The Most Sustainable Fabrics

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

1. Organic or Recycled Cotton

A more sustainable alternative to conventional cotton is the organic version of the material. Organic cotton is grown without all the harmful pesticides and produced without the dangerous chemicals that normal cotton uses.

The most sustainable way to wear cotton is in its recycled form. This fabric is made with post-industrial and post-consumer waste and uses far less water and energy to produce in comparison with conventional and organic cotton.

2. Organic Hemp

Hemp is often used in clothing, rope, and boat sails because of its excellent durability. It is also naturally insulating and cooling as well as protective from UV rays. An added bonus: it’s environmentally friendly.

The plant itself is extremely resilient and requires little water to grow. It also returns 60-70% of nutrients to the soil that it lives in! Plus, when it is spun into a fabric, the process requires no chemicals whatsoever. Note that some manufacturers do choose to use a more chemical-intensive process to speed the production, which is not so great for the environment.

As long as hemp is manufactured organically, without added chemicals, it is considered a very sustainable fabric choice. It even gets softer through washing, which adds to its level of comfort.

Hemp plants also produce a nutritious seed which you may have noticed at your local grocery store. If hemp is safe enough to consume, you should have no problem wearing it!

3. Organic Linen

Known for its light and summery feel in clothing, linen is also produced from a plant: flax. Like hemp, it requires little water and little-to-no pesticides. It is completely biodegradable when left undyed!

The process for manufacturing linen is more mechanically intensive than water intensive, so both the natural plant and the fabric that is derived from it require minimal water. The mechanically intensive process does produce some emissions, but the overall process produces far fewer carbon emissions than most other fabrics, according to Green Story’s Green Fabric Guide.

The flax plant is highly available, and the process to make linen from it is high yielding. It’s an excellent option for local production and is very sustainable when untreated.

Like hemp seeds, you may also have heard of flax seeds as a common topper for salads or smoothie bowls. Fun fact: when mixed with water, flax seeds produce a vegan substitute for eggs.

4. Tencel

A relatively new fabric, Tencel is made from wood pulp, and its properties are similar to those of rayon. Since it’s derived from plant material, it is biodegradable. According to Green Story’s Green Fabric Guide, the process for creating Tencel fiber was designed specifically to reduce environmental impact.

The production of Tencel uses only one-third of the water that is needed to produce rayon, and over 99% of the water and solvents used are able to be recycled! That means there is no need for new solvents.

This greatly reduces the release of dangerous chemicals into the surrounding environment. Plus, the solvents used in Tencel production are non-toxic, unlike those of viscose.

Tencel is on the more expensive side of things, but it’s very durable and will last a long time. You get what you pay for! While it is not widely available for production yet, the industry is growing fast.

5. Recycled Polyester (rPET)

This material is often made from plastic bottles that would have gone to the landfill. This is a fantastic solution to the plastic pollution issue, and it reduces the need for raw materials. The recycled version of polyester is a much more sustainable option since it skips the energy-intensive oil extraction process, reducing emissions.

According to Green Story, the production process for recycled polyester uses 35% less water than the regular material. The part that requires the most water is the dyeing process. Plus, a t-shirt made from 100% polyester can be recycled several times before the fabric becomes unusable.

An issue with recycled polyester is that like virgin polyester, it also releases microplastics during washing. One thing you can do to help with this problem is wash your clothes less often and use this washing bag which prevents microplastics from entering the waterways.

6. Econyl

If after reading about nylon you are looking for a better alternative, try Econyl. This fabric is made from waste materials such as industrial plastic and fishing nets. The process is closed-loop, which seems to be a trend in all of the future fabrics.

Note that since this material is made from plastic, small particles may be released when a clothing item is washed. Econyl is most sustainable in the form of items that do not need to be washed often, such as sneakers or backpacks. For items that do need to be washed try using a washing bag which helps prevent microplastics from entering the waterways.


 

Image Source:

https://imageinstitute.com/eco-friendly-fashion-2/


Eco-Stylist. 2020. A Guide to the Most and Least Sustainable Fabrics - Eco-Stylist. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.eco-stylist.com/a-guide-to-the-most-and-least-sustainable-fabrics/. [Accessed 30 December 2020].

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