Think of fabrics as the ingredients of your clothes. We all read the ingredients in our foods, but we don’t always check the tags in fashion. And like food, generally the easiest to pronounce ingredients—or fabrics in this case—are usually the best, most sustainable options. Can you guess what fabrics made the list?
Photo credit: Sewport
Guess what most people don’t think about when it comes to ethical fashion? Fabrics.
But it actually plays a HUGE role in the sustainability of the entire fashion industry. We must be concerned about the entire life cycle of our clothing, and this means the harvesting, manufacturing, and disposing of the fabrics our clothing is made of.
The first rule of choosing fabrics? Natural and organic. If the fabric is made from a natural material, then it is already more biodegradable and sustainable.
Here’s a list of 5 sustainable fabrics to add to your ethical wardrobe.
No surprise cotton makes the list — its a natural plant-based fiber that is biodegradable, durable, breathable, and highly versatile. The problem is that it uses a lot of water (3% of global water use), pesticides and land to produce. The best way around this is to look for Organic cotton, which is harvested without any toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or genetically modified seeds.
PS - If you’re looking for denim on the list, denim is made from 100% cotton…
Linen is a plant-based fabric made from flax. It’s biodegradable and can be harvested without chemicals that harm the environment. Additionally, it can be grown on rough terrain that’s unsuitable for food production. Certain ways that linen is harvested can cause environmental damage, but like cotton, organic linen is free of these harmful practices.
Wool is probably the most sustainable fabric. It is tough, wrinkle-resistant, and resilient, which means wool products last a long time and keep their shape, leading to less frequent replacements. It also has natural characteristics that make it a good alternative to synthetic materials often found in outdoor clothing.
The one negative? It does have a carbon footprint, which mostly comes from the sheep themselves.
Silk is a natural fiber with flame retardant and antibacterial properties that is harvested from silkworms, which subsist completely on the leaves of mulberry trees (which are resistant to pollution). Silk can be harvested sustainably, but there are also some ways of doing so that are harmful to silkworms. Like anything, it’s good to be aware of the company’s practices around silk production, and watch out for dyes or other harmful chemicals that might be used in the manufacturing process.
Polyester is in basically everything right now, but it’s one of the most unsustainable fabrics out there. At least virgin polyester is. That’s why, if you are going to wear it, look for recycled polyester garments. Unlike virgin polyester, it uses PET as the base material, which can be found in plastic water bottles and breaks them down into fibers. It uses about half the energy and it prevents plastic bottles from going to landfills, so it’s a win-win in that sense.