Written by SaifZiya
Living a sustainable life may sound hard, but believe me, it isn’t. Yes, it’s definitely challenging for people and the companies that are trying to keep this planet greener, healthier, and prosperous. Many slow-fashion brands, these days, are producing high-quality clothes that not only are good for nature but also for human beings. These slow-fashion garments brands manufacture voguish, durable, one-of-a-kind clothing that is made of eco-friendly fabrics, and most importantly, they do it outstandingly—with most of the sustainability practices and ethics in mind.
Experts anticipate that by 2050, the fashion industry is going to be responsible for 25% of the world’s carbon budget. Does this mean that you should stop styling? No, not at all, however, what you need to do is do something about fashion. There’s a famous saying contributed to Laurent and it goes like this—‘Fashion fades, but the style is eternal’.
Studies show that more than 60% of the textiles used in garments are synthetics, which—as we know it—is taken from fossil fuels. There comes a time when your clothes become old, and that’s when you decide to get rid of them. However, instead of giving them away or having them recycled, you end up throwing them in the landfills.
Why Are Sustainable Fabrics Important?
Let’s make a clean breast of it—fast fashion is killing our mother earth, environment, and the social values of the people who put their best in the work while making the clothes that you wear.
Libby Peake, who is a senior policy advisor at ‘Green Alliance’, says “Slow fashion is the only sustainable future.”
Whether you love to put your stylish jackets, cozy pajamas in your wardrobe every once in a while, or you can’t get enough of that stretchable denim to complement the top you’re wearing, you’ve to be careful of the fabrics used in the making these garments.
Yes, what we are referring to here is ‘Sustainability’ — is the fabric used in the jeans you’ve put on sustainable? Does it have negative environmental impacts?
These are the questions you should be asking yourself, especially before buying the clothing you’ve been dreaming of.
Knowing the fabric used in the apparel you’re wearing has no toxicity in it is highly important. If it contains toxic-based materials, it’s clearly a red flag for your health, bad for nature, and eventually for our planet. As per the research carried out by WRAP, every year, clothing worth £140m is dumped into the landfill which contributes to the emission of methane and other harmful gasses.
If you love to go out and breathe the fresh air every day, you must start making little efforts to help mitigate the impact that fast fashion has on the environment.
We’re already heard about ‘Rana Plaza’, the disaster when a garment factory collapsed and thousands of people were killed and injured. Who’s to blame for this calamity? Well, it is fast fashion and the people behind it—they must only be held accountable for this tragedy.
Are Sustainable Fabrics Ethical, too?
The brands that have embraced the sustainability practices have not stopped there. Put differently, apart from being in line with the eco-friendly guidelines released by the top organizations, they regularly visit their ethical factories and have a sit-down chit chat with the employees working there so as to know whether or not they’re happy with the work they do and that they are not being put too much burden.
They work tirelessly so T-shirts, leggings, pajamas, jackets, among other clothing, could be produced.
Is there any way you could be part of it?
Yes, you can. And, it’s easy, too, unless, of course, you’re aware of all sustainable fashion.
If you truly care for our planet and wish to make some effort towards saving it from hazardous gases, carbon footprint, etc., you could become a helping hand by investing in the garments that are made of sustainable fabrics.
Most Sustainable Natural Fabrics
In this in-depth article, we’ve gone over coveted sustainable fabrics that are good for the environment, animals, and the people living in them.
But first, we’ll be shedding light on the natural fabrics that are sustainable and ethical.
Here comes the first one:
1. Organic Cotton
It’s no wonder organic cotton is one of the most used fabrics in the world. It’s considered to be a commanding component in the textile industry as if we look into the production of cotton at a global rate, it’d be around 120.86 million bales which is very huge.
Cotton is everywhere—even the apparel you’re wearing right now is highly likely to be made of cotton. While there are other fabrics that, in this day and age, are leading the market, organic cotton is something that you’ll easily come across in most of the garments. Speaking of the types, you would generally find that there are 4 of them: Pima cotton, Egyptian cotton, Upland cotton, Organic cotton.
It’s true that organic cotton is one of the most natural fibers you will find on earth. In organic cotton farming, 88% less water, and 62% less energy is used. Not just that, there are other plusses that organic cotton brings to the table.
