Time’s up on fashion practices that are bad for the planet as more and more fashion brands and consumers resort to the use of sustainable clothing materials.
The 21st century has seen a shift in the perspective of luxury brands that now promote the eco-friendly aspects of their mode of operation, highlighting tradition and craftsmanship as their values.
Research shows that 89% of the professionals of the fashion industry believe sustainable development to be an opportunity.
On the other hand, the consumption habits of customers are also promising as 60% of respondents stated in response to a survey conducted in 2018 that they would buy sustainable clothing materials if they were the same price and exactly the same quality as normal fashion.
As a result of the patronage of both companies and customers, we have a lot of choices available these days in sustainable clothing materials. Some choices may seem a bit bizarre and novel to you, like apples and pineapples.
No need to wonder what are eco-friendly fashion materials as we are here to guide you on why it’s something you should try out. Buying sustainable fashion has never been easier.
What are sustainable fashion materials?
Sustainable clothing refers to the newfound practice of running an ethical business, that uses eco-friendly clothing materials and employs production processes with minimal impact.
Sustainable clothing is all about ensuring transparency in how you resource the raw constituents of your product and giving back to the community that is most affected by your operations.
To be brief, it is a way that is beneficial to both the industry and society. It manufactures and sketches out the prints which satisfy both the parties; the givers and the takers.
Why should you opt for sustainable fabrics?
If we statistically see the figures for 2021, they show that the fashion industry plays a vital role in contributing to the greenhouse effect. The rate of pollution is increasing day by day due to the excessive production of clothing materials.
A study conducted by the United Nations shows that almost 7500 gallons of water go into making one pair of jeans.
To diminish the effect on the environment and to protect the ozone layer from further damage, we need to switch our lifestyle and choose sustainable clothing materials.
We need to take into account the way the manufacturing process degrades our surroundings. Other aspects of the production process we need to consider are:
- Sourcing of raw materials
- Petroleum and oil drilling impact
- Processing of these raw materials
- Chemicals turning into cloth fibers
- Disposal and Biodegradation of Garments
We also need to think about the effect on
- Water consumption
- Greenhouse gases
- Landfill waste
Following are some of the sustainable materials which might be helpful for people.
Our featured sustainable clothing materials
We can always reduce our environmental impact by going organic. Organic Cotton has to be one of the most natural fabrics in the realm. It develops without acaricide and is refined with no chemicals.
In pest management, organic cotton growers use “natural” chemicals such as sulfur dust and Bacillus additive, not insect-resistant biotech cotton and other biological control agents, as well as organic acid-based foliar sprays like citric acid and nitrogen and zinc sulfate in harvest preparation.
From an ecological standpoint, organic curation of cotton uses 62 percent less energy and 88 percent less water than conventional cotton. It’s high time that we said goodbye to traditional nylon production methods.
Organic clothing brands use this natural fibre in every type of garment:
- organic pallets,
- organic baby suits,
- organic undergarments
On the other hand, recycled cotton is being produced with used industrial and user waste. Many industrialists take advantage of this and convert the material into ethical cotton clothing and sustainable jeans which are usable and affordable for many, thus trumping organic cotton.
Recycled cotton refers to disposed of cotton fabric converted to cotton fiber which is then used in textile products.
This certified recycled cotton is salvaged either from the pre-consumer stage or the post-consumer waste and is considered one of the most sustainable fabrics as it accounts for less water and energy consumption as compared to virgin cotton production.
The largest volume of recycled cotton comes from pre-consumer waste materials coming from the processing of yarn and other textile products.
Recycled cotton, also called reclaimed or regenerated cotton, is better than organic cotton in the way that it lowers the environmental impact of land cultivation and prevents the textile waste fabric from disposal in landfills or incarceration.
One of the most widely used materials, synthetic cotton is resistant to wear and fading but performs poorly to the soil, wrinkling, and fire.
It has been historically blended with other fabrics to improve its resistance to fire.
Durability and use depend on the weave and finish. Damask weaves are formal; canvas is more casual and more durable.
Synthetic cotton has often been compared to recycled cotton with the latter being completely biodegradable.
