35 Sustainable Materials For Eco-Friendly Fashion
As the fashion industry's environmental impact becomes increasingly apparent, the need for sustainable materials in clothing production is more pressing than ever. Materials play a significant role in determining the ecological footprint of our clothes, contributing to issues such as water consumption, microplastic pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, soil degradation, rainforest destruction, and landfill waste.
Alarmingly, the fashion industry accounts for 2 to 8 percent of global carbon emissions, with a substantial portion of these emissions stemming from processes like water pumping for crop irrigation, use of oil-based pesticides, machinery operation for harvesting, and transport.
To foster a more sustainable and ethical fashion industry, we must pay attention to the materials that constitute our clothing. With the myriad of potentially sustainable materials and their associated manufacturing processes, certification schemes, and practices, understanding the nuances of eco-friendly clothing fabrics can be overwhelming.
Nonetheless, we as consumers must grasp these differences, at least at a basic level. We can take a significant step toward a more eco-friendly wardrobe by consciously choosing sustainable products. In this post, we'll explore 35 sustainable materials revolutionizing the fashion industry, making it easier for you to make informed choices about your clothing purchases.
What Are Sustainable Clothing Materials?
Sustainable clothing materials, also known as eco-friendly fabrics, are textiles that originate from environmentally friendly resources. These resources encompass sustainably grown fiber crops or recycled materials. However, the sustainability of these materials extends beyond their source.
The manufacturing processes of turning these materials into wearable fabrics also significantly impact their sustainability. From cultivation and harvesting to spinning and dyeing, each stage must be executed with minimal environmental damage for a material to qualify as truly sustainable. Embracing these eco-friendly materials is crucial to promoting a more sustainable future in fashion.
35 Sustainable Fashion Materials You Should Know About
Here are 35 sustainable fashion materials that are revolutionizing the industry:
Alpaca wool is a natural fiber derived from the alpaca, an animal native to South America. Alpaca wool is known for its softness, warmth, and durability, which makes it highly valued in the fashion industry.
Regarding sustainability, alpaca wool has a low environmental impact compared to many other materials used in fashion. Alpacas are light grazers, which means they cause less damage to pastures than other animals. Additionally, they produce more than sheep's wool, making them a more efficient source of material. Turning raw alpaca wool into fabric requires minimal energy and water, making it an earth friendly choice.
Regarding chemical use, alpaca wool does not require harsh chemical treatments in its processing. The fiber does not contain lanolin, a grease found in sheep's wool that often needs to be removed using chemicals.
Various certifications are associated with alpaca wool, including the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), Woolmark, and Climate Beneficial by Fibershed. These certifications ensure that the wool is sourced and processed in a sustainable and ethical way.
Alpaca wool is commonly used for making clothing items such as sweaters, scarves, coats, and home accessories like blankets and throws. Its unique properties, warmth, and softness make it popular for high-quality, sustainable fashion products.
Apple leather is an innovative, eco-friendly material from waste materials produced during apple juice processing. It's a type of bio-leather that uses leftover apple skins and cores to create a durable material similar to traditional leather.
From a sustainability perspective, apple leather is a great choice. The production process repurposes waste that would otherwise be thrown away, helping to reduce overall waste. Also, compared to traditional leather, the production of apple leather uses significantly less water and energy, making it a more environmentally friendly option.
The process of making apple leather does not require the use of chemicals typically associated with traditional leather production. Instead, the apple waste is ground into a powder and then combined with natural pigments and a binding agent to form the final product.
While there isn't a specific certification for apple leather, it's important to note that the products from this material often come with certifications like PETA-Approved Vegan, indicating they are cruelty-free and do not use animal products.
Apple leather is used in various ways in the fashion industry. It's most commonly seen in the production of shoes, bags, and accessories, offering a stylish alternative to traditional leather.
Bamboo linen is a fabric made from the fibers of the bamboo plant. This material is known for its softness, breathability, and durability.
In terms of sustainability aspects, bamboo linen has some significant advantages. Bamboo is a fast-growing plant that doesn't require much water or any pesticides to grow. It's also a renewable resource, as it regrows quickly after harvesting. However, the process of turning bamboo into linen can be energy-intensive and requires the use of chemicals.
The production of bamboo linen involves using chemicals to break down the bamboo stalks into a pulp, which can then be spun into fibers. While this process does involve chemical usage, more eco-friendly methods are being developed to reduce the environmental impact.
There are no specific certifications for bamboo linen. Still, there are general textile certifications like Oeko-Tex or GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) that can indicate a product meets certain standards for sustainability and safety.
Bamboo linen is used in various products, including clothing, bed sheets, and towels. Its natural softness and breathability make it an excellent choice for these items.
Bamboo Lyocell is a sustainable fabric made from the pulp of bamboo grass. It is known for its softness, breathability, and excellent moisture-wicking properties.
From a sustainability viewpoint, Bamboo Lyocell has several advantages. Bamboo is a rapidly renewable resource requiring minimal water and no pesticides. Moreover, the production process of Bamboo Lyocell is closed-loop, which means that 99% of the water and solvents used are recycled and reused, significantly reducing its environmental footprint.
The making of Bamboo Lyocell does not involve harsh chemicals. Unlike other methods of bamboo fabric production, the Lyocell process uses non-toxic solvents to dissolve the bamboo pulp. The resulting wastewater is filtered and reused in the next production cycle, reducing waste and pollution.
