5 Sustainable Fabrics to Look for When Shopping (and Where to Shop Them)
When it comes to sustainable fashion there are many layers to the conversation. In addition to designing and manufacturing clothing with the smallest environmental/social footprint as possible, sustainable fashion also calls into question the fabrics/materials used to make our garments. There are pros and cons to most fabrics however, whether you’re shopping second hand or purchasing something new these are a few fabrics we look for when shopping.
Keep scrolling to read our go-to sustainable fabrics and be sure to join the conversation by commenting below and sharing your thoughts.
Cotton is the second-most common material used in clothing after polyester. Traditional cotton, although a natural fiber, takes an extreme amount of water and chemicals to be produced. Can you believe it takes 2,700 liters of water to produce the amount of cotton needed to make a single t-shirt? Literally one t-shirt! Additionally, cotton is one of the world’s most genetically modified crops. The genetic modification presents a whole host of environmental issues, like soil and water pollution and threats to biodiversity. Organic cotton, however, is grown on farms that use techniques that typically have a lower impact on the environment. Organic cotton doesn’t use synthetic fertilizers, herbicides/pesticides or genetically modified seeds and its farmers follow specific practices to promote water quality, energy conservation, and healthy soil.
- Breathable & soft
- Made from natural fibers
- No pesticides or chemicals used
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Tencel is the brand name for a type of lyocell (a form of rayon which consists of cellulose fibre made from dissolving pulp), TENCEL® is produced by the Austrian company Lenzing AG. Tencel is a natural, semisynthetic form of rayon, made from wood pulp, that is soft yet strong, machine-washable, and (most importantly) is wrinkle resistant.
- Made from natural materials
- Uses less energy and water than cotton
- 50% more absorbent than cotton
- Anti Bacterial
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Hemp is a highly sustainable, low-impact crop that’s able to be sustainably converted into fabric. Hemp grows in a variety of climates and soil types. It also has an extremely fast growth rate (in tight spaces which decreases land use) which means it doesn’t need pesticides (however some companies use chemicals to speed up the process and create a higher yield.) Hemp fabrics are extremely durable, soft and when produced from pure hemp it’s similar in texture to linen.
- Natural fiber
- Requires no pesticides
- Requires less water than cotton
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Linen is a plant-based fabric made from flax. If untreated or dyed, linen is fully biodegradable and can be harvested without harmful chemicals.
- Natural Fiber
- No pesticides or chemicals required
- Lightweight & Breathable
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In the words of Stella McCarthy (as stated on the website), “synthetic materials, such as nylon and polyester, can – and should – be recycled and come from recycled sources. The world is full of raw material that is already in use, or on its way to landfill, where it will take centuries to decompose. The most logical, and exciting, next step is to reuse what we already have. To turn ‘waste’ materials into something more luxurious to create a truly a truly circular, restorative system.”
The production of virgin polyester is quite harmful to both the environment and humans. Not only does the production of virgin polyester require a lot of water, chemicals and fossil fuels, the raw materials and by-product of polyester are toxic, pollutant and can cause serious health problems. Recycled polyester, however, is made from “polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which is derived by melting down existing plastic and re-spinning it into new polyester fibers. Once converted into this ‘new’ material, recycled polyester performs in the same way as virgin polyester and can be used to create fabrics.
- Produces the same benefits as virgin polyester but uses fewer resources to create
- Helps keep plastic out of the landfill
Consider Microplastics. Unfortunately, recycled polyester isn’t a perfect solution. Every time you wash garments made out of polyester — virgin or recycled — tiny microfibers (below 5 mm in size) called microplastics and shed. These tiny plastics go down the drains of our washing machines, through the wastewater treatment facilities and into our waterways. It’s estimated that up to 700,000 microfibers could be released in a single load of laundry. (source) Most microfiber pollution occurs when we wash our clothes. (source) One way to combat microplastics is to use a GuppyBag Washing Bag or something similar that decreases fiber loss and prolongs the lifetime of your garments.