Organic Hemp is next on our list of eco fabrics and it is a sustainable alternative to polyester. Hemp is extracted from Cannabis Sativa which is known to have exceptional quality, and the fibers of Hemp stay durable for a longer time.
The paramount advantage of this fabric is that it requires less water than cotton. It is considered carbon-negative raw material and absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere.
Due to its fine quality, it’s not easy to grow and buy and is, therefore, more expensive.
Linen is the twin of Hemp in terms of sustainability. It is a more sustainable alternative to conventional linen. It is highly breathable and also absorbent. It only differs from Hemp in terms of extraction.
It is derived from the flax plant while Hemp is derived from Cannabis Sativa. Linen requires very less humus to grow but unlike hemp, linen isn’t high yielding.
People usually look for durable and respirable clothes and to fulfill this purpose, linen is regarded as one of the best fabrics. Organic linen fabric that fulfills the global organic textile standard is hard to find so keep your eyes peeled.
Bamboo does not harm nature which makes it one of the most sustainable fabrics on our list. The growth of bamboo takes place at a rapid rate and is the fastest growing plant on the globe. Bamboo consumes more CO2 and does not need a lot of necessities to grow. It can survive on a little rainfall.
Bamboo is one of the most substantial materials but not in every case as it depends on the quality of bamboo.
It is currently being subjected to intense chemical processing and due to this, it brings harmful and unfavorable impacts along with it.
The organic bamboo fabric should be used in a raw form as it is more useful than in plasticized form and the practice of chemical processing should be eschewed at all costs.
Mostly, we have seen cork on bottles but now it’s being used in clothes Cork is used for the material of vegan bags and shoes.
Cork is sustainably reaped from Cork Oak wood pulp. The Cork Oak tree needs to be cut down to extend and prolong its life.
During the process of growth of the bark, the rate of the consumption of carbon dioxide is more than in any other tree.
The whole process of reaping takes place around 9 to 12 years and after it, the cork shall be kept somewhere to dry, and then it only requires water to turn into something satisfactory for the fashion.
Cork is a tremendously essential factor that balances the ecosystem as it is made from wood pulp.
Lyocell is derived from eucalyptus trees. It is a form of rayon made from cellulose fibers, making it a semi-synthetic sustainable fabric.
Lyocell does not require a huge amount of water and acaricide for better growth. It is synthesized by dissolving pulp and drying with jet-wet spinning.
The processing and manufacturing of Lyocell are sustainable and require less water as compared to the other fabrics.
The beneficial point of Lyocell is that its process takes place in a feedback control where up to 99.5 percent of dissolving agents can be reused.
Lyocell was branded as TENCEL in 1982. The trademark of this fabric is TENCEL which was given by an Australian manufacturer of Lyocell producers.
TENCEL boasts its ethically responsible manufacturing process and soft texture. It can be mixed with a variety of textile fabrics like cotton, polyester, acrylic, wool, and silk.
The special strength of Tencel Lyocell, its flexibility, and its breathability are some of its finest features. The fabric absorbs moisture and has a gentle effect on the skin.
Modal is another semi-synthetic fabric known for its splendid quality and comfortability. Modal is extracted from beech trees pulp.
Modal is a form of rayon derived from plants making it a semi-synthetic fabric. It can be used to make clothing items like pajamas and underwear or household items like bed sheets, towels, aprons, etc.
While manufacturing, it uses far less waste and chemicals and it is also being processed in the same closed-loop production process of reuse of the water and solvents as is done in Lyocell.
Modal is stretchy, flexible, and breathable making it a good choice. It is also blended with cotton or spandex for enhanced strength.
Much like TENCEL Lyocell, TENCEL Modal has a smooth surface and high flexibility TENCEL Modal can be used to make a variety of beddings like bed linens, bed mattresses, and filled products.
It can also be used in carpets and upholstery, not to mention towels.
99% of the solvent is recycled which comes from the brand name TENCEL Modal. TENCEL Modal is also known to be carbon-neutral and is only made up of reaped wood.
Bamboo is a rapidly growing plant and it has high demand in the market. Bamboo Lyocell goes through the same process of closed-loop that reutilizes the water and chemicals.