While there isn't a specific certification for Bamboo Lyocell, products made from this material can be certified by organizations such as OEKO-TEX or FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), which ensure that the bamboo is sourced sustainably and the production process is environmentally friendly.
Bamboo Lyocell is commonly used in bedding products like sheets and pillowcases, as well as in clothing. Its smooth, silky texture and moisture-wicking properties make it suitable for sleepwear and summer clothing.
Bananatex® is a sustainable fabric made from the fibers of banana plants. The material is derived specifically from the Abacá plant, a species of banana native to the Philippines. This innovative material is durable, waterproof, and lightweight.
In terms of sustainability, Bananatex® offers several noteworthy advantages. The Abacá plant is highly resilient, growing rapidly without pesticides or additional water beyond natural rainfall. This makes the cultivation process highly sustainable.
The process of creating Bananatex® involves harvesting the long fibers from the stalks of the Abacá plant, which are then spun into yarn and woven into a fabric. The process is done without harmful chemicals, and the resulting fabric is biodegradable, adding to its eco-friendly credentials.
While there isn't a specific certification for Bananatex®, the fabric's production process aligns with various sustainability standards. For instance, the Abacá farms where the natural materials are sourced practice sustainable farming methods, contributing to biodiversity and healthy ecosystems.
Bananatex® is used in various products within the fashion industry, most notably in the production of bags and backpacks. Its durability and waterproof nature make it an excellent choice for these items.
Brewed Protein is a revolutionary fabrication process where proteins are produced via microbial fermentation, similar to brewing beer. This innovative method creates alternative textiles that mimic natural fibers like silk, leather, and wool.
The sustainability factor of Brewed Protein is significant. Traditional textile production often involves high water consumption, chemical use, and carbon emissions. In contrast, the brewed protein process requires less water and energy and produces fewer greenhouse gases. Moreover, as it's a lab-based process, it doesn't rely on animal farming or plant cultivation, reducing the strain on natural resources.
The production of Brewed Protein involves genetically modifying yeast to produce specific types of proteins. These proteins are then fermented in a bioreactor, purified, and spun into fibers. The final material can be engineered to have different properties, such as strength, elasticity, and moisture-wicking capabilities.
While there isn't a specific certification for Brewed Protein, the production process aligns with circular economy principles and sustainability. Companies utilizing this technology, such as Spiber and Bolt Threads, are committed to reducing environmental impact through innovations in material science.
Brewed Protein is incorporated into various products, including clothing, shoes, and accessories. Its versatility allows it to mimic the properties of various traditional materials, providing an alternative for the fashion industry.
Camel wool, as the name suggests, is a type of wool harvested from camels. Known for its incredible warmth and softness, camel wool is often used in making high-quality clothing and home goods like blankets.
From a sustainability standpoint, camel wool has several benefits. Camels are hardy animals that can thrive in harsh climates with minimal resources. They require less water and food than sheep, reducing their upkeep's environmental impact.
Obtaining camel wool is relatively straightforward and does not harm the animal. The wool is typically collected during the annual molting season when camels naturally shed their fur. This process does not involve shearing or any other potentially harmful practices.
While there isn't a specific certification for camel wool, it's important to look for ethical sourcing when purchasing products from this material. Ethically sourced camel wool ensures that the animals are treated humanely and that the wool is harvested sustainably.
Camel wool is known for its excellent insulation properties, keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer. It is also lightweight and hypoallergenic, making it a popular choice for clothing, especially coats, sweaters, scarves, and bedding products.
Cashmere is a luxury fiber obtained from cashmere goats. It is prized for its exceptional softness, warmth, and durability. The name "cashmere" comes from the old spelling of Kashmir, a region in South Asia where the material was originally produced.
However, the sustainability of cashmere has been a subject of debate. On one side, cashmere is natural, renewable, biodegradable, and requires relatively simple processing. On the other hand, overgrazing by cashmere goats can lead to land degradation and desertification, particularly in Mongolia and China, which are the world's largest producers of cashmere.
Obtaining cashmere involves combing the goat's undercoat during the molting season, which typically occurs once a year in the spring. This process does not harm the animal but is labor-intensive, as each goat only produces a small amount of cashmere.
While there isn't a specific certification for cashmere, several initiatives aim to promote sustainable and ethical cashmere production. For example, the Sustainable Fibre Alliance (SFA) works with herders, processors, brands, and conservationists to create a globally recognized standard for cashmere production.
Cashmere is used in many high-quality clothing items, including sweaters, scarves, and coats. Due to its softness and warmth, it's especially popular for winter wear. However, because of its high cost and the challenges around sustainable production, it remains a luxury product.
Cork is a natural material derived from the bark of the cork oak tree, predominantly found in the Mediterranean region. Portugal is the world's leading producer of cork, home to the largest cork forest area.
Cork is considered a sustainable material due to its renewable and biodegradable properties. Harvesting cork does not require cutting down the tree; instead, the outer bark is stripped away, which then regrows over time. This process can occur every 9 to 12 years, making it a sustainable resource. Furthermore, cork oak trees absorb carbon dioxide during their regrowth period, reducing greenhouse gases.
There is a certification for cork - the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. This ensures the cork is sourced from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits.
Cork is incredibly versatile and has a wide range of uses. In the fashion industry, it's used to make shoes, bags, and accessories. Its natural water resistance, durability, and lightweight nature make it an excellent alternative to leather. In addition to fashion, cork is also used as a building material, in automotive, and even in the aerospace industry for its unique properties.
Cork products are durable, easy to maintain, and have a unique aesthetic appeal. Moreover, they are vegan-friendly, adding another layer of sustainability.
