets are an excellent alternative to cotton or other for those looking for a high thread count, smooth and silky sheets, and long-lasting cloth.
The growing concern for the environment is reflected by several brands through the creation of sustainable fashion. With so many options for sustainable fabrics, you can make an impact by the way you choose your clothing.
Even bedding can be sustainable by replacing natural down; down alternatives often use synthetic materials.
The next time you look for a sustainable brand to support, it is important to note where they source their fabrics. If there is more information transparency from the company, that generally means they use more sustainable sources!