15 Sustainable Fabrics You Should Know: Eco-Friendly Fashion

sustainable fabrics

Over the last few years, there has been a major shift in the way people make fashion choices, with more and more shoppers looking for eco-friendly alternatives!

Fast fashion is known to use low-quality materials that harm the planet and cause major pollution.

Thankfully, there’s been a rise in sustainable fabrics that are high quality, comfortable, and great for the planet!

So, there isn’t really much holding us back from switching over to these earth-friendly options. We just need to know where to start.

In this blog, you’ll learn about 15 sustainable fabrics and how picking them over traditional fabrics can help you reduce your impact on the planet. 

Table of Contents

What are Sustainable Textiles?

Fabrics made from energy-efficient and sustainably-grown crops without pesticides leave a far lower eco-footprint on the planet than other commonly used textiles. Some examples of natural, sustainable fibers are organic cotton, linen, bamboo, and hemp.

Clothes made from recycled and upcycled toxic-free materials are also gentler on the earth as they go back into the consumer cycle instead of clogging waterways and landfills.

Are Sustainable and Organic Fabrics the Same?

While all organic fabrics (think organic cotton, linen, hemp, and bamboo) are sustainably grown and manufactured with zero chemicals and substantially less resources, not all sustainable fabrics are organic. 

Sustainability in textiles is a broader term that includes synthetic materials like polyester and nylon that, on their own, aren’t great for nature but become greener when recycled to make something new, offering an alternative perspective on the polyester vs cotton debate.  

Fast Fashion and its Impact on Our Lives

For quite a while, fast fashion seems to be pulling a fast one on us! The fast fashion industry wants us to believe that it’s all about affordable clothing, but those low prices come at a heavy cost.

Not only is fast fashion extremely unsustainable for the planet, but it’s also the reason behind unethical labor practices. Most fast fashion clothes are made with unsustainable fabrics and production practices, plus they’re designed to last barely a few months before they end up in the landfill. 

Here are some stats to get you thinking-  globally, the fashion industry makes up 10% of the world’s carbon emissions and over 20% of wastewater! Even worse is that this trend is set to see a staggering 50% jump by 2030, according to United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

We are producing and buying more clothes than ever. It’s time to slow down and make conscious choices to reverse this trend. Instead of buying a lot of low-quality fast fashion, how about going for fewer but much higher quality, eco-friendly sustainable clothing?

Choosing sustainably made fabrics is a great way to start! So, without further ado, let’s talk about some popular eco-friendly fabrics in a little more detail. 

15 Sustainable Fabrics to Choose for an Eco-Conscious Lifestyle

1. Organic Cotton:

organic cotton sustainable fabric

Muslin Cotton fabric is the most widely used textile, which takes up disproportionate amounts of water, energy, and heavy pesticides to thrive and grow. On the other hand, organically grown cotton uses about 62% less energy and 88% less water, making it a kinder to the environment. 

No pesticides, harmful chemicals, or genetically modified seeds (GMOs) are used in organic cotton cultivation. This type of cotton is natural, skin-friendly, and perfect for any fabric-based product, from clothes to organic cotton bed sheets to reusable canvas grocery bags.

Over the past few years, organic cotton’s popularity as an eco-friendly alternative has surged. Several well-known apparel brands have embraced it, and there are a host of up-and-coming labels devoted to selling only this fabric. Organic cotton is also now widely used in making carpets and rugs in the form of monks cloth fabric.

When buying something made from organically grown cotton, it’s always good to check if it’s certified. USDA certification, GOTS, OCS, Bluesign, Fair Trade, and Oeko-Tex 100 are some certifications to look out for.

Related Article: What is a Cheesecloth.

2. Organic Bamboo:

eco friendly bamboo fabric

Bamboo fiber is taking over the fashion industry as a renewable, energy-efficient fabric. It’s a high-yield crop that uses less water and can be grown without synthetic substances. Plus, being a carbon-neutral plant, bamboo absorbs enormous amounts of CO2 and releases more oxygen compared to other woody plants. 

