Eco-Friendly Clothing Materials [A Simple Guide]
You might do it at the supermarket when you pick up a bottle of sauce. But how often do you look at a clothing label before making a purchase? It takes only a few seconds, but this simple act of reading what your garments are made of and choosing more sustainable or eco-friendly clothing materials are not just better for you but also for the planet.
How, you might ask? There are studies that show how polyester, nylon and other man-made or synthetic fibers release thousands of microplastics when washed. These end up in our waterways and oceans, and even inside the seafood that some of us may consume. Remember that the terms eco-friendly and sustainable are often interchangeable, so don’t be confused when you hear one or the other (or even both together!).
As modern consumers, we are lucky to have a range of sustainable or eco-friendly clothing materials on offer, giving us so many better choices when we shop. But which materials do you ditch in favor of more sustainable and eco-friendly clothing materials? While the origins of many eco-friendly materials go back centuries, there are other just as cool, new materials that show similar durability, while promising a low carbon footprint. Discover some reasons why we’re adding eco-friendly materials to our shopping list this year.
What are eco-friendly clothing materials?
Better for the planet — sustainable and eco-friendly fabrics are more biodegradable than synthetic materials that can’t be recycled.
Last longer — eco-friendly materials are naturally better in quality and have a longer life. Hurrah for clothes that last a lifetime of wear!
Better for humans — eco-friendly materials can also be body-friendly, which means that they are breathable, comfortable and often hypoallergenic.
How to choose sustainable fabrics
Keep in mind these three tips while choosing sustainable clothing materials to keep it simple:
- The source of the fiber (natural or man-made.)
- How biodegradable it is.
- The durability of the fiber.
Eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics we recommend
Fashion is the second most polluting industry after the oil industry due to a range of reasons, including the abundance of synthetic materials used to make garments. It has become increasingly important for us to be better informed about clothing materials, their impact and we hope this simple guide can help you choose more wisely.
Let’s take a look at a few of our favorite eco-friendly fabrics.
Wool is the fiber obtained from the fleece or hair of different animals, typically sheep, goat, llama, alpaca and yak, among others. There are many debates on both the ethics of obtaining the fleece and keeping the shearing process responsible and respectful to the animals, and also about the impact that domesticating these animals has on the land that they live on.
However, if you look at wool as an eco-friendly clothing material, what makes it sustainable is that it is fully biodegradable and returns the nutrients to the soil without releasing any microplastic fibers. Wool is also known for being strong, durable and breathable, while being an excellent regulator of body temperature. It’s one of our preferred materials, especially for our warm and versatile Capes.
Typically associated with its off-white look and naturally wrinkled appearance, this material was (alongside wool) one of the most commonly used materials thousands of years ago by our ancestors. Obtained from the fibers of the flax plant, linen uses little pesticides and water when compared to other natural fibers. Long lasting and biodegradable, this material is a perfect choice for both clothing as well as home textiles.
This plant fiber which grows abundantly in the Himalayas and has been used for thousands of years around the world does come with a reputation of being stiff, coarse but highly durable. A lot of younger brands have started to rediscover this material and its uses for making sustainable and long lasting garments. When compared to cotton, Nettle requires fewer natural resources, but it still isn’t a mainstream material for clothing.
Cotton vs Organic Cotton – which is better? While both are natural fibers and use generous amounts of water in their production, organic cotton’s carbon footprint is lower by virtue of the lesser amount of pesticides used in its cultivation. Farmers who grow organic cotton do so the old fashioned way, while rotating their crops for a healthy soil and without the use of fertilizers, which protect both the land and the communities that grow it. Cotton does tend to shrink over time but is biodegradable to a large extent, depending on the amount of chemicals it contains.
This naturally renewable material is sourced from the outer bark of cork oak trees and is making it to mainstream fashion as a cruelty-free leather alternative because of its durability and elasticity. A microbial, water-proof, heat-proof and easy to clean material, cork stands the test of time and is being touted as a new eco-friendly material to be reckoned with. That’s one of the reasons why we chose to use it for our reversible Evolve Belts!
Silk is the yarn obtained from the cocoons that domesticated silkworms spin after feeding on leaves (oak, mulberry, etc). While one method involves boiling the silk worms in hot water to obtain an intact cocoon so that the yarn is longer and unbroken, the other way is more peaceful and allows the silkworm to fly out of the cocoon when it has matured into a moth. Although silk is a biodegradable fiber that returns to earth, the environmental impact of silk would make it the least sustainable out of all natural materials.
You might be surprised to find recycled polyester, recycled nylon or recycled acrylic on this list alongside preferred natural materials, but the truth is that only 1% of textiles discarded ever get recycled. The carbon footprint of a recycled fabric is much lesser than the amount of natural resources that it takes to turn virgin materials into textiles, so shouldn't all recycled materials find a place on this list?
New products made from recovered materials might be less durable, because the fibres have been broken down more than once for production, however, its overall negative impact on the planet is far less than that of its virgin synthetic counterparts.
Eco-friendly clothing materials are good for you and the planet
While this simple guide includes only a few of our favorite eco-friendly clothing materials, there are constant material innovations and sustainable brands working on creating clothes you can look good AND feel good in. Remember, while choosing the right sustainable clothing materials, not only should it be a good choice for you, but also a material that is good for the environment and the planet we live in.