Bamboo Lyocell is unsubstantiated and is sometimes mistaken for bamboo viscose. Both of these require a large number of chemicals to convert the pulp into silky fabrics.
Always look for the bamboo lyocell that is being processed with a very little amount of chemical involvement.
Few brands are making bamboo clothes and undergarments and the material they use is also sustainable. Still, it is important to look for the advice of third-party certification.
Lenzing™, the company behind the success of Lyocell and Modal, has recently launched a viscose fiber called EcoVero.
As far as sustainable materials are concerned, EcoVero wins. With a 50% reduction in emissions and water use, it is preferable over general viscose and is derived from a diverse range of wood pulp sources.
The luxurious feel and soft synthesis of this sustainable fabric are owed to the light cellulose fabric that goes in the manufacturing process.
Pinatex is derived from pineapple leaf fiber and the name itself suggests it. It has been used as a replacement for leather which is harmful and not sustainable whereas Pinatex is considered eco-friendly and sustainable.
It is a vital food recycled material, made from waste pineapple leaves. The important factor is that it reduces waste. Some of the brands consider Pinatex as a non-biodegradable resin which sort of defeats the purpose.
Kombucha is fermented using a material called SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) and it is being used as an alternative to leather.
SCOBY is biodegradable, requires zero heavy metal and it consumes fewer chemicals as compared to others and is cheaper than the actual leather.
SCOBY belongs to the class of sustainable fabrics that comes from cellulose fibers mixed with Kombucha tea, vinegar, and sugar.
This procedure involves ground coffee grain and then turns it into yarn. The yarn dries quickly and provides natural UV protection. You may whiff like cappuccino and coffee all day but you will be dry and comfy and eco-friendly.
This sustainable material has the same quality as cotton yarn with a faster drying process. The recycled fibers of S.Cafe are salvaged from coffee bean grounds and mixed with polyester.
No toxic chemicals are used in the manufacturing process and fewer carbon emissions make it preferable over conventional cotton.
Wearing something made with Qmonos makes you feel like you are in some kind of action movie.
The question arises what specific traits this type of fabric has which makes us think that it is giving us a movie vibe. The answer is it is a Japanese fabric that is made from synthetic spider silk produced using microbes and spider silk genes.
The material of the fabric seems like it is made of steel but at the same time, it is very lightweight and comfortable.
The cherry on top, none of the spiders were harmed while making this fabric which is a plus point.
Brewed Protein is produced by the same company which produces Qmonos.
Brewed Protein is a silky protein fiber manufactured from fermenting plant-derived biomass.
It is fully biodegradable and has a very small contribution to the greenhouse gas as compared to other animal-derived protein fibers.
The one drawback is that it isn’t found everywhere very easily and is rare to find. Buying sustainable clothing is never easy but this rendition of spider silk should not be missed.
Apple leather (or Pellemela, as it was originally known in Italian) is extracted from the apple waste industry. It was first set up by an Italian company Frutmat which is famous for recycling its biological waste.
Apple leather is an Eco-Friendly material and is highly breathable, waterproof, and durable. You can easily find them in the form of handbags, cross bags, trainers, wallets, and eco-friendly sneakers.
Harmful chemicals used in the tanning of leather call for vegan leather alternatives where apple leather comes in. Keep your eye out for apple leather featured in one of the sustainable fabrics by fashion brands.
It may not be one of the most commonly used fabrics but the sustainable practices behind the production of Woocoa make it deserving of a spot on our list.
Woocoa is being used as an alternative to wool. This type of vegan wool is eco-friendly and animal friendly.
Woocoa fur is made using coconut fiber excess from the food industry combined with hemp fibres. The coconut fibres are hygroscopic and thermal.
This great innovation from the textile industry uses fewer resources and is made from coconut fibers and hemp subjected to enzymatic action after extraction from oyster mushrooms.
Cupro, also known as Cupra, is considered to be one of the types of vegan silk alternative which is being made by either waste byproduct of cow or by reused cotton material.