The reason why cotton is famous all around the world and almost every garment company utilizes it in their different apparel or products are that it is very soft and brings longevity to the table.
Yes, the garments that are made of cotton will last longer as compared to others. If you have a garment made of cotton, you can also have absorbency since cotton can absorb or soak up liquids and energy.
If you’re an artist i.e. you love to make the most out of your cotton-based garments after they’re of no use to you, you’d be glad to know that cotton, in comparison with other fabrics, has the ability to hold dyes or colors. That way, you could avoid throwing out your old apparel; rather, you could give them an innovative look and feel.
People who love to move around a lot prefer having garments in their wardrobes that are made of 100% cotton. That’s because it offers more breathability and is also lightweight so you don’t have to feel any kind of strain while wearing the clothes made of it.
What’s also good is that cotton is completely safe to wear while standing near the cords as it doesn’t conduct electricity.
Most sustainable brands (if not all) work in accordance with the guidelines or certifications while depending on organic cotton as the primary fabric. You could find organic cotton to be associated with certifications or the companies that depend on it.
2. Recycled Cotton
Recycled cotton—as the name suggested—is produced using recycling. Known by another name—regenerated cotton—it’s mostly produced by converting cotton fabric into cotton fibers. This is done so that the cotton can be used again and again.
The fabric recycling process can be broken down into two: pre-consumer and post-consumer.
If you’re thinking that recycled cotton is made using yarn, you’re absolutely right. Unlike practices used in conventional cotton farming, there’s no such thing to struggle through as far as recycled cotton is considered.
It’s not just the start-up brands who are stepping into a sustainable world, even the consumer are becoming aware of the situation and making the most out of ways possible to reduce the impact.
Research shows that 24% of consumers are willing to buy clothing or home textiles if there labeled as recycled, 32% of the buyers who wish to shop for products will look for recycled ones, and there are only 5% people who think that sustainable means recycled. You’d wonder to know that each kilogram of recycled fabric can save up to 20,000 liters of water, 3.2-kilowatt energy, and reduce 11 kilograms of CO2.
If you’ve got the trendy tanks in your wardrobe, chances are they are made of recycled cotton because recycled cotton is lightweight, breathable, and doesn’t cause any allergic reaction to your skin.
Tout ensemble, your skin is also important.
We’re not saying that any kind of cotton is sustainable and will help reduce the environmental impact. We’re saying this because conventional cotton is still dangerous for our planet.
Yes, you wouldn’t believe but the use of pesticides and other chemicals used in the production decrease the quality of the fabric and will result in ill consequences.
Therefore, it’s very important to look for the type of cotton before making up your mind for denim, pajama, or top. The rule of thumb says that always look for the GOTS-certified, RCS-certified, or Oeko-Tex cotton.
3. Organic Hemp
We’ve already discussed the importance of hemp in one of our articles and how it helps in fighting with the carbon footprint. In this modern fashion, hemp is being used by slow-fashion brands. It is fruitful, healthy for the soil where it is grown, and guess what—it requires less water when compared to cotton.
Although it’s not as widely used like cotton, its benefits will have you openmouthed. The reason why we love organic hemp so much is that it is carbon absorbent—meaning, it can absorb CO2, says the report. The plusses don’t end there and having an antimicrobic property, it can keep you protected from the Sun, no allergies can get near your body whatsoever.
Hemp is durable (it’s capable of lasting more than 20 years), lightweight, breathable, contains a high ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). Not just that, it’s antimicrobial, it doesn’t shrink. Sounds satisfactory, does not it?
Since it’s hard to grow, it may not be an affordable option for everyone. However, we have faith that it’s going to offer bang for the bucks in the future for those who believe in living a sustainable and ethical life. What’s also good is that hemp requires no insecticide to grow.
In fact, we’ve seen that Hemp is in fashion these days as most sustainable fashion companies are making the most out of it. If you think that hemp is new, you’re probably mistaken because it’s been around forever. Suppose right now you’re in Egypt on a tour to an ancient tomb. As you stand right next to the tomb, the cloth that the mummy is wrapped with is actually hemp cloth.
