Sustainable fabrics are very important in the fashion world today. Flax and linen are great options to create beautiful, soft, cool, and durable clothing that also protects the environment.
Linen is a natural fiber used for textiles in the fashion industry made from a renewable resource: the flax plant. It's the most expensive natural and sustainable woven fabric used for clothing in the world. Clothing pieces made from linen fabric are well-known to be luxurious and exceptionally cool in hot weather.
Linen is a very old fabric. It has been used for a long time to make cloth. It's much more ancient than cotton. Today, linen is sold at a very high price because it's difficult to manufacture and is less available.
Flax plants are grown in cooler regions of the world. They make food and fibers for textiles. Also known as common flax or linseed, flax is commonly used for bed sheets, clothes, and table linen.
Here are the main differences between flax and linen.
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Linen fabric for clothing
Even if it has been used for over 6,000 years, linen represents less than 1% of all textile fibers consumed worldwide.
More than 85% of all linen fibers made from flax plants are originated from Europe globally. The European linen industry involves about 10 000 businesses in 14 countries.
China is the biggest producer of linen fabrics worldwide. India, the United States, Italy, Ireland, France, and Belgium also produce linen, but in much lower quantities.
Natural linen is often used in household articles as well, such as pillows, curtains, tablecloths, bath towels, bedsheets, rugs, and wall coverings.
Undyed linen natural color is pale yellowish-gray. It's affected by the farming and manufacturing processes used to obtain fibers from flax plants.
Linen has many advantages for clothing. It's a natural fiber, biodegradable, recyclable, and one of the most environmentally friendly and socially responsible materials to make high-quality and luxurious clothing.
Since history, linen cloth represents luxury, preciousness, and extravagance. It used to symbolize wealth, power, and authority.
Unfortunately, linen is still a rare textile in the fashion industry today. Its manufacturing is very costly which makes it inaccessible to most people. Its production includes many slow, complex, and expensive manufacturing processes. Linen fabric production costs twice as much as cotton fabric production.
Linen cloth is well-known to be durable, comfortable, resistant, lightweight, breathable, quick-drying, anti-bacterial, moisture-wicking, and very absorbent.
But linen also has very low elasticity. It can wrinkle easily. That's why it's often blended with other materials. During linen fabric manufacturing, the machinery has to run quite slow to weave flax fibers. They are broken easily.
Luxury fashion brands and designers use linen for their collections all around the world, such as:
With ever-growing concerns for sustainability in the fashion industry. linen has a key role to play as a very environmentally friendly fabric.
Natural and renewable flax plants
Flax is a plant originated from ancient Egypt. It dates back to 30,000 BC. The flax plant is used to produce linen fabric with a lot of processes involved.
Many people use flax and linen to design the same thing. although linen is a textile fabric, and flax is a plant.
Flax is used for its seeds and stems to make fibers for fabrics. Flaxseeds make amazing edible oils called linseed oil, very rich in omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid) highly beneficial to human health.
Retting is the first step in linen fabric production. Micro-organisms and moisture dissolve much of the cellular tissues of flax plants to facilitate the separation of the fiber from the stem.
The agricultural by-products consisting of the flax plant dry stalks are called straw. The process of removing the straw from the fibers is called dressing the flax.
Flax plants grow over one season and are harvested annually. They are ready to be harvested in about a hundred days after seed-planting.
The largest producer of flax fibers in the world is France with around 660,000 tons produced in 2018, followed by Belgium, Belarus, and Russia, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Flax annual production increased to more than 868,000 tons globally in 2018, which is much less than cotton (30,3 million tons) or jute (3,63 million tons).
The flax plant requires very little water to grow unless the weather is particularly warm and dry. A linen shirt requires 6.4 liters of water during manufacturing compared to 26 liters for a cotton shirt, according to the Bio Intelligence Service.
The Higg Materials Sustainability Index gives linen a water scarcity score of 3.3, which is much lower than 50.4 for cotton.
Overall, linen is a great environmentally friendly fabric made from renewable flax plants. It's a natural, biodegradable, and recyclable plant-based fiber.
It gives clothing pieces a natural look as well as amazing qualities such as breathability, comfort, and durability.
One of the best ways to encourage sustainability in the fashion world sustainable is to buy fewer clothes and higher quality. Linen offers an ideal choice.
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About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.