Cupro has similarities with Lyocell and Modal. It is common for the natural cotton fibers which undergo some chemical changes to turn into semi-synthetic fabric. This process takes place on a closed-loop process that recycles all the water.
Cupro is considered both semi-natural and recycled fabric. During the production of Cupro, it undergoes many changes and it is linked with pollution in its production phase.
QMILK has been self-manifested to be “the material of the future.” You never know how huge it will be one day. QMILK uses casein to make a natural fiber that is silky smooth. It should be noted that QMILK is not vegan.
QMILK is one of those sustainable brands that boast an antibacterial effect and a high affinity to water.
It is also the only natural fiber with thermo-bonding properties which means that other natural fibers can also be added to the mix without the use of conventional plastics or phenolic resins.
Give a chance to these new materials with their lightweight construction and composting options.
Squid is a transparent, self-adhesive fabric that affords you the luxury of privacy in the daytime, protects you from the unrelenting heat of the sun.
A novel alternative to curtains or window film, Squid reflects the sun’s harmful rays, up to one-third to be exact, and reduces the temperature of a room by about 3 degrees Celsius. Squid is a unique type of patented fabric that has a beautifully textured look and feel close up.
The fabric is woven with polyester threads to give it a soft, warm feel and it is easy to clean. You can remove stains from food or liquids without any problems.
Squid is also moisture and heat resistant so it will maintain its premium look and feel for years to come.
Econyl is simply recycled nylon yarn. It uses the plastic disposed into the oceans, fishing nets, and other disposed of fabric and turns it into nylon fiber.
It feels pretty much the same as nylon but has the added advantage of a closed-loop system that doesn’t waste much water.
This form of recycled nylon has received much fame for its potential of use as swimwear but has been responsible for adding plastic pollutants to the oceans and other waterways.
ECONYL is also called regenerated nylon that can be recycled, recreated, and remolded multiple times.
Created by the Italian company, Aquafil, ECONYL makes great use of synthetic waste like industrial plastic, fishing nets from the ocean, and waste fabric.
Recycled Polyester (rPET)
The scientific name for recycled polyester or rPET is recycled polyethylene terephthalate, considered to be one of the most ingenious sustainable fabrics.
A major contributor to world pollution is single-use plastic bottles that are now being transformed instead of ending up in a landfill as bottles and plastic bags by being turned into Recycled Polyester. So recycled plastic bottles are turned into recycled fabrics.
Recycled polyester has been employed in making stretchy exercise wear to thick and fluffy eco-friendly fleece.
Even though recycled polyester decreases the burden of pollution, some plastic bottles still end up in the oceans. PET eventually reaches a point where it needs to be discarded raising concerns over its degradability.
There is a type of sheep called Merino sheep that is somehow different from all the other sheep in terms of its wool as it has thicker wool than others.
Most of the Merino Wool comes from Australia and many of them went through some horrid process which is known as “mulesing.”
But we cannot simply say that ethical merino does not exist because it does. Ethical merino is being sourced from New Zealand where it is illegal to do mulesing and the ethical welfare of animals is considered extremely important.
Wool is considered an alternative to plastic and synthetic products like nylon and polyester. Its undergoing process does not require a lot of harmful chemicals.
We know that most animal agriculture is associated with environmental modifications and this also includes sheep.
Wool is similar to TENCEL in the way that it complements your body temperature, keeping you cool in summers and warm in winters. It also has the added benefit of being biodegradable and it can be composted once it wears out.
The production of Wool is linked with ethical and animal welfare concerns. There are some critics which believe that wool can never be ethical but you should always look at authenticated certifications.
Alpaca is known to be one of the most eco-friendly and ethical wool.
Alpacas are directly connected with camels and they are more ethical than others as they don’t destroy or disturb the environment like other livestock do.
Local farmers, while seeing their behavior, treat them humanely as compared to others as they are not harming their land anyway.
Alpaca wool is 100% biodegradable with the animal leaving virtually no footprint on the Earth. Alpaca wool also does not need extensive chemical treatment making it an ecofriendly fabric.
Yak wool is considered to be the alternative to cashmere. It is calculated to be soft and cozy. It is harvested from either the outer coat or from the under-coat of Yaks on the Tibetan Plateau.