It’s not just clothing that hemp is used for, you may also have heard of hemp oil that is good for healthy skin, smarter brain, good heart, and balanced weight. You could now imagine what good the hemp fabric is capable of doing. Having a point of view toward the production of hemp, we found out that it has growing hemp is an inherently eco-friendly process.
It requires less water and other resources. Yes, you read that right—it requires less water compared with cotton. To produce, say 1 kilogram of hemp, you’ll need around 300 to 500 liters of water. Now, compare that to the amount of water needed to produce the same amount of cotton—10,000 liters of water to make 1kg cotton.
So, yes, you can say that it’s a sustainable fabric. Plus, you don’t have to wait for years for it to grow, its growth happens real fast. The stalk is ready in around 4 months to be used in jeans and it (stalk) is considered to be the most important component in the plant.
4. Organic Linen
When it comes to eco-friendliness, you’ll find linen and hemp similar to each other. Like linen, this fabric is also super lightweight and breathable. However, the only difference that lies between the two is linen is taken from linseed which is also famously known as flax or common flax. Although it’s not as high-yielding as hemp, you’ll need little to no nourishment, insect killer, or irrigation.
So, how long does it take for the linen to grow?
Does it take more time than hemp?
Well, having dug deep, we found out that it takes around 100 days (from planting to harvesting) which is less than the time that cotton requires. Since it is grown mostly in Europe, it’s believed that Belgian flax is of the highest quality, however, it’s also grown in other areas, as well, namely Spain, Italy, Austria, Poland, and other places.
Organic linen requires little to no water, hence sustainable. So, if you’re concerned about living an eco-friendly life, you could count on linen, provided that it’s organic. You’ll be amazed to know that organic linen only takes 6.4 liters of water to produce a good-looking, sustainably made, durable top.
Clearly, it’s a winner if we compare it to the non-organic fabrics and the amount of water they require. The impact shows that non-organic cotton will require around 2,700 liters of water.
What also made us fall in love with the linen is that it can grow even in poor-quality soil. It’s completely ecological and the good news is that no part of the plant gets wasted. If you’re someone who doesn’t shop every once in a while, you can rest assured because it also offers seniority.
On top of being a light fabric, it’s also capable of withstanding the high temperature and absorbing the moisture, all without catching the bacteria. So, what’s not to love about it?
In our earlier article—sustainable pajamas, if you paid close heed to the brand ranked at 5th position, you would have understood by now. Yes, you guessed it right—it’s Coyuchi that uses the same fabric to make those beautiful, durable, lightweight, and cozy loungewear.
And, guess what—it is GOTS certified.
What else do you need?
5. Organic Bamboo
Organic bamboo—which is also known as bamboo linen—is another sustainable natural source that can be turned into best-for-earth fabric and can be harvested without having to kill the planet.
Since we don’t have to kill it, it grows back in a very quick span of time and, therefore, is known to be one of the fastest-growing plants on Earth. Unlike other fabrics, bamboo does not require tons of water to produce since it is capable of surviving in the rain.
Just like hemp, organic bamboo is carbon absorbent—i.e. it can consume more CO2 than some trees. We’re already reviewed sustainable activewear that is made of bamboo.
The growth of bamboo is extraordinary—it’s capable of reaching around 100 feet tall and perhaps, that’s the reason why it’s known as the largest member of the grass family. Research shows that it can grow up to 3 feet a day. There are more than 1600 species of bamboo and it’s mostly founded in Asia.
As far as the land use and yield matter, up to 150 tons per acre yields of bamboo can exceed the yield of 25 tons of most trees and merely 3-5 tons per acre of cotton. We all need oxygen to survive and there’s no denying that. Turns out that bamboo is a lifesaver in that area, as well.
Yes, you read it right—it produces up to 35% more O2 (Oxygen) as compared to other trees. Since bamboo is grown in sustainably maintained forests, it also slows down deforestation. When the harvest season comes, most plants have to be chopped and dismissed, however, that’s not what happens in the case of bamboo; it just keeps on growing and we’ve already talked about how quick it grows back.
What about the water use? Does it require more water to grow like most non-organic fabrics? Well, although it can grow solely depending on the rainfall, if there’s no rain, it’ll require just a tiny amount of water as compared to cotton. Technically, it requires around 130 gallons of water to produce 3 pounds and there’s no demand for irrigation at all. According to some research, cotton is the largest consumer of water among all commodities.