As a plant, bamboo is a rockstar! But is the fabric derived from it just as awesome? Yes! Organic and raw bamboo fiber is one of the most eco-friendly fabrics. It’s buttery soft, hypoallergenic, and incredibly versatile. 

Word of caution, though, a lot of clothing labeled “bamboo” is usually made from mechanically processed bamboo, known as viscose rayon. Production of this rayon is packed with chemicals, is harsh, and removes any natural properties of bamboo from the fabric.

Certified organic bamboo fabric is relatively harder to find, and when you do, be sure to grab it right away!

3. Recycled PET:

We mentioned earlier how some recycled synthetic materials are perfectly okay to add to your eco-conscious lifestyle. Polyester on its own is pretty terrible for the environment, but it becomes one of the most versatile sustainable fabrics after getting recycled. 

Using recycled PET saves it from landfills and puts it in a consumer cycle that could become closed-looped sooner than you think. Companies are now using post-consumer milk jugs and PET bottles and turning them into high-quality material fit to make clothes, stretch athleisure, and fuzzy fleece winterwear.

Related Article: Upcycling vs Recycling - Which One is Better?

4. Organic Hemp:

Hemp is technically a weed that grows super quickly and without any fuss. Like bamboo, hemp uses up less water, enriches the soil, and absorbs carbon dioxide. In fact, it’s stronger, more durable, and regenerative than cotton and bamboo. 

In texture, hemp fabric is quite like linen. It’s breathable, moisture-wicking, lightweight and gets softer which each wash.

Despite all this, organic hemp is yet to establish itself as a preferred fabric. It’s not as affordable and accessible as organic cotton, but with more brands embracing hemp as raw material, it’s getting there, slow and steady. 

5. Piñatex:

a cool and sustainable jacket made by pineapple leather

Want to buy a cool leather jacket without guilt? How about getting one that’s made from Piñatex? This sustainable fiber is extracted from leftover pineapple leaves that would have otherwise been burnt or rotted. 

Piñatex, also known as pineapple leather, was developed by Dr. Carmen Hijosa and later manufactured by her company Ananas Anam. Having worked as a consultant in the leather industry, Hijosa had first-hand knowledge of cruel, hazardous, and unsustainable practices that go into manufacturing leather. After years of painstaking research, Hijosa came up with a greener, kinder leather alternative. 

Piñatex is a mix of 80% pineapple scraps and 20% Polylactic acid coated with petro resins. It’s not yet biodegradable but a gentler, plant-based alternative to conventional leather. 

6. Wool:

ecofriendly organic wool fabric

Compared to other conventionally grown fabrics, wool has always been an eco-friendly option for its natural, biodegradable and compostable qualities. The only thing we need to watch out for is whether it’s sourced ethically without harming animals.

There are many certifications that vet whether a brand has met ethical and cruelty-free standards for wool. Some of the most coveted ones are: Woolmark, Certified Organic Wool, Responsible Wool Standard, Certified Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, Good Cashmere Standard, Kering Standard on Cashmere, ZQ, GOTS, and Sustainable Fiber Alliance (SFA).

Waffle throw blanket is just a best example for this.

Related Article: 15 Best Blanket Storage Ideas: To Keep Them Out of the Way

7. Cork:

Attention, all vegans! Here’s an alternative to leather you’ll absolutely adore! Why? Because not only is it plant-based, but also derived without cutting down the tree. Cork is sustainably sourced from Quercus Suber by shaving the outer bark every few years. These trees are native to Western Mediterranean and survive for up to 250 years. 

As it comes from trees, cork is natural, renewable, and decomposes well. After harvesting, the wood shavings are typically dried for a few months. They are then softened by boiling in the water and rolled flat or molded. You can use cork to make a number of goods, including bags, purses, and shoes. Cork can also be used with other fabrics, such as cotton canvas, to make stylish jackets.

