Check Out These Sustainable Fabrics

Fast-fashion has been a topic of late for us as well as many others who care about the environmental impact their clothing has. While we’ve talked about things to avoid (fast fashion!) and things one can do (buy vintage and/or higher-quality garments) we thought we’d also talk a bit about what fabrics are sustainable.

While every piece of clothing we wear has some sort of impact on the environment – whether its in production or where they end up after use – it’s a good idea to seek fabrics that do less damage to the planet. This means – and I’m looking at you West Coasters –  we have to stay away fleece as it is ridden with plastic along with those synthetic yoga pants!

Jung Maven makes some cool clothes out of hemp.

Jung Maven makes some cool clothes out of hemp.

Linen is a plant-made fabric made from flax. Flax is fantastic because it’s grown in areas that are unsuitable for food production. It can be cultivated and processed without chemicals by processes called dew-retting and enzyme-retting. However, you must be careful. A lot of linen – especially produced in China - is processed by water-retting which means the flax is soaked in rivers where pollutants make their way into our waterways.

Wool is possibly the most environmentally-friendly option. It is resilient and wrinkle-resistant. It is also great for wearing in the great outdoors (like our ancestors used to do!) instead of water-resistant synthetics and polyester fleeces. Read more about wool production here. Synthetic clothes are so bad for the environment, wreaking havoc for wildlife down the foodchain thanks to microfibre shedding. Every time one of these garments is washed, plastic microfibres are released into waterways and exist indefinitely, polluting lakes and oceans, ingested by animals and then, finally, humans. Polyester – found in 60% of clothing – is a plastic manufactured from crude oil, which is an energy-intensive process.

“Vegans can do their animal friends a favour by using earth and animal-friendly fabric instead,” said our friends at Mined ReCREATIONS. “Wear that instead of plastic-ridden fleece and synthetic yoga pants.”

Hemp is a good option. Hemp is like linen as it also comes from the stem of a plant. It is also versatile as it keeps you warm in winter and cool in the summer. It is naturally pest-resistant so requires no pesticides and herbicides. It also requires little water. One thing to look out for is how it is produced. Some companies use chemicals to speed up the process of turning hemp into fabric. Also make sure natural dyes are used. Check out brands such as Jung Maven.

Leather. This is a tough one. While we know our vegan friends eschew leather, there is something to be said for wearing leather rather than plastic. Organizations such as The Leather Working Group provide resources for more sustainably-sourced leather that is naturally tanned with environmentally friendly agents and coloured with vegetable dyes. When the leather comes from animals that have already died, they sometimes go to reputable rendering plants where their parts are recycled.

This one is interesting. Instead of cashmere, go for alpaca. In Mongolia, one of the world’s top producers of cashmere, goats are severely affecting the ecosystem. Cashmere wool is collected during the spring molting season of the fine-haired cashmere goat.. Goats pull grass from the root when they graze but because there’s so much cashmere production, most of the once-fertile land in Mongolia is going the way of a desert. When sheep and alpaca graze, they only eat the grass at the surface – chopping it down like lawnmowers. Bonus – when you buy alpaca that’s fair trade, you also support development in Peru’s remote alpaca growing communities. Check out Callina, Raven and Lily, Indigenous Clothing and Awamaki.

Another fabric that popped up on our radar is TENCEL. It’s made from eucalyptus which grows quickly without irrigation. It also doesn’t require pesticides. It also grows on rough land that is not ideal for farming so production of this fabric does not take away from food production. All chemicals used to produce this product are captured and reused. Here are some great garments (Nike, Esprit, allbirds) made from this sustainable fabric.

Not So Fast…

I know you might be thinking – where’s cotton? While cotton is a natural plant-based fibre is used in many garments and is highly versatile. It is biodegradable but it unfortunately uses a whole lot of water to produce. How much water? As much as three per cent of global water use, according to the UN! It takes about 700 gallons of water to make enough cotton for a single T-shirt. That’s equal to about 40 showers! It also uses two percent of arable land globally, so not great. Organic cotton, while a better bet due to fewer chemicals, tends to require more land space for its lower yields.

We did not include bamboo on this list. While bamboo requires very little water and no pesticides to grow, the process of turning it into fabric is chemically intensive with a lot of byproduct.