Surprisingly, bamboo also helps in reducing soil erosion and keeps the soil fresh and clean. The root of bamboo creates a watershed that helps in keeping the soil together. It is also good for reducing rain runoffs.
What about the fertilizers and pesticides? Does bamboo require any of that or you’re good to go without it? Well, luckily, there’s no need for you to use any kind of insect repellent or fertilizer to grow bamboo in your land. There’s a significant component founded in bamboos called ‘bamboo-kun’ that allows the plant to fight pests and fungi infestation.
Sustainable Semi-Synthetics (Mostly Vegan) Fabrics
If you’re on the lookout for fabrics that are made using cruelty-free practices, then these sustainable vegan fabrics will have your heart for sure. While making these fabrics, there’s no animal harmed during the process nor there is any part is used for the development.
So, let’s get into it:
Just because it’s in 6th position doesn’t mean that it’s not good for the environment and the people living in it.
Just so you know, lyocell is a type of fabric that is marketed as ‘TENCEL® Lyocell’ so you don’t come unglued. As for the TENCEL, it’s a brand that is owned by a company known as Lenzing that is based in Austria. It also gets confusing because they’re also having another fabric that is called modal and usually marketed as TENCEL® modal. Or you could say that TENCEL was previously known as Lenzing.
Anyway, this segment is regarding the former one—TENCEL Lyocell.
Lyocell uses 80% less water as compared to cotton, being environmentally responsible. In the process of producing, the trees are not cut down completely; rather, they’re trimmed.
So, how is produced, exactly?
To have lyocell produced, the wood pulp of eucalyptus trees is dissolved, hence it’s also known as cellulose fabric. Therefore, it doesn’t require much water and pesticides to grow. As for the absorptive property, it’s 50% more absorbent than cotton. The reason why it’s used in most sustainable activewear is that it’s capable of fighting moisture and bacteria
After the non-toxic solvent is ready, it is forced into tiny holes with an aim to come up with a magical biodegradable fiber. That’s why it’s lighter and softer than cotton.
Perhaps, this is why it is one of the most famous fabrics in the sustainable fashion world.
What’s also surprising is that it’s grown in sustainably managed forests, and everything is achieved in a ‘closed-loop system’—up to 99.5% of dissolving substances can be recycled.
Since almost everything is reused, there’s no waste left that gets thrown in the landfills or rivers, adding a sustainable layer to your lifestyle. What we also like about Lenzing is that they are transparent about their process or activities—nothing is hidden from people.
The brand that tops our sustainable athletic wear also uses lyocell for it is super soft and lightweight.
Econyl is a vegan fabric, meaning no animal has been harmed nor any part thereof has been used in the production of clothing, footwear, or other accessories. However, recycling is what comes into action as Econyl is achieved using recycled material i.e. nylon.
From what our experts have found out, the word ‘Econyl’ has been made using Eco and Nylon. Eco means it is Eco-friendly and Nylon is simply a piece of fabric and you already know it. However, what’s catch here is that it doesn’t just use plain nylon, instead, recycled nylon is used to produce Econyl.
However, the question is: how is Econyl made?
First things firsts—Econyl was first introduced by an Italian brand Aquafil in 2011. Coming back to its production, it is entirely made using wastes that come from landfills and oceans, such as ghost nets (also fishing nets), old carpets, industrial plastic, fabric scraps, etc.
Many clothing brands depend on it, including Adidas, Levi’s, Breitling, Speedo, Outerknown (OK), and in our articles, you can see that it has been used in T4T’s sustainable activewear to give you freedom of movement so you could stretch out just the way you like.
Important: how does it help reduce global warming?
Well, since the nylon is reused to make Econyl, it helps in decreasing climate change up to 80% if compared with other products. The best thing is that finally produced fabric can be used again without having to struggle through the quality loss in the finished product.
How do they do it, exactly?
Well, to be precise, first off, the polymer is broken down into monomers, after that, the nylon is re-polymerized—all of this is done without the use of chemical agents (compounds) and with a renewable energy-driven process in mind.
Since it is all produced using a ‘closed-loop system’, there’s much requirement of water in the end-to-end production. If we compare Econyl with nylon, then the results are clear—it’s far more sustainable than nylon and that’s the reason why it’s won the hearts of sustainable brands.
