By Alex Assoune
What are the best environmentally friendly fabrics? Some fabrics used to make clothing and beautiful garments aren't as eco-friendly and sustainable as you think.
How to tell if a fabric doesn't use an enormous amount of resources to produce? How to make sure that the garments you buy didn't require lots of water, energy, and toxic chemicals?
Unfortunately, not all fabrics are environmentally friendly. With increased environmental awareness, many people are realizing the disastrous impact that the fashion industry has on the planet and its inhabitants.
The fashion industry is one of the largest polluters globally. It is responsible for huge textile wastes, water, air, soil pollution, toxic chemicals, greenhouse gas emissions.
Only a tiny fraction of the resources used by the textile industry is renewable. It's now more important than ever to shop for eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics.
Animal-based materials such as fur, leather, down, wool, and silk are unethical and encourage the exploitation of living creatures. They also cause irreversible damage to the environment and are best avoided.
Luckily, many sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives exist. Here are the best eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics.
Panaprium is proud to be 100% independent, free of any influence, and not sponsored. We carefully handpick products from brands we trust. Thank you so much for buying something through our link, as we may earn a commission that supports us.
1. Organic cotton
Organic cotton is the most popular eco-friendly and sustainable fabric. Lightweight and durable, it's easy to wash and care for.
Cotton is a natural fiber. It's bio-based and bio-degradable. But it requires tons of chemicals and water to grow.
Conventional cotton production destroys biodiversity and soil fertility. It creates health problems and kills wildlife because it uses pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides containing toxic chemicals.
On the other hand, organic cotton is non-GMO and grown without man-made pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers.
Organic cotton has many environmental benefits over regular cotton. It's less likely to contribute to acidification and eutrophication of freshwater sources. It helps soil fertility and biodiversity.
By growing organic instead of conventional cotton, farmers can potentially save 218 billion liters of water and 92.5 million kg of carbon dioxide.
80% of all organic cotton is grown with water form rainfalls, which reduces pressure on local water sources.
Organic cotton must be grown and certified to a standard approved by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).
There are currently two independent organic certifications for organic cotton:
- Organic Content Standards (OCS)
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
Here are some of the best sustainable fashion brands that create stylish and affordable clothing out of organic cotton:
- Organic Basics sustainably and ethically produces underwear, activewear, and essentials in Europe with organic cotton.
- Alternative Apparel creates fashion basics for a sustainable future. Men and women's apparel basics in soft eco-fabrics, organic, and Pima cotton.
- PACT, a leading sustainable fashion brand using only organic fabrics and Fair Trade factories to design stylish essential clothing.
- MATE makes clean essentials sustainably in Los Angeles with non-toxic, natural, and organic materials.
- Threads 4 Thought, a full lifestyle brand of everyday basics, workout wear, and other fashion that is produced responsibly.
2. Recycled cotton
Recycled or upcycled cotton is a clothing fabric even more environmentally friendly than organic cotton. It limits additional textile waste generated during virgin cotton production.
Cotton is an extremely resource intense crop in terms of water, energy, labor, pesticides, and insecticides. Recycled cotton, however, demands much fewer resources to manufacture than conventional or organic cotton.
It minimizes the environmental impact of cotton production drastically. cycling one ton of cotton can save 765 cubic meters (202,000 US gal) of water.
Recycled cotton is still light and breathable, quick-drying, and durable. It's made from post-consumer and post-industrial cotton waste. Recycled or upcycled cotton is still expensive to produce and hard to find.
Some ethical clothing labels making apparel from recycled cotton are:
- Toad&Co, creators of sustainable, socially, and environmentally committed garments.
- Groceries Apparel, a California-based label producing activewear and swimwear locally in Los Angeles with natural and recycled fabrics.
- Levi's, an American clothing company and one of the most recognizable denim brands in the world making its sustainable Wellthread collection from recycled and organic cotton.
- Patagonia, industry leader in ethical and sustainable active and outerwear.
3. Organic hemp
Organic hemp is one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics. It's grown without herbicides, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers.
It's a natural fabric, bio-based, and biodegradable as well. The hemp plant doesn't require a lot of water to grow.
Hemp clothes that are natural, soft, breathable, lightweight, durable, hypoallergenic, and antibacterial.
Hemp one of the oldest textile fibers in the world and was already used 10,000 years ago to make clothing. It's an excellent choice to make high-quality and fashionable garments that also protect the environment.
Hemp also grows quicker and easier than most trees. It has a very high yield. One acre of hemp can produce two to three times more fiber than an acre of cotton.