Cupro, also known as Bemberg, is a type of fabric made from waste fibers, or linter, that sticks to cotton seeds during cotton production. This linter would otherwise be discarded or used for less valuable products.
Making cupro involves dissolving the cotton linter in a solution of copper and ammonia, hence the name 'cupro.' It's then spun into new fibers, ready to be woven into fabric.
From a sustainability perspective, cupro is often lauded because it uses a waste product. However, breaking down the linter and spinning it into new fibers can be chemically intensive, which raises some environmental concerns. Some manufacturers are working to make this process more eco-friendly by using closed-loop systems that recycle the chemicals used.
While there isn't a specific certification for Cupro, it's important to look for brands that are transparent about their production processes and committed to reducing their environmental impact.
Cupro fabric has unique properties that make it a popular choice in the fashion industry. It's breathable and hypoallergenic, with a silky-smooth texture. It drapes beautifully, making it a popular choice for dresses and blouses. It's also machine washable and wrinkle-resistant, adding to its everyday wear appeal.
Deadstock fabrics are leftover or over-ordered materials from other fashion houses, manufacturers, or fabric warehouses. These fabrics would otherwise go to waste, making them an appealing choice for sustainable fashion brands looking to reduce their environmental impact.
The use of deadstock fabrics offers several benefits. It eliminates the need for new materials, saves resources, and reduces waste. It also allows designers to create unique, limited-edition pieces, as the quantity of each fabric is often limited.
However, there are some cons to using deadstock fabrics:
- Cost: Some deadstock fabrics can be expensive, especially if they're high-quality, designer materials. This can increase the cost of the final product, making it less accessible to some consumers.
- Limited Selection: The selection of designs and colors can be limited, depending on what's available at the time. This can restrict the creative freedom of designers and may not always align with the latest trends or customer preferences.
- Sustainability Practices: Not all deadstock fabrics have been produced with sustainable practices. They may have been dyed with toxic chemicals, made from non-renewable resources, or produced in factories with poor labor conditions. Without transparency from the original manufacturer, it isn't easy to know these fabrics' true environmental and social impact.
Despite these challenges, many designers and brands find innovative ways to work with deadstock fabrics, creating beautiful, sustainable, and unique pieces.
Down is a type of insulation material sourced from the soft, fluffy feathers found underneath the tougher exterior feathers of ducks or geese. It's known for its exceptional ability to trap heat, making it a popular choice for cold-weather clothing like jackets and bedding products like duvets and pillows.
The quality of down is measured in 'fill power.' The higher fill power indicates a higher quality that provides more warmth for less weight. Down's lightweight and compressible nature makes it ideal for outdoor clothing and gear, where weight and space are often concerns.
However, there are significant ethical and environmental concerns associated with down. The feathers are often plucked from live birds, a process that can cause immense suffering. Some down is also sourced from birds raised for meat or foie gras, industries that are notorious for their poor animal welfare standards.
To address these concerns, certifications like the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) and the Global Traceable Down Standard (Global TDS) have been developed. These certifications ensure that down is ethically sourced from animals, not subjected to unnecessary harm.
Despite these certifications, some people prefer to avoid down altogether. Synthetic alternatives like PrimaLoft and Thinsulate offer similar levels of warmth and insulation without ethical concerns. These synthetic materials can also perform better in wet conditions, as down tends to lose its insulating properties when wet. However, synthetic insulations typically do not last as long as down. They can be less environmentally friendly due to the petroleum-based materials used in their production.
ECONYL® is a sustainable alternative to traditional nylon, offering a solution to waste and pollution in the fashion industry. Aquafil, an Italian plastics company, produces this innovative fabric. It is made entirely from recycled plastic and materials such as discarded fishing nets and landfill waste.
Creating ECONYL® involves decomposing waste into small fibers through a sophisticated spinning process. The result is a soft, durable fabric perfect for various clothing items. Its durability surpasses traditional nylon and doesn't fade or lose shape over time, making it a popular choice for fashion-forward brands.
In 2018, over 8 million pounds (3,600 metric tons) of ECONYL® were used in fashion garments, signifying its growing popularity. As awareness of its benefits increases and environmental consciousness in fashion brands heightens, the use of ECONYL® is expected to grow.
One brand harnessing the benefits of ECONYL® is State of Matter Apparel. The brand uses this fabric in various categories of its product line, including tops like polos, button-ups, tees & henleys, and bottoms like chinos, joggers, and 5-pocket pants.
Not only does ECONYL® require less energy and produce less plastic waste than virgin nylon, but its production also helps clean up the oceans and reduce landfill waste. By choosing garments made from ECONYL®, consumers can positively impact the environment while still enjoying high-quality, fashionable clothing.
ECOVERO™ is a sustainable fabric developed by Lenzing AG, a global leader in the environmentally responsible manufacturing of cellulosic fibers. It's a viscose type, a semi-synthetic fiber made from renewable plant material.
What sets ECOVERO™ apart from traditional viscose is the eco-friendly process through which it's produced. The fibers are derived from certified renewable wood sources using an eco-responsible production process that meets high environmental standards.
The production of ECOVERO™ produces up to 50% lower emissions and water impact than generic viscose. This is due to Lenzing's closed-loop production process, where over 99% of the chemicals used are recovered and reused, significantly reducing the environmental impact.
Furthermore, the wood and pulp used for ECOVERO™ come from natural forests or sustainably managed plantations, ensuring responsible sourcing. Each ECOVERO™ tag can be traced back to the origin of the wood, providing complete transparency about the supply chain.
