What are the best environmentally friendly fabrics? Some fabrics we use to make clothing and beautiful garments are not as eco-friendly and sustainable as we think.
How to tell the difference between a natural fabric that does not use many resources and one that demands lots of water, pesticides, energy and human labor?
Not all fabrics are environmentally friendly. With increased awareness of climate change, many more people, myself included, are becoming aware of the fashion industry's impact on the planet.
The fashion industry is one of the largest polluters. It is responsible for huge textile wastes, water, air, soil pollution, toxic chemicals, greenhouse gas emissions.
Only a fraction of the resources used by the textile industry are renewable. It has become more important than ever to shop for eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics.
Certain materials are even unethical and encourage the exploitation of animals such as fur, leather, down, wool and silk. These should be avoided at all costs. They are not necessary to make highly technical and beautiful clothing.
Fortunately, there are already tons of other great environmentally friendly fabrics to choose from.
Some of the best eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics are:
- Organic cotton
- Recycled cotton
- Organic hemp
- Organic linen
- Recycled polyester
- Recycled nylon
- Organic bamboo
- Organic Soy
Organic cotton is the most popular eco-friendly and sustainable fabric. Lightweight and durable, it is easy to wash and care for.
Cotton is a natural fiber. It is bio-based and bio-degradable. But it requires tons of pesticides and water to grow.
On the other hand, organic cotton uses natural fertilizers and pesticides. It is also not genetically modified.
Unfortunately, it is very labor-intensive and requires enormous amounts of water.
Be sure to only buy certified GOTS and fair-trade organic cotton to ensure good working and living conditions for the farmers and workers.
Recycled or upcycled cotton is a clothing fabric even more environmentally friendly than organic cotton.
It is still light and breathable, quick-drying and durable. Recycled cotton also minimizes the environmental impact of cotton production drastically.
It is made from post-consumer and post-industrial cotton waste. Recycled or upcycled cotton is still expensive to produce and hard to find.
Organic hemp is one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics ideal for clothing. It is grown without herbicides, pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
It is a natural fabric, bio-based and biodegradable as well. The hemp plant doesn't require a lot of water to grow.
Hemp is breathable, durable, hypoallergenic and antibacterial.
Organic linen is a textile made from flax fiber. It is durable, quick-drying, moisture-wicking, lightweight, antimicrobial.
The flax plant requires less water than cotton to grow. The flax fiber is natural and biodegradable as well.
Similar to hemp, the flax plant is a very versatile crop. Every part of the plant can be used. It grows fast and is sustainable.
Lyocell is an innovative fabric. It is a textile made from cellulose fiber. It is a form of rayon manufactured from wood pulp. Lyocell is a plant-based fiber.
Lyocell is a breathable, lightweight, durable and very soft fabric. It is moisture-wicking as well to keep you cool in summer.
Lyocell requires lots of chemicals to produce. The main raw material for Lyocell is wood pulp which is digested chemically then pumped through spinnerets to make fibers.
Lyocell is a regenerated fiber and biodegradable. But the manufacturing process is quite complex, consumes lots of energy and chemicals.
Modal is another form of rayon. It is a very popular fabric made from cellulose fibers, often obtained from beech trees.
Modal is strong, smooth and very soft. Compared to other rayon fabrics, Modal is stronger, lighter and more breathable.
It is an eco-friendly fabric made from renewable fibers. Modal is a great textile option for your wardrobe. But the manufacturing process of Modal is chemicals and energy-intensive.
Recycled polyester or rPET is a high performing technical fabric. It is made from post-consumer and post-industrial wastes such as plastic bottles, containers, and garments.
Recycled polyester is durable and strong. It is a widely used synthetic fiber and dries quickly.
Recycled polyester reduces energy consumption, the amount of polyester going to landfills and doesn't require petroleum.
Polyester can be recycled many times over but is not infinitely recyclable. It is not bio-degradable and takes many years to decompose.
Breaking down polyester into flakes, chips, and fiber to make a fabric is an energy-intensive process that also requires chemicals.
Recycled Nylon is a textile similar to recycled polyester. Its production diverts wastes from landfills and the ocean.
Econyl is an example of recycled Nylon. It uses synthetic waste such as industrial plastic, waste fabric, and fishing nets from the ocean.
The production of recycled Nylon uses far less energy and water than virgin Nylon but a lot of chemicals. It is also not bio-degradable.
Organic Bamboo is a plant grown with very little water and without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The fabric is actually viscose rayon made of bamboo fiber.
It is light, soft and durable. It has moisture-wicking properties. Bamboo has the advantage to grow fast and doesn't have to be replanted.
However, the process of turning bamboo fibers into viscose rayon fabric is very energy and chemically intensive.
Soybeans can also be used to make a fabric. It is a renewable resource that doesn't need chemicals to grow effectively.
Organic soy fabric is very lightweight and soft while also durable.
The process of turning soybeans into a fabric requires plenty of energy and chemicals as well.
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 four languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.