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11 Eco-Friendly Clothing Materials (2024)

Eco-Friendly Clothing Materials

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A lot of the conventional textile materials that are used for making clothes have quite detrimental environmental and social impacts.

On the flip side, there are brands, that use materials that are earth-friendly and much more sustainable, like innovative plant-based fibers, and organic & recycled materials.

While there is no clear-cut answer to finding the BEST eco-friendly fabric and it all depends on various factors, this article will help you to navigate through the most environmentally-conscious choices.

Before we get to the list of eco-friendly textiles, let’s first briefly answer the following question – 


What makes a clothing fabric ‘sustainable’? 


When we talk about sustainable clothing fabrics, we’re looking at a few key things: 

  • Sourcing: Consideration of the material’s ecological footprint and sustainability of its origin.
  • Manufacturing: Utilization of renewable resources and minimal chemical usage during production.
  • Disposal: Evaluation of the fabric’s end-of-life stage and its impact on the environment.

The whole process, from growing the material to throwing away the clothes, can have an impact on the environment. 

Despite claims of using eco-friendly materials, some brands may overlook aspects of production that harm the environment. Some fast fashion brands do that, but it is almost always greenwashing

So, things aren’t black and white, and while sustainable fashion brands have both pros & cons, understanding the overall impact of a fabric’s production process is essential to determine its sustainability. 


11 Eco-Friendly Materials In Fashion:


1. Organic Cotton

organic cotton fabric
organic cotton / le buns bra

Sustainability Features: Organic cotton is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or GMOs. It promotes soil health, reduces water usage, and minimizes environmental pollution compared to conventional cotton farming practices. 

Benefits: Organic cotton is soft, breathable, and hypoallergenic, making it ideal for sensitive skin. It supports biodiversity and promotes healthier ecosystems by avoiding harmful chemicals and promoting natural farming methods.

Limitations: Despite its environmental benefits, organic cotton production may require more land compared to conventional cotton farming. Additionally, certification and traceability challenges can make it difficult to ensure the authenticity of organic cotton products.

2. Hemp

hemp fabric
hemp & tencel mix / tentree shirt

Sustainability Features: Hemp is a highly sustainable crop that requires minimal water, pesticides, and fertilizers to grow. It can thrive in diverse climates and soil conditions, making it a versatile and resilient alternative to traditional fibers.

Benefits: Hemp fibers are strong, durable, and naturally resistant to pests and mold. It has excellent breathability and moisture-wicking properties, making hemp garments ideal for warm climates and active lifestyles.

Limitations: Despite its environmental benefits, hemp cultivation and processing require specialized equipment and infrastructure, which can increase production costs. Limited availability and regulatory restrictions may also pose challenges for widespread adoption in the fashion industry.

3. Bamboo

bamboo textile

Sustainability Features: Bamboo is a fast-growing and renewable resource that requires minimal water, pesticides, and land to cultivate. It has natural antibacterial properties and can be grown organically without the need for synthetic chemicals.

Benefits: Bamboo fibers are soft, silky, and biodegradable, making them a popular choice for eco-friendly clothing. It has excellent moisture absorption and thermal regulation properties, providing comfort and breathability in a wide range of climates.

Limitations: The production of bamboo fibers often involves chemical processing methods that can be harmful to the environment if not properly managed. Additionally, concerns have been raised about the sustainability of bamboo cultivation practices, particularly in regions where it is grown intensively for commercial purposes.

4. Tencel (Lyocell)

tencel lyocell textile

Sustainability Features: Tencel, also known as Lyocell, is a type of cellulosic fiber derived from sustainably harvested wood pulp, typically sourced from eucalyptus trees. It is produced through a closed-loop manufacturing process that recycles solvents and minimizes waste and emissions.

Benefits: Tencel fibers are soft, smooth, and biodegradable, with excellent moisture absorption and breathability properties. They are produced using eco-friendly production methods that prioritize resource efficiency and environmental protection.

Limitations: While Tencel is considered a more sustainable alternative to conventional fibers, concerns have been raised about the environmental impact of large-scale eucalyptus plantations and the potential displacement of indigenous communities in some regions.

