Sustainable Fabrics: An Overview
Not all threads are sustainable. Know whether your money supports an environment-friendly business by taking an in-depth look at their chosen fabrics.
The small fibres that make your clothing are derived from something natural and pure. It's not all the time, however, that those sources can be replenished. In many instances, fashion tends to abuse energy and resources in producing your favourite clothing. To make sure that you support businesses that advocate environmental-friendly methods, make sure to check on what fabric they use.
Here are some of the world's most sustainable fabrics:
Often used in tea towels and bed sheets, linen fabric is derived from the stem of the flax plant. Flax are usually grown in Europe and China, sown on rough terrains that may be unsuitable for food farming. Flax is cultivated without any need for chemicals, and then processed into fibre through a method called enzyme retting, which turn the raw crops into smooth fibres without polluting the waterways. Avoid companies that promote harmful gathering of linen, such as water-retting, which soaks the flax in rivers and leaves residues on these bodies of water.
We love cotton; it's the fabric used for many clothes and textile blends, as well as furniture upholstery. This plant-based fabric is durable, versatile and the best part? Biodegradable. However, some businesses use large amounts of water and pesticides to gather cotton. What you can do: check if the label sports the term “Organic Cotton.” This alternative technique lowers the carbon footprints that go into the environment. Keep in mind, organic doesn't always use fair trade. The dye can also ruin the sustainable element in your garment. At best, pick cotton fabrics that are undiluted with colour: creams, pastels and light browns.
Derived from our fluffy, four-pawed friends, wool is one of the more environmentally-friendly fabrics, if you're comfortable with animal products. It is durable, wrinkle-free and resilient in form. Add to that, it can absorb large amounts of moisture before feeling damp, which makes it perfect for your winter wear. It can be dyed colourfully and does not require chemicals to be harvested. Wool can replace synthetic microfibres which affects the world's oceans. But it doesn't come with a drawback: wool's carbon footprints come from the sheep's methane emissions.
Similar to Rayon, Lyocell, also called Tencel, is a man-made fabric that offers less chemical processing and better sustainability. The manufacturing process includes low water and energy intensity, and usually does not require too much bleaching and harmful dying methods. The chemical processing of this fibre is operated on a closed-loop, and the result: a textile that is completely biodegradable. Lyocell fabrics are used for dresses, bed linen, and other textiles. When taken from responsibly-managed forests, Lyocell is a good alternative to common unsustainable fabrics.
Coming from the same species of marijuana – only more sober – hemp is a good source of natural fibre for clothing. It grows on most soil types, produces in a fast rate, and even improve soil health; farmers can grow crops after a hemp harvest. It does not require chemicals and, thanks to its resilient nature, can clean up soil pollution by absorbing CO2. Hemp paper, used two millennia ago, uses wood pulp that required fewer chemicals and less bleach. This promising fabric choice is derived from a plant that keeps on giving, so why not give it a chance?
Just like hemp, bamboo is a versatile fabric derived from a renewable source. The bamboo plant is one of the fastest growing plant species in the world. It requires no pesticides and unlike cotton and linen, needs less water. However, for bamboo to be turned into fabric, the strong material - usually used in furniture and scaffolding - must be dissolved and meshed into smaller strands. Chemical solutions are required to turn the solid, sturdy stalk into softer materials which can be easily combed out and then spun into a yarn. Bamboo is readily available, but it is labour-intensive to be turned into threads.
Last but not the least is the protein-rich fibres that come from the cocoons of mulberry worms. These cocoons are made from a single strand that expands up to 1.3 metres. When it's time, the filament is unwound from the cocoon before it is woven into a loom to create a silk fabric. Silk is an organic fibre; its properties make it easy to biodegrade after the end of its life, unlike petroleum-based alternatives like nylon and acrylic. Despite being non-vegan, silk is sustainable, as it does not use harmful chemicals and large amounts of water to be produced. Fortunately, silk alternatives such as Peace Silk make use of processes where the mulberry worms are not harmed during the process.
All fabrics require life, energy and resource consumption to be made. However, those tagged sustainable offer less harm to nature and can be easily replenished in the future. At best, choose these fabrics for your clothing. Prioritize quality, longevity, and biodegradability so that the future generations can enjoy the rest of the earth’s natural resources.