Here are some amazing places to buy natural hemp clothes and build a conscious wardrobe:
- Mara Hoffman, a premium designer brand that creates dresses and swimwear out of hemp, recycled textiles, and other eco-friendly materials.
- WAMA Underwear, a fashion brand that makes soft and durable hemp basics, natural and comfortable organic hemp underwear.
- Nomads, pioneers of hemp that make earth-friendly urban fashion for a sustainable future.
- Arraei Collective, a mosaic of minimal Boheme basics made with natural fibers for the wandering souls, inspired by nature.
- Braintree (AU), environmental clothing range including essential casual basics as well as classic cuts and linen look finishes.
4. Organic linen
Organic linen is a textile made from flax fiber. It's durable, quick-drying, moisture-wicking, lightweight, and antimicrobial.
Linen is popular in the apparel industry to make environmentally friendly and socially responsible clothing. It's a very sustainable material that is also breathable, soft, comfortable, cool, and luxurious.
In history, linen cloth symbolized luxury, preciousness, and extravagance. It was used at dining tables in the Middle Age as a symbol of power, to exhibit authority and wealth.
Linen is considered a very luxurious fabric and a great choice for high-end garments.
Linen is a natural fabric, bio-based, biodegradable, and recyclable. It's made from a natural and renewable resource: the flax plant.
The flax plant requires less water than cotton to grow. Europe produces more than 85% of all flax fibers globally. France is the most prominent producer of flax.
Linen fabric is natural and very versatile. It's used for men and women's clothing alike. It's also highly resistant, durable, and rigid. It's about two to three times stronger than cotton.
Some of the most amazing sustainable fashion brands making linen clothing are:
- Everlane, modern, and beautiful essentials, at the best factories, without traditional markups.
- Rachel Craven makes minimal silhouettes for all bodies and sustainable, inclusive, and finely crafted clothing.
- Pyne & Smith, timeless, functional, and beautiful dresses, sustainably made in California from 100% European Linen.
- Míe, a lifestyle brand that provides design and fashion consciously made to be nature-friendly.
- Magic Linen, a range of high-quality linen goods made from OEKO-TEX certified European flax.
- Linen Fox makes Linen dress and Linen clothes respectfully and efficiently.
Lyocell is an innovative and plant-based fiber. It's a textile made from semi-synthetic regenerated cellulose fiber. Lyocell is a form of rayon manufactured from wood pulp.
Lyocell is a breathable, lightweight, durable, and very soft fabric. It's moisture-wicking and keeps you cool in summer. It also remains odor-free much longer than cotton.
One of the most well-known brands of lyocell is Tencel, manufactured by the Austrian company Lenzing. A lot of fashion brands now make clothing from Tencel.
Lyocell can arguably be one of the most eco-friendly cellulosic fibers. It's the third most used man-made cellulosic fiber after viscose and acetate.
Lyocell is made from wood pulp which is digested chemically then pumped through spinnerets to make fibers. Its manufacturing process is complex, consumes a lot of water, energy, and chemicals.
Luckily, sustainable lyocell production facilities can almost fully recover and reuse water and chemicals with closed-loop processes. When more than 99% of the solvent is recycled, lyocell is considered eco-friendly.
Here are some successful fashion brands that produce sustainable clothing from Tencel lyocell:
- Reformation makes sustainable women's clothing and accessories.
- Thought makes classic shirts and dresses from natural and sustainable fabrics.
- prAna makes clothing for positive change, to inspire new generations to thrive and stay active.
- People Tree (UK), a fair trade fashion pioneer, and online garment retailer making clothes from environmentally-friendly materials.
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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.
What is the most popular sustainable fabric that we sell? ›
Cotton is one of the most common fabrics in the world. This plant-based fibre is light and breathable, which makes it a wardrobe staple.
- Organic Cotton. The cotton bud. ...
- Hemp. Hemp grows incredibly easily. ...
- Lyocell. Sustainable lyocell. ...
- Organic Linen. Organic linen biodegrades quickly. ...
- Silk. Silk is biodegradable but has ethical issues. ...
- Bamboo. Bamboo is antibacterial and biodegradable. ...
- Wool. ...