8. Econyl:

Endorsed by the likes of Stella McCartney, Kelly Slater, and Levi’s, among many others, Econyl is going places in the world of fashion, and how! Developed by an Italian textile company Aquafil, Econyl is regenerated nylon created by upcycling the ocean and landfill trash such as plastics, leftover scraps, and fishing nets. 

To produce Econyl, the company uses a cleverly designed closed-loop process using barely any water, no chemicals and powered only through renewable energy. This recycled nylon is fully recyclable after use. 

9. TENCEL™Lyocell:

This semi-synthetic fiber is made from wood pulp. Where it differs from viscose rayon is the production process which is entirely closed-looped and highly resource-efficient like Econyl’s. 

TENCEL is a brand of fabric by an Australian company Lenzing that makes the finest quality lyocell and modal fabric through sustainable manufacturing. This skin-friendly and versatile material can be used on its own or blended with other textiles to make jeans, dresses, intimates, and bed & bath fabrics.  

10. Linen:

ecofriendly and sustainable organic fabric linen

Linen is one of our personal favorites for being naturally breathable, long-lasting, and gentle on the skin. It’s is also one of the reasons why so many baby clothing.

Related Article: 20 Eco-friendly Baby Products which are sustainable too.

Another good example of its use are linen bread bags. Even after washing it hundreds of times, linen still looks as good as new. But is it sustainable? Yes, in fact, it is one of the most sustainable natural fabrics to introduce to your home and wardrobe. 

Linen comes from a flax plant that doesn’t require fertilizers or harsh chemicals to grow. The entire plant is woven to create the fabric, leaving zero waste behind. The only downside to linen is that it is steeply priced compared to other materials—nevertheless, an excellent investment considering its exceptional wearability and durability.

11. Qmonos:

Aptly named after the Japanese word for spider web, “kumonosu,” this fascinating fabric has shaken the textile industry. Tough-as-nails and light as a feather, Qmonos is a fabric that mimics silk, but instead of silkworms, it’s made using fermentation and microorganisms to weave an artificial spider silk fiber. 

This unique fabric was created by a Japanese startup Spiber and is said to be stronger than steel and more flexible than nylon. 

12. Modal:

Modal is quite similar to lyocell but made from beech trees instead of eucalyptus. The conventional modal, although plant-based, is treated with heavy-duty chemicals to turn it into a fabric. But there are a few companies that manufacture modal in an eco-friendly way, one of which is Lenzing’s trademark TENCEL. 

Like lyocell, Lenzing relies on a closed-loop process to make its modal, where most of the chemicals and solvents end up getting reused. 

13. Deadstock:

As the name suggests, deadstock is leftover, unusable scraps, surplus fabrics, or last-season fashion typically destined for landfills. 

These piles of old, discarded clothes and textiles might not have been sustainably produced or may even contain synthetic fibers. In short, deadstock is a by-product of fast fashion- precisely what we want to steer clear of but reusing instead of ditching this fabric is a step in the right direction. 

14. QMILK:

Believe it or not, there’s a German company that’s making clothes from milk, and they’re calling it “the material of the future.” QMILK is a patented fiber made by processing milk protein from non-consumable sour milk and other related raw materials. 

Clothes made from QMILK are silky smooth, hypoallergenic, comfy, and anti-bacterial. Being 100% natural, QMILK is compostable, renewable, and a game-changer in the world of sustainable fabrics. 

15. Woocoa:

woocoa eco friendly fabric

Woocoa or Vegal Wool is another example of groundbreaking innovation and creativity to help the planet and our fellow earthlings. 

Developed by a group of passionate students from the Universidad de Los Andes, Colombia, Woocoa fur is made from various materials, including hemp, coconut fibers, and medicinal marijuana waste. These fibers are then put in contact with enzymes from oyster mushrooms. The result? A warm, cozy, and antimicrobial wool alternative you’ll love wearing all the time.

