What are the most expensive and sustainable fabrics used for clothing in the world? What about linen? Garments made of linen are well-known to be luxurious and exceptionally cool in hot weather.
Linen is the most expensive and sustainable clothing fabric worldwide. It's a woven fabric using natural fibers made from a renewable plant-based resource: flax plants. Linen fabric is sold at a higher price than cotton or jute because it's difficult to manufacture and has a lower availability.
More than 85% of the world's production of flax fibers are originated from Europe. And flax remains a rare product as it represents less than 1% of all textile fibers consumed worldwide.
Other expensive materials used in the fashion industry are silk, fur, wool, and cashmere. But these types of fabric aren't ethical or sustainable. They are made from animal products or by-products and aren't cruelty-free.
Out of the most expensive fabrics, linen is the best high-quality and luxurious material to make environmentally friendly and socially responsible clothing.
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Luxury clothing fabrics to avoid
Billions of animals are brutally slaughtered in the fashion industry every year. Animals such as rabbits, mice, birds, foxes, guinea pigs, cats, and dogs are farmed, trapped, and skinned to make fur, wool, down, silk, and leather.
With now so many alternatives available, why do animals still have to suffer and die to make boots, jackets, coats, or gloves?
There is no excuse to use animal products or by-products to create stylish and luxury fashion.
The creating of these fabrics also requires extremely toxic chemicals to treat the raw materials. The manufacturing processes are highly polluting and put the health of workers in the supply chain at risk.
As consumers, we have the final decision. We choose the clothes we buy and who to support with our money.
Let's demand protection and fair treatment for all animals and only buy clothing from ethical, vegan, and cruelty-free fashion brands.
Do you have trouble looking for brands to buy from? Follow our extensive guide on how to tell if a fashion brand is cruelty-free.
The qualities of linen fabric for clothing
Linen is an expensive sustainable fabric that offers numerous qualities. It's a natural fabric that is beautiful, durable, comfortable, resistant, lightweight, breathable, and quick-drying.
Linen is a very old fabric that has been used for a very long time (over 6,000 years). It was already used for wrapping mummies in ancient Egypt to help with preservation.
Its production requires the growth and harvesting of flax plants. The final quality of the fabric depends a lot on the raw material.
Flax plants grow in many different countries around the world. Natural fibers are extracted from the plant, spun into yarn, then woven into the fabric for clothing.
According to the data of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the largest producer of flax fiber and tow worldwide is France with about 660,000 tons produced in 2018, followed by Belgium, Belarus, and Russia.
The annual production of flax rose 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).
Linen is also very strong and rigid, about two to three times more than cotton. The fabric is often used in household articles as well, such as pillows, curtains, tablecloths, bath towels, bedsheets, rugs, and wall coverings.
Linen can also help you stay cool in the summer. It's very absorbent, anti-bacterial, and moisture-wicking. It's used for men and women's clothing alike.
The main disadvantage of linen is that it has poor elasticity and can wrinkle easily. That's why linen is often blended with other materials.
Linen fabric is ethical and sustainable
Linen is an eco-friendly and sustainable fabric for clothing. It's a natural fiber, biodegradable, and recyclable.
The fashion industry has a huge negative social and environmental impact. With growing awareness of these issues, more people are asking for eco-friendly clothing.
Linen is one great solution to make sustainable and durable clothes from renewable resources.
Flax plants also have other uses in all types of products, such as linseed oil or protein-rich feed.
The flax plant needs very little water to grow. The production of a linen shirt requires 6.4 liters of water compared to 26 liters for a cotton shirt, according to the analysis by Bio Intelligence Service (2008).
The Higg Materials Sustainability Index also agrees that linen fabric saves a lot of water. It gives linen a water scarcity score of 3.3 much lower than 50.4 for cotton.
Linen is one of the least environmentally and socially damaging textiles. It doesn't contribute to micro-plastic pollution at all and doesn't threaten aquatic and human life.
Only buy certified organic linen as it confirms the material quality and its eco-friendliness. Look for organic certifications from:
- the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
- the E.U. Organic Certification Agency,
- or the Global Organic Textile Standard.
To learn more about certifications, read up our guide on the best eco-certification standards for textiles.
Why is linen clothing so expensive
Linen clothing is expensive because it's hard to weave and isn't as readily available as other natural fibers, such as cotton. Its manufacturing is a laborious and timely process.
Linen fabric production costs twice as much as cotton production. It can take up to 90 days to harvest flax plants yearly, as it cannot be mowed and has to be pulled up by the roots.
To weave flax fibers into linen fabric, the machinery has to run quite slow as the fibers are easily broken.
The largest producer of linen worldwide is China. Other countries also produce linen, such as India, the United States, Italy, Ireland, France, and Belgium.
In history, linen cloth used to symbolize extravagance, luxury, and preciousness. Linen fabric was used at dining tables in the middle age as symbols of power, to show wealth and authority.
Today, linen is used by most luxury fashion brands and well-known designers around the world, such as
Linen is also used for tablecloths and beddings in high-rated restaurants and hotels.
The highest quality of linen fabric is handwoven in Europe, where labor is expensive.
Don't mistake natural, expensive, and sustainable linen with fake linen. Some fabrics made from synthetic fiber blends are often mislabelled as linen.
Linen is the most expensive sustainable clothing fabric. It's much more environmentally friendly and luxurious than other natural plant-based fibers such as cotton.
As a fabric used in high-end garments, it offers lots of amazing qualities such as breathability, durability, softness, freshness, and lightness.
Unfortunately, linen remains a rare textile in the fashion industry. Its manufacturing is very costly which makes it inaccessible to most people.
But since sustainability is gaining popularity in the fashion industry, linen will also have a key role to play as a very eco-friendly fabric.
There are already plenty of luxury top-quality linen shirts, dresses, trousers, blazers, pants, and coats to shop online or in high-end boutiques. There will be more to come!
What are your favorite linen pieces and places to shop linen clothing?
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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.