ECOVERO™ fibers are soft and comfortable, offering a luxurious feel. They are also fully biodegradable and compostable under industrial, home, soil, and marine conditions. Thus they can fully revert to nature.
Regarding clothing applications, ECOVERO™ is versatile and can be used in everything from dresses to shirts to activewear. It's an excellent choice for brands and consumers looking for a more sustainable yet high-quality alternative to traditional viscose or other synthetic fabrics.
Hemp is a natural fiber derived from the Cannabis Sativa plant. It's used in its pure form or often blended with other sustainable fabrics like organic cotton and TENCEL® lyocell for optimizing fit and feel. Various clothing brands use hemp to create products, including t-shirts, sweatshirts, pants, outerwear, and bedding.
Hemp is one of the most environmentally friendly fabrics currently available. The hemp plant has a relatively short growth cycle. It doesn't require much water, making it a more sustainable choice than other natural fibers like cotton. It also doesn't exhaust the soil and helps in soil conservation. Hemp fabric is biodegradable and recyclable, further enhancing its sustainability credentials.
Unlike many other crops, hemp requires minimal pesticides and no herbicides. It's naturally resistant to pests and grows tightly spaced, out-competing any weeds, meaning the crop is naturally organic. However, chemicals can be involved in turning raw hemp into fabric. Still, there are more sustainable, low-impact methods available.
While there isn't a specific certification for hemp, textiles made from hemp can be certified organic if the crops are grown and processed according to national organic standards. Look for brands that provide transparency about their sourcing and processing practices.
Hemp fiber is increasingly used in the fashion industry due to its durability, breathability, and sustainability. It's used for various types of apparel, including everyday wear like t-shirts and jeans and high-end fashion items. In addition, hemp is also used in home textiles like bedding and towels.
Linen is a natural fiber derived from the flax plant, known for its durability, absorbency, and breathability. It has been used for thousands of years, with evidence of linen production dating back to 8000 BC in present day Georgia. It remains a highly valued fabric for its unique properties and eco-friendly characteristics.
One of the key features of linen is its strength. It's about 30% stronger than cotton, making it incredibly durable. This means that linen products, whether clothing items or home textiles, tend to last longer than their cotton counterparts.
Linen also has excellent moisture-wicking properties. It can absorb up to 20% of its weight in moisture before feeling wet, making it an ideal fabric for hot and humid climates. On top of this, linen is known for its breathability, allowing air to flow freely and cooling the wearer.
From an environmental perspective, linen is a sustainable choice. The flax plant requires less water and fewer pesticides than other major crops like cotton. Furthermore, every part of the plant is used, minimizing waste. The production process of linen fabric is also less water-intensive compared to cotton.
Despite its many benefits, linen also has some drawbacks. It tends to wrinkle easily and may feel rough to the touch initially. However, it softens over time with use and washing. Additionally, linen products are often more expensive than those made from other fabrics due to the labor-intensive processes involved in harvesting flax and producing linen yarn.
Linen is a versatile, durable, and sustainable fabric that offers numerous benefits for consumers and the environment. Whether it's used in clothing, home decor, or other applications, linen brings a touch of luxury and comfort while promoting sustainability.
Lyocell is a semi-synthetic material, often hailed as a more sustainable form of rayon. It's derived mainly from the pulp of eucalyptus trees. Known for its softness and strength, it offers a silky texture, making it a popular choice for various clothing items. Moreover, its breathability makes it particularly suitable for activewear and summer clothing.
The production process of lyocell is recognized for its environmental responsibility. It employs a closed-loop system, which allows up to 99% of solvents and water used in the process to be recycled and reused. This significantly reduces waste and conserves energy. Furthermore, eucalyptus trees, the primary source of lyocell, require less water and pesticides than other crops like cotton.
A solvent called N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide (NMMO) is the major chemical used in producing lyocell. It's non-toxic; nearly all are recycled during manufacturing, minimizing environmental impact. The sourcing of pulp also tends to be sustainable, as eucalyptus trees are often grown on farms that practice responsible forestry.
Various certifications pertain to lyocell. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification guarantees that the eucalyptus pulp is sourced from responsibly managed forests. Another certification, OEKO-TEX®, ensures the final product is free from harmful chemicals.
Lyocell's versatility extends beyond clothing. While it's a preferred material for dresses, shirts, and activewear due to its soft and breathable nature, it's also popular in producing home textiles such as bedding and towels.
Merino wool is a natural fiber derived from Merino sheep, renowned for its exceptional softness, breathability, and insulating properties. This type of wool is finer and softer than regular wool, making it more comfortable to wear against the skin. It's often used in high-performance outdoor clothing as well as luxury fashion.
Merino wool is a renewable resource, as Merino sheep produce a new fleece yearly. It's also biodegradable and recyclable, adding to its sustainability credentials. However, the production process can be resource-intensive, with significant energy and water required for farming and processing the wool. Responsible farming practices and efficient processing techniques are key to minimizing this impact.
The production of Merino wool can involve using chemicals for cleaning the wool and treating parasites in sheep. However, organic and ethically sourced Merino wool ensures minimal use of chemicals, prioritizing animal welfare and environmental sustainability.
Certifications like Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) can verify sheep's sustainability and ethical treatment in Merino wool production. RWS ensures that wool comes from farms with a progressive approach to managing their land and sheep that have been treated responsibly.