Organic cotton. Organic cotton is the most popular eco-friendly and sustainable fabric. Lightweight and durable, it's easy to wash and care for.Which is the most environmentally friendly synthetic fabric? ›
The most sustainable synthetic fabrics are recycled polyester, nylon, spandex, lyocell, and biobased plastics. They are made-fibers used for clothing production that also protect the environment much better than other conventional fabrics.What is the most sustainable material? ›
Bamboo. Sustainability experts nearly universally agree bamboo is one of the best eco-friendly building materials on the planet. Its rate of self-generation is incredibly high, with some species growing up to three feet in 24 hours.What is eco-friendly fabric? ›
Hemp, wool, organic cotton, soy silk, bamboo fabrics, jute, corn fiber etc are considered as eco-friendly fabrics due to their availability from nature with out any harmful effects of chemical or toxics. Moreover, as compared to other synthetic fibers they are available in a cheaper rate.What is the least sustainable fabric? ›
Nylon and polyester
Made from petrochemicals, these synthetics are non-biodegradable as well, so they are inherently unsustainable on two counts. Nylon manufacture creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
1) Organic or Recycled Cotton
The most sustainable way to wear cotton is in its recycled form. This fabric is made with post-industrial and post-consumer waste and uses far less water and energy to produce in comparison with conventional and organic cotton.
The worst fabrics for the environment: Cotton, synthetics and animal-derived materials.What is the most natural fabric? ›
1. ORGANIC COTTON. Organic cotton is one of the most natural fabrics out there. It's grown without pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and processed with no chemicals.
Is silk eco-friendly? ›
Generally speaking, silk is considered a more sustainable fiber. It is a renewable resource, can biodegrade, and uses less water, chemicals, and energy than many other fibers.Is Bamboo clothing sustainable? ›
Bamboo is usually a very sustainably grown crop, however you need to make sure you are not buying bamboo rayon, the most common type of bamboo fabric on the market. Bamboo rayon requires intensive chemicals during the manufacturing of the fibres, 50% of which may well end up being released into the local environments.Why is cotton not sustainable? ›
Conventionally-grown cotton is bad for the environment because of its high water consumption and pollution, soil degradation, greenhouse gas emissions, and use of harmful pesticides and fertilisers.What does 100% sustainable cotton mean? ›
Organic cotton is sustainable cotton grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, artificial fertilizer and other toxic chemicals. By law, organic cotton plants can't come from genetically engineered seeds, and strict regulations dictate how cotton must be grown to be certified organic.Is linen more sustainable than cotton? ›
In terms of raw material, linen has less impact on the environment. Cotton is the heavy on the use of pesticides, even though organic cotton uses less water and pesticides.What are 4 sustainable materials? ›
- Cob. Cob, Eco Friendly Natural Building Material. ...
- Recycled Steel. Image by Chevanon Photography on Pexels. ...
- Sheep's Wool. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash. ...
- Reclaimed , Recycled or Sustainable Wood. Reclaimed wood. ...
- Cork. ...
- Straw Bales. ...
- Bamboo. ...
- Recycled Plastic.
Polyester is not biodegradable, and can shed toxic microfibers. While cotton, wool, and silk will completely biodegrade within a few months to a few years, as a plastic, polyester will take hundreds of years to completely biodegrade.Is cotton a sustainable fabric? ›
Approximately half of all textiles are made of cotton. The global reach of cotton is wide, but current cotton production methods are environmentally unsustainable—ultimately undermining the industry's ability to maintain future production.Is wool a sustainable fabric? ›
Because fleeces regrow every year after shearing, wool is a natural, renewable fiber source, making it one of the most sustainable sources of clothing.Is velvet sustainable? ›
Choose natural fibres
Choose high quality, natural and biodegradable fibres such as silk and cotton to ensure that your velvet doesn't linger in landfill for hundreds of Christmases to come. Choose pure (unblended) fibres to boost your velvet's chances of being recycled after you've finished wearing it.
Is denim a sustainable fabric? ›
Myth: Denim is basically Indigo (plant) dyed cotton fabric. Hence it is sustainable. Fact: Denim is a twill weave cotton fabric which was once dyed with indigo extracted from the plant Indigofera tinctoria. The pigment extraction used minimal water and no chemical fertilisers.Is silk or cotton better for environment? ›
According to the Higg Index, silk has by far the worst impact on the environment of any textile, including polyester, viscose/rayon, and lyocell. It's worse than the much-demonized cotton, using more fresh water, causing more water pollution, and emitting more greenhouse gases.Why is polyester not sustainable? ›
As an oil-based plastic, polyester does not biodegrade like natural fibres. Rather it stays in landfills for several decades at least – and potentially for hundreds of years.What is the least harmful fabric? ›
Buying organic cotton not only reduces the number of toxins you breathe and expose your skin to, but can lessen the amount of pesticide chemicals released into the water supply when washing your clothes. Other good fabric alternatives to look for are silk, flax, wool, and tencel (made from sustainable wood pulp).Which country is the least sustainable? ›
- Sierra Leone.
- Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
- The Solomon Islands.
- Anything Recycled or Once Loved. Recycling is one of the most sustainable ways to live, whether it's reusing bags, throwing your paper, plastic and metal into a recycling bin, or wearing recycled goods. ...
