Which fabrics are sustainable?
We all want to help protect our planet & people, and when something is labelled as 'sustainable' it makes that purchase just that little bit easier.
But what does sustainable clothing actually mean? Of course there are multiple ways to be more sustainable. Buying second hand, buying pieces you know are great quality and that you will wear for years and years. Mending your clothes if they break, rather than throwing them away.
However, when you want to buy something new, it's important to start understanding the labels a bit more. Which fabrics are sustainable?
Do you know your econyl from your nylon? Have you heard of a closed loop water system?
Don't panic, we've got you. You can start shopping more sustainably simply by being curious. We've broken it down into 3 simple questions...
Is it made from sustainable materials?
Is it ethical (does the brand look after the people who made it) ?
Is it made from materials you should avoid?
Another easy way to remember it... SEA
Which materials or fabrics are sustainable?
Organic cotton is better than regular cotton, as it doesn't use harmful pesticides which harm not only the planet but those working on the cotton (read on to see just how deadly these pesticides can be).
However... it still uses a lot of water. And when we say a lot, we mean a lot. According to WWF one t-shirt takes 2,700 litres of water to create. We use roughly 150 litres each a day, so that's 18 days of water usage just to make your cotton t-shirt.
Linen is a wonderful, eco-friendly material. It is strong and durable, can withstand very high temperatures and becomes softer the more you wash it. When untreated (left it's natural colours of ivory, ecru, tan & grey) it is fully biodegradable. It also comes from the flax plant, which traditionally is very cost effective as you can use every part of the plant to create a worthwhile product, with nothing going to waste.
It also only uses 6.4 litres of water to make a linen t-shirt... a fairly shocking comparison to the 2,700 needed to make a cotton t-shirt!
Wool & Cashmere
Both wool & cashmere are strong, warm and luxurious. They are durable and biodegradable.
The watch out with these materials is that there can be ethical, environmental and social impacts related to them. Sometimes the animals are sheared too early which can be fatal in cold temperatures, over-farming is causing green pastures to turn to deserts and it can be difficult to ensure that the working conditions of shepherds and goat herders are of an ethical standard.
What can you do? Look for brands that are transparent and shout about the quality of their wool and cashmere and where and how it is farmed. Even better, buy products made from recycled or reused wool and cashmere.
Denim is another durable material that is seasonless and always in style. However traditional jeans use a shocking amount of chemicals, water and energy to create. Look for brands such as Re/done, who recycle old denim, avoid harsh chemicals and use water and energy saving manufacturing methods.
A breathable, soft, machine washable eco-friendly fabric. Sounds amazing, right? But what actually is Cupro?
It is 'regenerated cellulose' made from cotton waste, so not only is reducing waste but it is plant based and 100% biodegradable.
It is also produced in a closed loop - this basically means that the chemicals can be extracted afterwards so that the water can be reused.
Econyl is simply regenerated (recycled) nylon. Nylon is a plastic waste that is polluting the planet, and econyl uses this waste to help close the loop. It is infinitely recyclable, however it isn't biodegradable.
Tencel, Lyocell, Bamboo
These fibres originate from wood and are therefore compostable and biodegradable. They are known for being environmentally responsible, and again Tencel and Lyocell close the waste loop by turning wood pulp into fabric. The process of creating Tencel and Lyocell also recycles process water.
How do I know if it's ethical?
Not only is it important that the fabric is ecofriendly but also that the people who have made your clothes have worked in proper conditions and have been paid fairly for their work.
Look for brands who know exactly where their products are made and by who. Generally, brands who have gone to the effort of meeting and sourcing ethical manufacturers will be transparent and want you to know. You can also look out for the Fairtrade, WTFO Fairtrade and Fair Wear marks below.
Which materials should I avoid?
Unfortunately cotton accounts for one sixth of all pesticides used globally. The World Health Organisation showed that around 20,000 people in developing countries die of cancer or suffer miscarriages as a result of the chemicals sprayed on cotton.
Synthetics: Polyester, Nylon, Acrylic, Elastane, Sequins (or anything else beginning with poly)
Quite simply, these materials are created using fossil fuels and are not biodegradable. They will last forever and break down into microfibres that go into our water system and harm not only ourselves (plastic has now been found in placentas) but marine life and ecosystems.
To prevent microplastics being released when you wash your clothes, try using a guppy bag*.
We hope that this guide was useful! Of course, the most sustainable way forward is for us to reuse and recycle the materials we've already created. But, we hope this guide arms you with a little more understanding to help you make a more eco-conscious decision when making your next purchase.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, denoted '*'