Merino wool is primarily used in clothing due to its exceptional properties. Due to its warmth, breathability, and odor resistance, it's ideal for outdoor wear, including hiking socks, base layers, and sweaters. In addition, its luxurious feel makes it popular in high-end fashion items.
Micro-algae are a diverse group of microscopic, photosynthetic organisms found in freshwater and marine environments. They can produce many bio-products, including biofuels, food supplements, and textiles. Micro-algae-based textiles are still experimental but offer exciting possibilities for sustainable fashion.
Micro-algae cultivation can be highly sustainable. It requires less land and water than traditional crops and can even use wastewater for growth, contributing to water purification. The process also absorbs CO2, helping to mitigate greenhouse gasses. When used in textile production, micro-algae can provide a renewable source of dyes and fibers with minimal environmental impact.
The use of chemicals in micro-algae textile production depends on the specific processes employed. For instance, some methods of extracting dyes may require solvents. However, research is ongoing to develop more sustainable extraction and processing techniques that minimize chemical use.
As micro-algae textiles are still in development, there aren't specific certifications for this material yet. However, once commercialized, they would likely fall under existing sustainable and organic textiles standards, such as GOTS or OEKO-TEX®.
Currently, micro-algae are mainly used in the textile industry as a source of sustainable dyes. They offer various vibrant colors, from greens and blues to yellows and reds. In the future, they may also be used to produce sustainable fibers for clothing.
Modal is a type of rayon, a semi-synthetic fabric made from reconstituted cellulose from the beech tree. Its texture is similar to cotton or silk, making it incredibly soft, lightweight, and breathable. It's known for its high durability and resistance to shrinkage and fading, which makes it a popular choice for clothing and home textiles.
The production of modal is generally more environmentally friendly than that of many other fabrics. The process uses significantly less water than cotton, and the chemicals are often recycled in a closed-loop process, reducing harmful waste. Moreover, beech trees are renewable and require no irrigation or pesticides to grow.
Modal production involves using chemicals, including carbon disulfide, to dissolve the wood pulp. However, many manufacturers use a closed-loop process where up to 99% of these chemicals are captured and reused, minimizing their environmental impact.
Look for certifications like Lenzing's TENCEL™ Modal, which guarantees that the modal is sourced from sustainable forests and produced in an environmentally responsible process. Another certification to consider is OEKO-TEX®, which ensures the final product is free from harmful chemicals.
Modal is used in various products, from apparel like underwear, pajamas, and sportswear, due to its softness and breathability, to home textiles like bed linens and towels. Its ability to blend well with other fibers makes it a popular choice for many other types of clothing.
Organic cotton is a natural fiber cultivated without synthetic pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or chemical fertilizers. It's grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment and maintains soil fertility through crop rotation, which benefits biodiversity.
Organic cotton farming uses significantly less water than conventional cotton farming, primarily because it relies mainly on rainwater rather than artificial irrigation. Moreover, organic cotton growers typically use energy more sustainably than conventional farmers, such as using manual labor instead of machinery.
Organic cotton production prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Instead, farmers use natural methods like composting and biological pest control to maintain soil health and manage pests.
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is an internationally recognized certification for organic fibers, including cotton. It ensures the organic status of textiles, from harvesting the natural materials, through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing, to labeling the finished product.
Organic cotton is used in various products, including clothing, bedding, and bath towels. Its softness, breathability, and durability make it a popular choice for baby clothes and products. Additionally, it's used in reusable shopping bags and canvas totes due to its strength and durability.
The Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) has reported a significant increase in farmers committing to organic cotton, with a 335% annual increase noted in their Farm Programme Impact Report 2021-22. Meanwhile, the S.Oliver Group plans to sell organic cotton garments made from its first traceable supply chain, thanks to its Empowering Farmers initiative.
Peace silk, also known as Ahimsa silk or cruelty-free silk, is a type of silk that's harvested without killing the silkworms. Unlike traditional silk production, which requires boiling the cocoons with the silkworms inside to extract the silk, peace silk allows the silkworm to mature and naturally leave the cocoon before the silk is gathered.
The production of peace silk is more sustainable than conventional silk because it doesn't require the intensive energy and water usage associated with raising large numbers of silkworms in controlled environments. Furthermore, peace silk often involves small-scale, artisanal production processes that are less resource-intensive and more beneficial to local economies.
Peace silk production can involve chemicals that remove the sericin (a protein) from the silk fibers, particularly in the degumming process. However, some producers use natural or less harmful substances, and the overall chemical usage is generally lower than in conventional silk production.
There isn't a universally recognized certification for peace silk. However, some producers have certification processes, and third-party organizations may certify the silk as organic if it meets certain criteria. The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is one such certification that peace silk can qualify for.
Due to its softness and lustrous sheen, peace silk is used in luxury fashion items like dresses, blouses, scarves, and ties. It's also used in bedding and upholstery for its durability and elegance. Its ethical and sustainable production makes it popular among conscious consumers and designers.
Piñatex is a leather alternative made from the fibers of pineapple leaves, a byproduct of the pineapple harvest. The fibers are extracted, processed, and turned into a non-woven mesh, then coated to create a durable, breathable, and flexible material.
Piñatex is considered a highly sustainable material as it's made from a waste product that would otherwise be discarded or burned. The extraction of the fibers doesn't require additional water or land use since it's part of the existing pineapple cultivation. Additionally, the production process is designed to minimize energy use and environmental impact.
