What to Look for in Sustainable, Eco-Friendly Clothing
In a world filled with fast fashion and microplastics we look to sustainable, eco-friendly textiles to relieve the planet of adverse environmental influences. Cheap materials like polyester may help to keep prices low, but at a high cost to the earth. Natural fibers like organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, linen, wool, and silk tend to be more sustainable than man-made fabrics like polyester and nylon (which are petroleum-based and take thousands of years to biodegrade).
Natural fibers are obtained from plants, animals, or insects. Where as man-made fibers can be divided into two categories: synthetic and regenerated. Synthetic fibers are completely made from chemicals like polyester or nylon. Regenerated fibers are made by transforming natural polymers through the chemical-based process. The downside to synthetic fabrics is that they require vast amounts of energy to produce, while the chemicals used in production are often toxic. Additionally the working conditions in foreign clothing factories can also be highly dangerous.
Some natural fabrics such as cotton aren’t always greener than synthetic fabrics. Conventional methods of growing cotton use vast amounts of potentially toxic fertilizer and pesticides. While it is possible to grow cotton without these chemicals, even organic cotton still requires large amounts of water.
The greenest fabrics consist of renewable fibers which are easy to grow or produce like bamboo. They use limited water and energy to produce and are recyclable.
Fibers to Look For:
Organic cotton is cotton from plants that are not genetically modified and are certified to be grown without the use of any synthetic agricultural chemicals, such as fertilizers, pesticides or defoliants, produced according to the internationally recognized organic farming standards. It doesn’t damage the soil, has less impact on the air, and uses less water and less energy. Conventional cotton uses about 16% of the world’s insecticides and 7% of pesticides.
What is great about this fiber is that it’s a high yield fiber crop, producing more biomass per acre than most other crops. Hemp is also easy to grow and doesn’t need much fertilizer or pesticides. It can also be made into a wide variety of fabrics.
A fast-growing plant that is naturally organic. It produces soft fabrics that are easily maintained. However, turning its fibers into fabric often requires toxic chemicals. The greenest type of bamboo fabric is “bamboo linen,” produced without chemicals. It can be difficult to find.
Commonly sold under the brand name Tencel, Lyocell is a natural man-made fiber made from wood pulp – typically eucalyptus wood – which grows quickly with little water and chemicals. Unlike rayon, another wood-based fabric, lyocell doesn’t produce a lot of pollution. The fabric is naturally wrinkle-resistant, so it’s easily cared for. Lyocell textiles are created through the use of nanotechnology in an award-winning closed-loop process that recovers or decomposes all solvents and emissions. It is 100% biodegradable, perhaps the greatest benefits are the variety and exceptional comfort you can experience with lyocell clothing.
Regular silk is made from animal protein – usually from silkworms. It’s lightweight and durable, breaking down naturally at the end of its life. Commonly used for evening wear, it also makes surprisingly warm thermal underwear. Silk is relatively sustainable and eco friendly though (although the yield is quite small – it takes about 2500 silkworms to produce a pound of raw silk). Compared to cotton for example, there is far less impact on the land, water and air, and it doesn’t involve the use of pesticides. Many ethical vegetarians do not wear most silk because producing it usually involves killing the silkworms. However, peace silk, also known as vegan silk, is a cruelty-free alternative. Other options to regular silk are art silk and spider silk.
With so many eco-friendly natural fibers available, why choose synthetic man-made options? Fashion companies are making natural fibers more accessible to price conscious consumers who are looking to buy sustainable clothing and home goods. This makes it easier than ever for everyone to make the switch to sustainable, eco-friendly clothing!