By: Meagan Neville
Despite the talk of sustainable fashion being just a trend, I will argue that shoppers have an increasing interest in which sustainable fabrics they choose to advocate for. Today’s fashion industry favors ethical design methods and cruelty-free alternatives, with ninety percent of millennials using sustainability as a lens for shopping.
With many retailers promising to reach some highly targeted sustainability goals for 2020, you will start to see some innovative materials and sustainable textiles hitting the market.
With ethical fashion here to stay and brands leading the way in sustainable fabrics, I want to be sure that you are well-equipped with a list of the 9 most sustainable fabrics to choose from, and the brands where you can find them.
9 Most Sustainable Fabrics To Choose When Shopping
(table of contents)
1. ORGANIC COTTON
I think it’s fair to say that out of all sustainable fabrics, organic cotton is by far the most popular. There is a lower impact on the environment versus traditional cotton, with organic cotton emitting 46% less greenhouse gas than non-organic. Organic cotton uses 1,982 gallons LESS than traditional cotton just to make a t-shirt.
By using efficient farming methods like crop rotation, organic cotton farming has zero need for pesticides, unlike its traditional counterpart, which can damage ecosystems, poison waterways and endanger workers.
Soft and absorbent, organic cotton is a fan favorite and you can find a number of products bearing the organic cotton name, such as underwear, socks, t-shirts and bedding. Organic cotton also feels much softer than non-organic. Those who suffer from allergies will be glad to know that organic cotton is hypoallergenic and won't cause skin irritation.
Where To Find Organic Cotton Clothing:
Alexis Organic Cotton Dress In Stone Marl from Beaumont Organic
It’s really exciting to see more hemp within the clothing space. After all, it’s the world’s most sustainable fabric. Hemp is also a sustainable crop, having zero need for artificial fertilizers or pesticides. During the farming process, the hemp plant will shed many of its leaves before harvest, thus returning nutrients to the soil for the next crop.
Hemp carries qualities such as durability, great absorbency and having superior antibacterial properties. What I love about hemp is that after each wash, the fabric becomes softer and more flexible. Did you also know that hemp fabric is naturally resistant to mold and protective from ultraviolet light?
As a fabric, hemp provides all the warmth and softness of a natural textile but with unmatched durability that you won’t find in other materials like organic cotton. It’s also one of the most versatile of fibers, in that it can be blended with cotton or silk for a new hybrid of sustainable comfort and softness.
Where To Find Hemp Clothing:
Hemp Bikini from Wama Underwear
What is interesting about seeing sustainable textiles scale to become more innovative, is that the opportunities for creativity are endless. Seen as an emerging luxury material in the leather world, Pinatex is a sustainable and cruelty-free leather alternative made from (wait for it) pineapple leaves.
By using less water and energy to produce, Pinatex is developed in a safe manner as opposed to the toxic process of traditional leather. By providing this very unique fabric, there is a lift in the social, cultural and ecological development in which Pinatex is farmed, building a strong circular economy and supports local farming communities.
I fell in love with this concept when I first heard about is a few years ago. Not only does the fiber result in a versatile finish, but various treatments can be applied to change its appearance. It can be dyed, printed on, or manipulated to various thicknesses for uses from leather bags to sneakers.
Where To Find Pinatex Products:
Barcelona Pinatex shopper from Maravillas Bags
Think summer parties on the beach in the Dominican Republic, white linen dresses and a spritzy drink in hand. Well, a girl can dream right? Aside from the unmatched breezy, comfortable, lightweight qualities of linen, the dreamiest part about this fabric is that it’s the most sustainable choice next to hemp.
One of the longest-produced textiles in our history, linen makes up a drastically smaller percentage of the global textile market. It is biodegradable, which means that the fabric can inherently reabsorb into the surrounding environment within a matter of years instead of centuries. Hello earth-friendly fabrics :)
With attractive benefits such as moisture-wicking, linen is a go-to fabric for summertime and warm weather climates. By naturally producing a natural white color, linen reflects heat-inducing solar rays with a low moisture-retaining profile. With all this goodness being said about linen, I just love it. Mainly because it’s a great fabric with little impact.
Where To Find Linen Clothing:
Grey Linen Longer Sleeved Swingy Dress from Pyne and Smith
When you are looking for a sustainable alternative to a silky soft, absorbent and comfortable fabric to wear against the skin, you don’t have to look any further than SeaCell. The new and innovative fabric uses a closed loop production process releasing zero chemicals. This is a huge win in terms of meeting the high expectations of today’s sustainable fashion industry.