The production of Piñatex involves some chemical use, mainly in the coating process. However, the company behind Piñatex, Ananas Anam, is committed to minimizing these impacts and is continuously researching and developing more sustainable alternatives.
Piñatex is certified by PETA as a vegan product. Furthermore, Ananas Anam, the company behind Piñatex, has received various awards and certifications for its commitment to sustainability and innovation, including the Material Innovation Award from PETA and the Seal of Excellence from the European Commission.
Piñatex is a sustainable and vegan alternative to leather in various products, including shoes, bags, wallets, and clothing. It's also been used in upholstery and other interior design applications due to its durability and aesthetic appeal.
QMilk is an innovative textile made from milk protein casein. It's created using a process that turns waste milk, which is not suitable for consumption, into a soft, biodegradable fabric. The process involves heating and pressing the milk, transforming it into fiber.
Its considered a sustainable material because it uses waste milk that would otherwise be discarded. The production process of Qmilk is also energy-efficient, using only 2 liters of water to produce 1 kg of fiber, compared to the thousands of liters needed to produce the same amount of cotton. Furthermore, the entire process occurs at low temperatures, reducing energy usage.
The process is entirely natural and does not require chemical additives. The resulting fiber is also hypoallergenic and can be composted at the end of its life.
QMilk has received several certifications and awards for its innovation and sustainability. These include the GreenTec Award, the German Sustainability Award, and the Innovation Award from the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Germany.
Due to its softness and hypoallergenic properties QMilk is used in various applications. It's used in clothing, particularly underwear, sleepwear, and home textiles like bedding. It's also used in the medical field for wound dressings and other healthcare products.
Qmonos is a synthetic bio-fabric developed by the Japanese company Spiber. The name "Qmonos" derives from the Japanese words for a spider, 'kumo,' and 'nos,' meaning 'fabric.' It's created through bioengineering, where genes from spiders that produce silk proteins are introduced into microorganisms. These microbes are then fermented to produce the silk proteins, which are spun into fibers.
Considered more sustainable than traditional silk, Qmonos doesn't involve farming silkworms or spiders, which can be resource-intensive. The production process is designed to minimize environmental impact. However, specific details about energy and water usage in the production process are proprietary information.
While the exact details of the Qmonos production process are not publicly available, the company states that it strives to reduce the environmental impact of its operations, which implies an effort to minimize harmful chemical usage.
Information on specific certifications for Qmonos is not readily available. Still, Spiber, the company behind Qmonos, has been recognized for its innovative technology. In 2019, it received the Good Design Award in Japan for its Qmonos-based Moon Parka.
Qmonos is used to create high-performance materials with the potential to replace petroleum-based materials in a wide range of applications. This includes clothing, automotive parts, and medical devices. One of the first commercial products to use Qmonos was the Moon Parka, a collaboration between Spiber and The North Face Japan.
Ramie / Stinging Nettle
Ramie, also known as China grass, is a natural fiber derived from the stalks of the plant Boehmeria nivea, a member of the nettle family. Similarly, stinging nettle fiber is obtained from the stem of the Urtica dioica plant. Both are considered bast fibers, similar to hemp and flax.
Ramie and stinging nettle are both highly sustainable materials. They grow quickly without pesticides or herbicides and require less water than cotton. The plants also enrich the soil, reducing the need for fertilizers.
While the extraction of fibers from the plant stalks does involve some chemical use, it's significantly less than that required for synthetic fibers. The process can also be done using traditional, non-chemical methods, though this is labor-intensive.
There are no specific certifications for ramie or stinging nettle. Still, products made from these fibers can be certified organic if the plants are grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.
Due to their strong, absorbent properties, Ramie and stinging nettle fibers are used in textiles. They're often blended with other fibers to create clothing, upholstery, and other textile products. Ramie is known for its ability to hold shape and reduce wrinkling, making it popular for clothing and home textiles.
Recycled, reclaimed, or regenerated cotton is derived from post-industrial and post-consumer cotton waste. This includes discarded cotton garments and waste from the manufacturing process. These materials are sorted by color, shredded into fibers, and spun into new yarns.
The process of producing recycled cotton uses significantly less water and energy compared to the production of virgin cotton. This is because the dyeing process, which is typically very water-intensive, is often not necessary with recycled cotton as the material is already dyed. Moreover, using recycled cotton helps reduce the amount of textile waste that ends up in landfills.
While the production of recycled cotton generally involves fewer chemicals than virgin cotton (as it's usually not re-dyed or re-treated), it's important to note that if the original cotton was treated with chemicals, these could still be present in the recycled product. Therefore, it's crucial to look for recycled cotton products certified by a reputable organization to ensure they are free from harmful substances.
Some of the most recognized certifications for recycled cotton are the Global Recycle Standard (GRS) and the Recycled Claim Standard (RCS). These certifications verify that a product contains a certain percentage of recycled content and that the production process adheres to certain environmental and social standards.
Recycled cotton is used in various products, including clothing, home textiles, and industrial materials. Due to the recycling process, which can shorten the cotton fibers, it's often blended with other fibers to enhance its strength and durability.
Recycled polyester, or rPET, is made by melting existing plastic and re-spinning it into new polyester fiber. This plastic often comes from clear plastic bottles or old polyester clothing. The process helps to reduce the demand for petroleum as material for everyday products.
The production of recycled polyester is much more eco-friendly than virgin polyester. According to some estimates, it uses up to 59% less energy than virgin polyester, and it helps keep plastic waste out of landfills and the oceans. It's worth noting that while recycled polyester is far better for the environment than new polyester, it's still not as sustainable as natural, biodegradable fibers.