- Hemp. ...
- Soy Silk/Cashmere. ...
- Organic Cotton. ...
Wool production gobbles up precious resources. Environmentalists are increasingly highlighting the negative impact of sheep farming on the landscape. Land has been cleared and trees have been cut down to make room for grazing sheep, leading to increased soil salinity, erosion, and decreased biodiversity.Is satin eco-friendly? ›
satin is unsustainable.
However, they are not at all eco-friendly or sustainable due to the overwhelming strain on natural resources; the water needed, food needed and land usage that must happen for such abundant amounts of animals to live.
Natural fibers such as cotton, wool, silk, linen, and cashmere are generally a better bet when choosing clothes that will last. While synthetic fibres can bring levels of stability and versatility to garments, as a rule of thumb don't buy a garment with more than a 20% portion of synthetic fiber.What are the top trends in sustainable fashion? ›
- Second-hand Clothing. ...
- Eco-friendly Fabrics. ...
- Capsule Wardrobes. ...
- Transparency. ...
- Upcycling Old Clothes. ...
- Renting Clothes. ...
- Local Fashion Brands. ...
- Fashion on Demand.
Which is more sustainable cotton or polyester? ›
Polyester is not biodegradable, and can shed toxic microfibers. While cotton, wool, and silk will completely biodegrade within a few months to a few years, as a plastic, polyester will take hundreds of years to completely biodegrade.What does 100% sustainable cotton mean? ›
Organic cotton is sustainable cotton grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, artificial fertilizer and other toxic chemicals. By law, organic cotton plants can't come from genetically engineered seeds, and strict regulations dictate how cotton must be grown to be certified organic.What is metaverse fashion? ›
The appeal of digital fashion
The evolution of design technologies allows creative freedom for all designers, but some clothes they design can never be worn in the real world. The Metaverse removes this hurdle — a digital avatar can wear any garment without any constraints of type, design, fabric and use.”
We have definitely seen an increase in demand for sustainable fashion in the past year. "More and more people are realising that you can invest in amazing quality, one of a kind clothing that lasts a lot longer than clothes from fast fashion retailers."How is smart clothing made? ›
The Technology Behind Smart Textiles
One way to make a smart textile is by weaving electrically conductive yarn into a fabric to create a textile that can be used as a “Wearable Motherboard”. It can connect multiple sensors on the body, and is especially useful for health monitoring.
- 1) Polyester. A variety of products can be made from forms of polyester: t-shirts, blankets, rope, conveyor belts, and bottles. ...
- 2) Acrylic. ...
- 3) Cotton (Conventional) ...
- 4) Rayon (aka Viscose) ...
- 5) Nylon. ...
- 1) Organic or Recycled Cotton. ...
- 2) Organic Hemp. ...
- 3) Organic Linen.
Generally speaking, silk is considered a more sustainable fiber. It is a renewable resource, can biodegrade, and uses less water, chemicals, and energy than many other fibers. That said, problems can arise with chemical use, animal rights, high energy input, and labor practices.Why is polyester not sustainable? ›
As an oil-based plastic, polyester does not biodegrade like natural fibres. Rather it stays in landfills for several decades at least – and potentially for hundreds of years.Which cotton is sustainable? ›
Grown using materials and methods that lower its impact on the environment, organic cotton is a fantastic sustainable alternative to commonly-grown crops. These eco-friendly production systems focus on maintaining soil fertility and don't involve any toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilisers and harmful chemicals.Is H&M cotton sustainable? ›
All our cotton is organic, in-conversion, recycled or sourced through the Better Cotton Initiative, and we are committed to making it even more sustainable. Cotton is a natural, renewable and biodegradable fibre widely used in clothing, home textiles and furniture.
Is polyester a sustainable material? ›
The problem is, polyester is not a sustainable textile option, as it is made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the most common type of plastic in the world.Is cotton eco-friendly? ›
Cotton is a natural fiber, but it's not as eco-friendly as you may think. Inorganic cotton production requires substantial harmful chemicals, a lot of water, and the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Specifically, over 99% of cotton uses fertilizers and genetically modified seeds.Is bamboo yarn eco-friendly? ›
In theory, bamboo textiles should be one of the most sustainable options for an eco-friendly closet. Bamboo grows rapidly, needs very little water, fertilizer, or pesticides, and sequesters a large amount of carbon dioxide, absorbing five times more carbon dioxide and 35% more oxygen than similar plants.Is wool eco-friendly? ›
From a sustainability perspective, wool is an entirely natural product that is fully biodegradable. It breaks down quickly, returning its nutrients to the soil without releasing plastic microfibers into the environment, as its synthetic rivals do.