As you can see, it’s neither posing a negative impact on our environment nor is it triggering the waste of resources. It has been seen that Econyl also contains some plastic microparticles that could end up in the watercourses. That’s why it is suggested to with the items that require less washing like shoes and bags.
To have 10,000 tons of Econyl produced, more than 65,000 tons of CO2 emissions are avoided and 70,000 barrels of crude oil are saved.
So, Econyl is clearer is a winner if you’re concerned about whether or not it is sustainable.
Modal, again, is another fabric that is marketed as TENCEL™ modal since it’s also owned by Lenzing (just like lyocell).
It is having the properties of being comfortable, silky, breathable, and lasting longer. TENCEL’s modal means ‘Feels so right’—the tagline.
Modal is a semi-synthetic fabric that is made from wood pulp and can be considered as an upgrade to viscose (a.k.a. rayon), however, we can take it for granted that it is stronger than traditional viscose. If you’re tired of shrinking and pilling of your clothes, you won’t have to struggle with that anymore since modal never shrinks.
What’s more, it’s capable of absorbing 50% more water as compared to cotton. It’s not just used in general clothing, you’ll find it in jeans, intimates, activewear, and home accessories.
Since it can easily absorb water and dyes, it is a go-to choice for the brands that make sustainable sports clothes (a.k.a. activewear and gym wear). There’s something about modal that makes it stand out—the exceptional softness that you won’t get in other fabrics—it’s considered twice as soft as cotton.
We’re flabbergasted that its fibers are biodegradable. So, you could count on modal when it comes to being backed by sustainable fabrics. Since while producing this fabric, a ‘closed-loop system’ is followed, there’s no solution gets wasted in the end-to-end method.
We’ve already talked about lyocell above and there’s not much difference between them.
The lyocell to modal is just like Band-Aids are to bandages.
The utilization of modal is not just limited to apparel, it’s widely used in bedding, such as bedsheets, pillowcases, etc., to give you that exceptional, buttery-soft experience like never before.
To achieve that coziness, big-name brands have been taking advantage of the modal to produce eco-friendly activewear and ethical pajamas. We’ve already laid out in one of our articles on loungewear about the brands using modal fabric to make the most of slow-fashion.
Some of the brands are Amour Vert, Alternative Apparel, see our take on sustainable pajamas and see for yourself.
Why use animal-based leather when you can achieve durability by using pineapple leaves?
If you think that pineapple can’t be used as a sustainable fabric, you’re mistaken. It’s a far better option out there as far as other leather and synthetic alternatives are taken into consideration. It doesn’t require additional environmental resources nor does it require any chemicals.
Pineapple is a dream come true, undoubtedly.
Although it’s not 100% biodegradable, non-woven can be decomposed, however, it can be biodegraded when regularly combined with wood-based PLA. To produce 1 square meter of Piñatex®, you’ll need 16 plants of pineapple or around 480 leaves thereof.
On top of being used in clothing, Piñatex is used in many other accessories, namely handbags, sneakers, purses, mobile covers, etc. In spite of being produced using pineapple leaves, it is as durable as leather.
Still, there are some brands that depend on Piñatex and cover it in non-biodegradable resins which clearly goes against the purpose. Therefore, it’s strongly suggested for you to be aware of that when looking for the most ethical clothing made with sustainable fabrics.
Unlike other materials like synthetics fabrics, Piñatex helps you get rid of the high waste that happens during the tanning process. Furthermore, its non-woven mesh won’t take years to degrade, therefore, you could rest assured if you’re in need of eco-friendly fabric.
It lives up to all the values or guidelines as directed by Cradle to Cradle (C2C). What is also great is that they offer ultimate transparency so that customers can get to get their head around what is happening behind the scenes—keep track of the step-by-step process that comes into play in the production of Piñatex.
So, are you ready for this eco-innovation?
Standards: Oeko-Tex 100
10. Recycled Polyester
Let’s admit it—dumping plastics into the water, landfills, oceans, or other places is one of the worst ways to pollute the environment and we—knowingly or unknowingly—are part of it.