Related Article: 20 Awesome Sustainable Beauty Products

Benefits of Choosing Organic and Sustainable Fabrics

We live in a time and age where there are hundreds of options for everything item we need. There’s no reason, then, to continue to pick products that are unsustainable and harmful to our future when eco-friendly alternatives are readily available. Here are some of the top benefits of welcoming sustainable textiles into our lives and homes. 

1. Reduces Our Impact on the Planet:

Sustainable fabrics are sourced and manufactured responsibly, using more energy-optimizing methods than conventional textiles. Many of these (organic cotton, wool, linen, and hemp) are 100% natural, biodegradable, and produced without any toxic chemicals. 

True, not all sustainable fabrics are plant-based but recycling the otherwise harmful polyester and nylon is one of the ways to make them last longer and away from the waste dumps.

Related Article: 50 Easy Tips on How to be More Sustainable

2. Minimizes Waste:

In the world of fashion, things are moving at a dizzying pace. To keep up with the latest trends, people are buying clothes they don’t even need, giving rise to a major waste problem. 

Brands that use sustainable fabrics are rooted in slow fashion ideology. Their styles are timeless, and many ask you to ship back your retired clothes for the next round of recycling. 

Many of the sustainable fabrics we talked about, such as recycled PET, Econyl, modal, and lyocell, are semi-synthetic. However, recycling them into wearer-friendly clothing and yarn keeps tons of harmful plastics from landfills and water bodies.

3. Skin-Friendly and Toxic-free:

Organically crown fibers are plant-based and cultivated without harsh chemicals or synthetic pesticides. They are hypoallergic and gentle on the skin. Other than organic varieties of cotton, hemp, and bamboo, we also have some innovative fabrics like QMILK and Woocoa that look great while keeping your skin happy.

Related Article: What Is Clean Beauty? All You Need To Know

4. Ethical and Cruelty-Free:

Social costs of textile production, such as wages, working conditions, and treatment of animals, need as much of our attention as the environmental impact. 

Animal abuse is still rampant in the wool and leather industry, making it crucial to verify the production practices used by the labels. Most sustainable brands typically carry numerous certifications to back their claims. We’ll be talking about certifications in greater detail in the section below. 

Certifications to Look Out For

While we’re thrilled to know more and more brands are showing their commitment to the environment and community, there’s still the problem of greenwashing that needs to be addressed. 

Not all brands are equal. Some may claim their products to be sustainable, organic, natural, eco-friendly, and cruelty-free, when in reality, they are not. Lucky for us, there are many prestigious organizations that have made it a little easier to shop mindfully. All we need to do is look out for some of these certifications and accreditations while shopping:

  1. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  2. Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS); 
  3. Fair Trade
  4. Bluesign
  5. Organic Content Standard (OCS)
  6. Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)
  7. Recycled Claim Standard (RCS)
  8. Global Recycled Standard (GRS)
  9. Responsible Wool Standard
  10. Oeko-Tex 100

Final Thoughts 

According to UNEP, household consumption accounts for about two-thirds of global greenhouse emissions. Our everyday choices and lifestyle affect everything around us, including our future.

The last couple of years of the pandemic has brought the issue of climate change to the fore. Buying long-lasting, sustainably made fabrics is one of the ways by which we can help slow down the damage and maybe, even reverse it one day.

Author: Karen Lamar

Karen is the Chief Content Officer at Organic Cotton Mart. She has a Master's Degree in Environmental Science from NC State with a special focus in Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy. Since her High School days, she has been an Environmentalist and was the President of her High School's Environmental Club for 3 years before starting her freshman year at NC State. She has a deep knowledge and understanding of various environment-friendly movements like zero waste, minimalistic living, recycling, and upcycling.

1 comment

I am curious to know how micro plastics fit into this discussion. Every time I wash my fleece sweater, I feel guilty about releasing nano particles of plastic into our environment.

Sue Andrews

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