5. Recycled Fabrics

recycled fabrics
recycled swimwear / lilja the label

Sustainability Features: Recycled fabrics are made from post-consumer or post-industrial waste materials, such as plastic bottles, textile scraps, and discarded garments. They help reduce waste and pollution by diverting materials from landfills and reducing the need for virgin resources.

Benefits: Recycled fabrics conserve energy, water, and natural resources by repurposing existing materials and reducing the demand for new production. They can be transformed into a wide range of textiles, including polyester, nylon, and cotton blends, offering versatility and performance.

Limitations: The quality and availability of recycled fabrics can vary depending on the source materials. Contaminants in recycled materials, such as dyes or chemicals, can pose challenges to fabric quality and safety.

Other (More Rare) Eco-Friendly Textile Options:

6. Soy Cashmere/Silk:

Made from soy protein fiber extracted from soybean processing leftovers, this fabric is receptive to natural dyes and offers a sustainable alternative to traditional silk.

7. Corn Fiber:

Derived from plant sugars, corn fiber offers strength, resilience, comfort, and softness without chemical additives. It’s naturally flame-retardant and suitable for various textile applications.

8. Banana Fiber:

Utilizing banana stems as a fiber source, banana fiber is gaining popularity for its strength and versatility. From tea bags to clothing, it offers differing weights and thicknesses based on the part of the banana stem used. Its high water-absorbing property ensures coolness and comfort when worn.

9. Cactus Fiber:

Derived from renewable cactus plants, which require minimal water and resources to grow compared to traditional leather production from animal hides. Cactus leather production typically involves fewer chemicals and toxins, making it a more environmentally friendly alternative. It is a cruelty-free and sustainable option for those seeking alternatives to traditional leather.

10. Piñatex:

Also known as pineapple leather, is a sustainable textile crafted from pineapple leaf fibers. Through a process of decortication, these fibers are extracted, processed, and transformed into a durable and versatile material akin to traditional leather. Piñatex not only provides a cruelty-free alternative to animal leather but also repurposes agricultural waste from pineapple cultivation, supporting local communities and promoting eco-friendly practices in fashion.

11. Grape / Wine Leather:

Grape or wine leather utilizes grape by-products from winemaking to create a cellulose-based material with leather-like properties. This innovative textile offers a sustainable solution to traditional leather, reducing agricultural waste and contributing to circular economies. With unique textures and colors, grape leather presents opportunities for eco-conscious fashion and beyond.

hemp and tencel lyocell blend

What about wool & alpaca wool?

The whole life cycle chain of wool products is very long, and it causes a series of environmental issues including resource depletion, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, freshwater consumption, and land degradation. (1)

Additionally, animal welfare is another concern. The standard practices include mutilations, such as castration without pain relief, tail docking, dehorning, mulesing, ear-notching, and wing clipping. (1)

Animals in farming endure harmful practices like early separation from mothers, intensive feeding, and being confined in cages. They also face long-distance transport and once they stop providing ‘quality’ wool, they are slaughtered for their flesh. 

There have been so many investigations done in the last years, with horrific videos, that show what’s happening in wool farming. Go to Wool Facts if you want to see more on this.

As for alpaca wool…

It also causes immense suffering to the animals, and it is terrible for the planet. (1, 2) The Higg Materials Sustainability Index ranked alpaca wool as the second most environmentally damaging material after silk, noting that it’s six times as harmful as polyester and more than four times as damaging as modal, viscose, rayon, lyocell & acrylic. (1)

organic cotton undies
organic cotton undies

Summary


The world of fashion is evolving, and there’s a growing and wider range of textiles, that not only look good but are also eco-friendly. 

By making informed choices and supporting brands that prioritize sustainability, we can contribute to a more eco-conscious fashion industry and a healthier planet.

I feel it’s essential to remain aware and consider the entire lifecycle of clothing, from production to disposal, and support eco-friendly clothing brands that truly care (and aren’t greenwashing, to sell more).


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