Do you know that half of the plastics ever made have been manufactured in the last 15 years? Yes, it’s a bitter truth and there’s no running away from it. According to NG, more than 8 million tons of plastics get dumped into the oceans.
And, who do think is responsible for that?
Well, the credit goes to all of us.
Recycled polyester falls into the “Sustainable Synthetics” category for it is a man-made fabric. Although it is produced from plastics, it’s considered earth-friendly since recycled plastics are used. The good thing about this fabric is that we don’t have to use the raw material to create a good-looking, durable, and ethical fabric, old plastics will do that.
Recycled polyester is also called rPET or just PET. Famous brands like Adidas, Ikea, GAP, and H&M are making use of this fabric in making different types of apparel.
Not only does plastic affect sea creatures but also it’s destructive for land-living animals.
It’s no news that fast fashion is a serious problem that needs to be fixed—and the solution is only possible if we do it together. What also astounds us is that rPET takes fewer resources.
Using recycled plastic can also help you be rid of crude oil and natural gas dependencies which overall will result in the reduction of carbon emissions, hence sustainably maintained earth.
So, how exactly is recycled polyester made?
Although the process requires great effort, it’s not a complicated one. At first, the recycled plastics (such as plastic bottles) are broken into little, lean chips. Then, those thin chips are taken and processed into yarn and then turned into a nice-looking, long-lasting, and sustainable fabric.
Another question that people mostly ask is: where is the recycled polyester application? Well, rPET is not just limited to clothing for men and women, it is used in travel bags, mats, shoes, school bags, purses, strapping, non-food containers, etc.
Even brands are now making the most out of rPET to make stretchable and ethically made activewear and fleece to give athletes the freedom of movement.
As a result, if you opt for the apparel made using recycled polyester, you’re preventing the waste to enter landfills, oceans, or rivers. If you’re deciding to go with the virgin polyester, we suggest you pick recycled polyester over that because rPET is way better than that.
Here are the standards or certifications rPET gets the approval of:
Consequences of Not Using Sustainable Fabrics
What if you don’t use sustainable fabrics whatsoever? Will it have any impact on our environment?
This is an important and thought-provoking question!
Well, the facts are heartbreaking.
Of all the marine debris examined, plastic contributes to 80 to 90% and you’d be shocked to hear this…every single day, more than 8 million plastics are thrown into the water. Even recent research shows that scientists have found microplastics embedded in the Arctic ice. All water creatures, along with land-living animals, are fishes, whales, seals, and seabirds are impacted due to the plastics, which results in the demises of 100,000 marine mammals every year.
And if you think that plastic is only dangerous for nature and not for human beings, you’re wrong. Some plastics have been associated with chemicals like DDT and PCB that, according to some research, have been linked to cancer and endocrine disruption.
Since oceans are now filled with dangerous plastics, is there a way to scoop it out to maintain sustainability?
That’s an intelligent idea, but unfortunately, that’s not possible. Not only is it breathtaking, but also the real question is, who would pay for it?
That leaves us with the only option: we have to stop using plastic in the future. We’ve already laid out many in-depth articles showing you how you can choose sustainably made clothing, accessories, etc., over the ones that are made using earth-killing fabrics.
It should be crystal-clear to you by now that how catastrophic it is to use non-sustainable fabrics or clothing that is made using unsustainable materials. If you’re serious about sustainability with an intention to keep our planet as greener as it could get, it’s about time you shop for the clothing or accessories that have been made with the eco-friendliest fabrics, be it sustainable pajamas, workout clothes, sneakers, or jeans.
We’re glad to see those brands (that depended on unsustainable fabrics before) take a step towards eco-friendliness. Now, not only is wearing apparel made with sustainability in mind i.e. with most sustainable fabrics but also they’re embracing ethical practices so that workers or employees receive the appreciation they truly deserve.
Anyway, if you’re looking forward to investing in sustainable clothing with eco-friendly material in mind, we strongly suggest you consider the fabrics from the top on this page. Put differently, going with synthetic or semi-synthetic is recommended if you’re not satisfied with the front-runner or runner-up picks in this nip and tuck comparison.
Although we’ve tried to keep this all-inclusive article as informative as possible, if you believe that there’s any fabric that should have been on this list, please take your time and let us know.
We’d highly appreciate that!