While recycled polyester significantly reduces the need for raw materials and energy, recycling can still involve harmful chemicals, particularly if the original polyester was dyed or treated. Like all synthetic fibers, recycled polyester releases microplastics into the water supply when washed.
Several certifications apply to recycled polyester. The Global Recycle Standard (GRS) and the Recycled Claim Standard (RCS) verify the recycled content in the final product and monitor the production process's social, environmental, and chemical impacts.
Recycled polyester is used in many products, from clothing and footwear to home furnishings and car interiors. It's particularly popular in sportswear due to its moisture-wicking properties.
S.Cafe® is a technical composite fiber made from coffee grounds. The process involves collecting coffee grounds, washing them, and transforming them into yarn. This innovative technology allows for the creation of a unique type of fabric that combines the benefits of coffee grounds with the practicality of textile materials.
Using coffee grounds to make S.Cafe® fabrics significantly reduce waste and energy consumption. The process involves repurposing a waste product (coffee grounds), which diminishes landfill use and minimizes the energy typically required to produce virgin fibers. Moreover, S.Cafe® fabrics are recyclable and biodegradable, further enhancing their sustainability profile.
The production of S.Cafe® involves minimal chemical usage. The coffee grounds are cleaned using a non-toxic method, and the transformation into yarn uses fewer chemicals than traditional methods. However, as with any textile, the final product may still contain some chemicals depending on the dyeing and finishing processes used.
S.Cafe® holds several certifications, including bluesign®, a certification for sustainable textile production that eliminates harmful substances from the beginning of the manufacturing process and sets and controls standards for environmentally friendly and safe production. Additionally, S.Cafe® is also certified by Global Recycled Standard (GRS).
Used in various applications, including sportswear, casual wear, and home textiles. The fabric has natural anti-odor properties, offers UV protection, and has quick-drying capabilities, making it ideal for active and outdoor wear.
SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast) leather is a biodegradable, sustainable material derived from the same process used to make kombucha tea. It's created by letting the SCOBY culture grow in a mixture of tea and sugar, forming a cellulose mat that can be harvested, dried, and treated to create a leather-like material.
The production of SCOBY leather requires minimal energy and water, and it generates almost no harmful waste, making it a highly sustainable alternative to traditional leather. Unlike animal leather, which has a significant environmental impact due to the livestock industry, SCOBY leather uses renewable resources. It can be composted at the end of its life cycle.
No harmful chemicals are used in the production of SCOBY leather. The growth medium for the SCOBY is entirely natural, often just tea and sugar. However, some producers might use natural dyes or treatments to alter the color or properties of the final material.
Currently, there are no specific certifications for SCOBY leather. However, certifications may be introduced as it gains popularity and more standardized production methods are developed.
SCOBY leather can be used in many applications as traditional leather, including fashion accessories like shoes and bags, clothing, and upholstery. It's still a relatively new material, and designers continually find new and innovative ways to use it.
Sheep wool is a natural, renewable fiber used for thousands of years to make clothing and textiles. It's obtained from sheep during the shearing process, which typically takes place once a year. There are various types of sheep wool, including Merino, Shetland, and Icelandic, each with unique properties.
Wool is one of the most sustainable fibers available. Sheep produce a new fleece every year, making wool a renewable resource. The production process requires relatively little energy and water compared to synthetic materials. Wool garments also tend to last longer and need washing less frequently than clothes made from other fibers, reducing their environmental impact over time.
Wool processing can involve chemicals, particularly during scouring, to remove grease and dirt. However, many manufacturers are moving towards less harmful methods and substances. It's also worth noting that wool is a natural, biodegradable material that won't contribute to microplastic pollution.
There are several certifications for wool, including the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), which ensures that wool comes from farms with a progressive approach to managing their land, and from sheep that have been treated responsibly. Other certifications include the Woolmark certification, indicating that a product contains pure new wool.
Wool is used in various products, from clothing and blankets to carpets and upholstery. Its natural insulation properties, moisture-wicking, and durability make it a popular choice for fashion and home goods.
TENCEL™ Lyocell is a type of rayon cellulose fiber made from the pulp of trees. It's known for its smooth feel, excellent moisture management, and sustainability credentials. The TENCEL™ brand is owned by Lenzing AG, a company that specializes in producing environmentally friendly fibers.
The production of TENCEL™ Lyocell involves a closed-loop process, where up to 99% of the water and solvents used are recycled and reused. This significantly reduces its environmental impact compared to other fibers. The raw material for TENCEL™ Lyocell comes from sustainably managed forests, further enhancing its sustainability profile.
The main chemical of TENCEL™ Lyocell is a non-toxic solvent called N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide (NMMO). This solvent is almost fully recovered and reused in the closed-loop process, minimizing the environmental impact. No harmful chemicals are released into the environment during the production process.
They have gained international recognition for their environmentally responsible closed-loop production process, transforming wood pulp into cellulosic fibers with high resource efficiency and low ecological impact. This solvent-spinning process recycles process water and reuses the solvent at a recovery rate of more than 99%. The fibers are certified as compostable and biodegradable and thus can fully revert to nature.
TENCEL™ Lyocell is used in a variety of applications, including clothing, home textiles, and industrial products. Its softness, strength, and breathability make it ideal for dresses, shirts, and bed linens. It's also used to produce non-wovens for hygiene products and medical applications.