Yak wool is obtained through the principles of regeneration and is causing a great frenzy in Parisian fashion houses. Nomads from Tibet have provided this Cashmere alternative to Tibetan women for years.
Throughout the year, Yak is being used in a prodigal way and the good thing is that it doesn’t involve animals in any way and it is considered highly biodegradable.
Brands like United by Blue and Reformation which are also considered to be substantial are now using ethical Yak wool.
Cashmere is one of the best fabrics in the world and also one of the people’s favorites. It is extremely eco-friendly and biodegradable.
It originated from goats which are being raised in the Asian mountains and countries like Mongolia. Cashmere is associated with a lot of ethical involvement which is a problem.
Cashmere can be sourced substantially, but it is extremely important to look into the depth before concluding so it should be noted that the techniques involve cutting down or scaring the animals as electric shears do.
Camel, also known as camel hair or camel wool, is considered to be one of the most sustainable types of fibers. This sustainable fabric is made using the hair of the Bactrian camel which is found in Asia, Turkey, China, and Siberia.
These kinds of camels are usually raised in small areas or family farms. Camel wool is 100 percent biodegradable and does not require chemicals during its process.
In this type of wool, very less cases are being reported related to animal welfare in comparison to others.
Due to the purity, it is very difficult to find these types of camels nowadays and it is known to be very rare and hard to find.
Camel’s hair is an excellent insulator making it great for winters. This fabric needs to be hand washed or dry cleaned only otherwise you may ruin the fine fabric.
Vegetable Tanned Leather
Talking about sustainable fabrics, the leather may or may not be one. It is an animal-based fiber and is being highly criticized for ethical and environmental reasons.
Before deciding what to take and what not to take, just check out whether the leather is made up of any animal skin or not.
The process through which the hides of animal is converted to leather is called tanning. Chromo tanning should be preferred as compared to traditional tanning.
You should keep in mind to look for natural dyes rather than artificial ones. Vegetable-tanned leather should be preferred but still, it is also not perfectly biodegradable.
Down is a highly demanded sustainable fabric in the market but due to animal welfare concerns, it receives a lot of audits.
One of the famous companies named Patagonia has explained in detail how they use down and they ensure its monitoring from farm to factory.
Down is a fine thermal insulator and padding. It can be used in goods such as jackets, beddings (duvets and featherbeds), pillows, and sleeping bags. Down feathers are sometimes used as decorative trim on clothing.
Down insulation is made from goose or duck plumage – the lofty, fluffy stuff underneath the feathers. It is an undercoating or a natural mid-layer. Nature’s best insulation down creates high-loft clusters that trap air and body heat.
The first word which comes to mind while thinking about silk is softness. Silk is biodegradable and uses considerably less water, chemicals, and energy than other fibers. The Mulberry trees which form a habitat for silkworms do not require pesticides or fertilizers.
Silk is considered to have originated from wild silkworms. The production involves no harm to the worm but in some cases, they end up dying.
Silkworms are bred under natural conditions and in this way they were able to emerge on their own and were able to carry their life means that no harm was done to animals in this type of silk fabric production.
If you are still concerned about animal rights, you can always switch to organic silk or fair-trade silk, or peace silk.
We see that sustainability is more than just using eco-friendly fabrics and textile products but also taking into account the production process, treatment with toxic chemicals, biodegradability, and ethical sourcing of raw materials like a flax plant. The respect and financial compensation of the communities we use is an essential aspect that brands need to consider. Choose only those that fulfill all these criteria.
The world is moving towards sustainable clothing materials by taking into account the impact that the fashion industry has on our environment. We have such a diverse array of products now that choosing eco-friendly fabric has never been easier. The environmental impact of our habits is long-lasting which is why we should resolve to reduce our carbon footprint and go green.
Ammy Harryy, a devoted advocate for sustainable fashion and mindful living, exudes a profound passion for nature and the environment. Her mission intertwines style and consciousness, inspiring eco-friendly choices. With her words, Ammy envisions a world where fashion harmonizes with the planet, urging readers to take small steps toward a greener future.