SeaCell can be used for a variety of uses, from high fashion to casual wear, underwear and loungewear, and boasts benefits such as breathability, lightness and a supple feel that is unique only to itself. Speaking of unique, did you know SeaCell has actual health benefits?
This sustainable fabric maintains algae’s beneficial mineral and vitamin properties, protecting the skin, allowing the skin to absorb algae’s healthy goodness. Sustainable fashion that’s stylish and healthy - I’ll take it!
Where To Find SeaCell Clothing:
Maxi long sleeve shirt by Funktion Schnitt
6. RECLAIMED FABRICS
On your journey of finding the most sustainable fabrics, you may come across reclaimed fabrics, and trust me, this is a great option. You may also hear other terms like upcycled fabric, deadstock or remnants. Overall, these terms mean the same thing: utilizing textile waste, pattern making off-cuts, or unused portions of fabric rolls to design a collection.
This is not to be confused with recycled fabric, which is often fabrics that are from recycled materials, like water bottles and turned into PET or polyester fabric.
Reclaimed fabrics in clothing options are perfect for decreasing your carbon footprint, closing the production loop and ensuring that fabrics are offered a second life. Textiles make up almost 6% of the trash entering U.S. landfills every year, so with this option, reclaimed fabrics are diverted from the landfill and into your closet.
Where To Find Reclaimed Fabric Clothing:
Arie pant by Reformation
New, innovative and rooted in nature. Mylo is emerging as a sustainable fabric in the fashion scene as its unique properties are as luxurious as real leather while produced in a way less impactful manner. Developed from mycelium, the roots of the fungi form a mesh of nutrients on the forest floor providing nutrients to nearby plants and trees.
In the case of producing Mylo fabric, the entire process can take a few days, as opposed to years that traditional leather can take, therefore minimizing our environmental impact. Here, the mycelium grows in a controlled environment where a careful mix of temperature, humidity and CO2 yields a leather-like “hide”.
With a supple, natural feel to the leather, Mylo has all of the qualities that you would want to see from the real thing. It’s just cleaner, more efficient, non-toxic and sustainable. As with many hand-crafted items, Mylo leather may vary in thickness as it grows, and takes a variety of natural dyes, offering a one-of-a-kind vibe.
Where To Find Mylo Fashion:
Falabella Bag in Mylo by Stella McCartney
An emerging fabric in the sustainability scene, Tencel is used by H&M, Patagonia, Athleta and Reformation. In an effort to move away from the traditional viscose process of synthetic fibers, Tencel uses a patented lyocell production method, resulting in a super soft, smooth and luxurious fabric.
Used in intimates, active wear, denim and bedding, the fiber production of Tencel can be customized for each application’s specifications.
Closing the loop is one of the most efficient production processes in sustainable manufacturing, and Tencel does just that. Once the solvent does its job and dissolves the wood from the eucalyptus tree into a pulp, 99.5% of the solvent is recovered in a closed chemical loop and then fed back into the production process.
In what is a very sustainable dye process, Tencel results in a high dye uptake, reducing inputs into the dyeing process.
Where To Find Tencel Fashion:
Gina Jacket by Mara Hoffman
9. NETTLE FIBER
Another fabric that has deep historical ties, nettle fiber is derived from the nettle plant found in Europe, North America, North Africa, and parts of Asia. Because nettle fibres and yarns are easy to acquire and use, they are widely used both as a standalone fiber with similar qualities to linen and hemp, or blended with silk or wool for other unique fiber hybrids.
Designers are choosing nettle fabric as an ecological alternative to cotton. It’s common for designers to look to innovation for new fibers to design with, but it’s interesting to see a look toward our past and see how folks worked with fibers before the industrial revolution.
Clean and most effective for small-scale production, nettle production is done through a retting process. After the plant reaches a paper-like feel, the fibers need to be softened via a hand rolling and scraping process where fine, silk-like fibers start to come out. Once twisted into a thread, the fiber can be spun and dyed for fabric use.
Where To Find Nettle Fabrics:
Nettle Fabric Clothing by Gestine Jost
You can shop an array of innovative materials with this list of both traditional and emerging sustainable textiles. Covering plant based textiles like hemp and linen, and reclaimed fabrics, you can’t go wrong on your journey towards the most sustainable fabrics. With a bit of creativity, ingenuity and developing your own ethical style, you can see that dressing sustainably can be super fun!
Now it’s time to share with your friends all of the facts about the most sustainable fabrics to choose when buying clothes. Which one is your favorite?