Do you often wonder about the environmental impact of your clothes? In this post, I’m going to talk about fabrics as one of the sustainability aspect when it comes to clothing materials. Only natural fabrics this time, as there are plenty of man – made, sustainable fabrics are now also available but they are not so commonly available. (Also as I write, probably even more is being designed.) But let’s stick to designed by natural and vegan materials right now.
Many natural fabrics have been around for centuries and they are still being used, although now production is done with modern technologies.
Bamboo is probably the winner of the past decade’s efforts making fashion more sustainable (which is very much needed as the industry has the carbon footprint of the fashion industry equals the same per year as the entire economies of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined). It all started with the humble but pioneering bamboo socks but now you can buy all sorts of clothing types made with bamboo. Bamboo is a remarkable plant for all kinds of reasons. Bamboo is the one of the fastest growing, renewable and sustainable material and it also grows fast. Very absorbent with the ability to expel bacteria.
When buying clothing made with bamboo, look for brands that are using mechanically processed bamboo instead of chemically. Bamboo linen, Tencel, Lyocell, Monocel are the sustainable varieties of sustainably produced bamboo material.
Linen comes from the flax plant, isn’t a new thing either, it has been around for centuries. Linen material is an extremely strong fibre and is highly absorbent. Easy to grow. It is also branded as sustainable: cultivated without fewer pesticides and water compared to cotton. The organic version is of course even better. Linen is already a very sustainable fibre, but the organic version with ecological and sustainable production is even better. Just like bamboo, very absorbent with the ability to expel bacteria. The whole of the plant can be used, so technically, nothing goes to waste.
Conventional cotton production requires a lot of water and chemicals being involved. With the exception of sustainably produced organic cotton, traditional cotton material production is actually very bad for the environment. And we already have existing cotton material – a lot of it actually. So when cotton is recycled it’s a great way to keep the material is use and circulation and create new products with it. It requires no more raw materials and creates a closed-loop manufacturing process. Recycling cotton dramatically cuts pollution, energy and environmental costs. Products take on a circular lifecycle as fabrics can be used, recycled, and used again.
The poor plant that has been demonised for decades for it’s well known family. Hemp, or industrial hemp, is a botanical class of Cannabis sativa cultivars grown specifically for industrial or medicinal use. Hemp has no such a psychoactive component of cannabis. But it’s very useful on the other hand! Especially when it comes to making fabrics. Hemp is great temperature regulator: it will keep you warm in winter, cool in summer and even protect you from UV rays. Looks and behaves similarly to linen but can also be mixed with other natural fibres. Hemp is super sustainable, in fact if you learn how much, you’d rightly ask the question: so why is not everything made of hemp? Hemp naturally reduces pests, no pesticides needed to produce it. It also returns 60-70% of the nutrients it takes from the soil. It uses 4 times less water when growing than cotton. Again, mechanically produced hemp material is much more sustainable than the chemically engineered one – this fact doesn’t changes as we go through fabric production! Also organically farmed hemp is better than the non-organic (like pretty much everything),
Cork is sustainably harvested from a cork oak by simply shaving away the bark. It is also beneficial for the tree: shaving extends its life. While the tree is regrowing the bark, it consumes more carbon dioxide than most types of trees. Thus cork plantations can be carbon negative. Once it’s been harvested the cork can be laid out in the sun to dry, (a very traditional method, no chemicals involved) and then just requires water to transform it into fabric that can be used to create bags, wallets, belts and more.