When I first shifted to an eco-friendly wardrobe, I thought that meant only wearing thrifted or recycled pieces. Thrifting is a fantastic and affordable option when seeking to reduce your environmental footprint but some of these pieces may still be made cheaply and with polyester. Though they’re not “new,” these garments still shed microplastics into our water every time we do a load of laundry.
It begs the question, when pursuing sustainable fashion choices, which materials should we look for? What are their environmental benefits? Are they socially responsible? And do we ultimately benefit from buying higher-quality, more expensive fabrics?
Let’s start with hemp, one of the better-known eco-friendly fabrics, but what makes it so “eco?”
As a hemp plant grows, it requires very little water and there’s no need to use pesticides or fertilizers because it naturally deters pests. What’s even cooler about the plant is it actually releases nutrients into the soil, strengthening and benefiting future growth. The "clean" production of hemp means it's safer for persons involved in producing the crop and clothes makers.
In terms of the fibre, it’s a "bast fibre," which means it’s strong and woody, and bodes well for making long-lasting, staple pieces. Hemp is a diverse plant, to boot; in addition to textiles, its fibre can be used in building materials, cosmetics and edible foods.
Bamboo is another well-known, eco-friendly fibre popular for its renewability, and fast and easy growing practices. Made from the pump of a bamboo tree, the fibre is adaptable and widely grown in most climates of the world.
As a textile, bamboo is versatile, breathable, sweat-absorbent and moisture-wicking, which makes it a better and safer material to wear on your body than some synthetic, performance fabric alternatives. Bamboo fibre is spun into yarn without chemicals and is biodegradable, creating little waste when you're ready to dispose of the garment.
Organic linen is a personal favourite of mine. Despite its wrinkly nature, it’s a durable fabric which becomes softer and more comfortable the longer you own it.
Not many people know that linen is made from grown flax fibres and, much like hemp, the entire plant is used in its production. Flax is extremely hardy and can even grow in poor-quality soil. And bonus: it actually absorbs more carbon dioxide in the growth phase than it releases during processing.
As a fashion, linen can withstand high temperatures and absorb moisture without holding onto bacteria, making it the perfect summer fabric. Linen will stand up to years of wear and is biodegradable, so you won’t have to worry that your garment will languish in a landfill at the end of its wearable lifespan.
Special note: “Organic” is the keyword here as there are non-organic linens which are treated with harsh chemical dyes or sprays in order to produce more flax fibre, faster.
When shopping for natural materials like cotton, it is essential that we are mindful of GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard). Cotton is one of the most polluting processes in textile manufacturing and also the most commonly used; 60 per cent of the world’s clothing is made of the material. This has caused much ecological harm and it’s important to identify the GOTS certification when purchasing cotton clothing.
From the user perspective, organic cotton is hypoallergenic, so there’s no fear of rashes caused by chemical irritants or pollutant residue. I’ll always recommend Pima cotton which was originally cultivated in Peru and later in the American Southwest by Pima Native Americans, hence the name. It is considered the world’s best cotton thanks to its luxurious feel, incredible durability and wrinkle-resistance. It will be the softest and most comfortable cotton you’ll ever own.
Tencel™ / Lyocell
Tencel or “Lyocell” sounds like a chemical or finite world resource, but it’s not! Tencel is made of cellulose converted from the wood pulp of sustainably farmed eucalyptus trees. All Tencel is made non-GMO, without irrigation or pesticides, and harms no forests in the process. It’s produced in a closed-loop system, meaning almost all of the solvents used are recycled.
Tencel is ultra-comfortable and lightweight, more absorbent than cotton and even cooler than linen. Tencel is perfect for performance-wear because it is quick to dry with no skin irritation. It’s known to be ten times more ecological friendly than cotton and it uses 20 per cent less water during production.
Tencel was developed in 1972 but these days, the eco-fabric is featuring on the racks of even the biggest fashion retailers.
PS: Ever consider your laundry waste?
Did you know that annually more than 750 million plastic laundry jugs end up in our landfills? Tru Earth has the solution.