Upcycled Or Vegetable Tanned Leather
Upcycled leather refers to products made from discarded or excess leather that would otherwise be sent to a landfill. Vegetable-tanned leather has been treated with natural substances such as tree bark, fruits, and leaves during the tanning process instead of harmful chemicals like chromium salts and synthetic dyes often used in traditional leather production.
Both upcycled, and vegetable-tanned leather are more sustainable alternatives to conventional leather. Upcycling reduces waste and the demand for new materials. At the same time, vegetable tanning uses less energy and water compared to chrome tanning. However, vegetable tanning can be longer and more labor-intensive than conventional methods.
Vegetable-tanned leather avoids harmful chemicals, opting for natural tannins derived from plant matter. However, it's worth noting that some vegetable-tanned leathers may still use small amounts of chemicals for dyeing or finishing. Upcycled leather doesn't require any additional chemical treatments, as it repurposes existing leather material.
There isn't a specific certification for upcycled leather. Still, products made from upcycled materials can sometimes be certified under broader sustainability certifications. For vegetable-tanned leather, there's the "Pelle Conciata al Vegetale in Toscana" (Tuscan Vegetable-Tanned Leather) trademark, which guarantees the quality and method of production.
Both types of leather can be used in a wide range of products, including bags, shoes, wallets, belts, and furniture. Upcycled leather is often used in fashion and accessories, where designers want to incorporate sustainable materials. Vegetable-tanned leather is known for its rich patina and durability, making it a popular choice for high-quality leather goods.
Woocoa is an innovative, sustainable material derived from a blend of hemp and coconut fibers treated with mushroom enzymes. It was developed by two Colombian students, Adriana Santanocito and Rocío Cabrera, as an eco-friendly alternative to wool, particularly for those who are allergic or sensitive to it.
It represents a significant step forward in terms of sustainability. Made from renewable resources (hemp and coconut), the production process doesn't involve harmful chemicals. Using mushroom enzymes to treat the fibers reduces energy and water consumption compared to traditional methods.
The production of Woocoa does not involve the use of harmful chemicals. Instead, the fibers are treated with natural mushroom enzymes, which break down the raw materials and create a soft, wool-like texture.
As a relatively new and innovative material, Woocoa has no specific certifications. However, its creators are committed to sustainable and ethical practices, which could lead to certification in the future.
Woocoa is designed to mimic the properties of wool, so it's suitable for similar applications. This includes clothing, blankets, and other textile products. Its hypoallergenic properties also make it an attractive option for people with sensitivities or allergies to traditional wool.
Yak wool is a natural fiber obtained from the soft undercoat of yaks, a type of long-haired bovine found mainly in the Himalayan region, Tibetan plateau, and some parts of Mongolia and Central Asia. It is considered a luxury fiber due to its rarity and superior qualities to sheep wool.
The production of yak wool has a lower environmental impact than that of cashmere. Yaks are naturally adapted to harsh climates and have less of a toll on grazing lands. They require less water and produce less methane compared to other livestock. Additionally, hand-combing (the process used to collect yak wool) is not harmful to the animal and does not use energy-intensive machinery.
Yak wool can be processed without the use of harsh chemicals. The wool is usually cleaned using mild, eco-friendly soaps. However, chemical use can vary depending on the company and its processing methods.
There are no specific certifications for yak wool at present. However, companies that source and produce yak wool products often adhere to ethical and sustainable practices, such as fair trade, organic farming, and animal welfare standards.
Yak wool is known for its warmth, breathability, and softness, making it ideal for clothing and textiles. It's often used in high-quality knitwear such as sweaters, scarves, and hats. Other uses include blankets, rugs, and upholstery.
Why do sustainable materials matter
Sustainable materials are crucial in reducing the environmental impact of various industries, including the fashion sector. The importance of these materials lies in their ability to conserve resources, minimize waste, and omit harmful chemicals, thereby creating little impact at their end of life.
For instance, using "sustainable fibers" in clothing production is one way to address the significant carbon footprint of the fashion industry, which amounts to 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. It's worth noting that the production of fibers is the most responsible for these emissions, contributing to two-thirds of a garment's carbon footprint.
Unfortunately, fast fashion has led to clothing becoming more disposable, with people keeping their clothes for only half the time they did in 2000. As a result, textiles have become a significant portion of municipal waste, making up 8% of it.
Therefore, by choosing sustainable materials and fibers, we can help mitigate the environmental impact of our consumption habits. These materials reduce the demand for non-renewable resources and result in lower maintenance costs and less waste over time. Ultimately, sustainable materials matter because they support the health of our planet and its future.
How do I shop for sustainable fabrics?
Shopping for sustainable fabrics can seem daunting at first. Still, with a little information and awareness, it becomes easier to make environmentally conscious choices. To ensure you're purchasing "environmentally friendly fabrics," look for brands that prioritize using sustainable materials in their products. A truly ethical brand will strive to use the most environmentally-friendly materials possible and be transparent about their sourcing and production processes.
If you're unsure about a brand's sustainability practices, don't hesitate to ask how they source their fabrics. Ethical brands will be more than willing to share this information with their customers. It's also important to remember that sustainability doesn't just stop at the materials used. Even with sustainable fabrics, it's better to buy a piece you'll wear for years rather than many sustainably made garments you'll donate after a short time.
There is no one perfect, sustainable fabric that will have zero environmental impact. Every material has pros and cons; what might be a sustainable choice in one context may not be in another. Therefore, being informed about different sustainable materials and their impacts can help you make conscious ethical decisions when shopping for clothes.