Have you ever thought of the environmental impact of the different fabrics you wear? The origin of the fiber, processing, knitting, and finishing, all require a huge amount of resources and can result in a huge carbon footprint. However, some fibers tend to be friendlier than others and require fewer resources, making your clothing much more sustainable.
In this fabric sustainability blog series, we will compile a list of the most common fibers along with notes on their sustainability and eco-friendliness to help you make smart decisions on your next shopping trip!
First up: plant-based fibers! Plant-based fibers are usually the most eco-friendly option when it comes to fabrics, but certain fibers can consume more resources than others. Therefore, it is important to be conscious of where the fibers are grown and produced, and whether they use pesticides, fertilizers, etc.
Among plant-based fibers, cotton is the fabric of choice for most people. It has been in use among human civilization for about seven thousand years, especially in warmer climes due to its breathability and absorbency. The cotton fibers actually come from the ‘bolls’ that surround and protect the seed, and are spun into fabric after being deseeded. It is a very versatile fabric that can be spun into many different types of fabrics such as denim, corduroy, flannel, muslin etc.
It may come as a shock, but cotton is one of the hardest crops to grow. It is labour intensive, requires a lot of water and warmth, dry weather, as well as lots of pesticides and herbicides. Depending on how it is grown, it can be cheap, but at the cost of environmental and ethical considerations.
Organic cotton has become more popular among those who are environmentally and ethically conscious. It is also more expensive, which is probably the reason why cotton steadily keeps losing market share in the fashion industry.
You can contribute to keeping the cotton industry eco-friendly and free from child labor and social malpractices! The Global Organic Textiles Standard certifies cotton that is sustainably and ethically produced, and many brands have become transparent about their cotton sourcing and trade, which can help you make an informed decision!
The word ‘linen’ usually brings to mind crisp, fresh hotel sheets and warm luxurious clothing. Linen usually refers to a variety of clothing, however, the fiber comes from the stem of the flax plant. Flax, especially the organic kind, is considered to be very sustainable, as it requires a low amount of water and energy to be produced. Creating threads and fiber out of flax can be labour intensive, and therefore can make the linen fabric expensive.
Untreated linen is fully biodegradable, hypoallergenic and antibacterial, and is also moth resistant. Furthermore, the more you wash linen, the softer and more pliable it gets. If taken care of very well, linen can last for a long time, so it is definitely an eco-friendly investment!
Natural rubber, or latex, is found in a variety of industrial products as well as in the fashion industry, where it is used to make clothes, boots, jackets etc. Natural rubber is lately becoming more popular in the fashion industry as a replacement for leather and PVC. Natural rubber can not only stretch more than leather or PVC, but also doesn’t use any animal products or plastic.
Latex is also biodegradable and is the renewable white milky liquid of the rubber tree. The production is very sustainable––there is no need to cut down trees and hardly any chemicals are added to the latex liquid to create the finished rubber product. Since natural rubber production can be slow, it slows down the entire fashion chain and can be a good way to reduce mass production and fast fashion. Look out for latex-based fashion the next time you go shopping!
Relax. Industrial hemp is a cousin of marijuana, but has none of the hallucinogenic, drug-like properties. It is cooler than its cousin though––it can be used to make environmentally friendly clothes that are durable, soft, keep you warm and cool as needed, and protect you from UV rays!
Have you ever wondered why hemp is called weed? Because it is one! It can grow without much effort and is very gentle on the soil. It also requires very little water, and needs no pesticides or herbicides. However, fertilizers can be environmentally damaging, so make sure that the hemp used in your clothing is organic. Become the dope one in your friend group by wearing hemp!
Keep an eye out for the next edition of this blog: Animal Fibers!