Eco-Friendly Fabrics & Fibers

Jul 5, 2020 | Ethical Production, Fair Trade, Sustainable Lifestyle

There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to the sustainability of various textiles. Generally speaking, we prefer natural fibers over synthetic fibers (you can read more about the downfalls of synthetic fabrics in our other post “As Real As it Gets“). Instead of diving into the deep end all at once, we wanted to share some of our research so you can take a quick look at some of the most common eco-friendly fabrics available. Our personal favorite is hemp—what’s yours?

There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to the sustainability of various textiles. Generally speaking, we prefer natural fibers over synthetic fibers (you can read more about the downfalls of synthetic fabrics in our other post “As Real As it Gets”). Instead of diving into the deep end all at once, we wanted to share some of our research so you can take a quick look at some of the most common eco-friendly fabrics available. Our personal favorite is hemp—what’s yours?

A spool of hemp thread with a hemp leaf

sHemp

Hemp isn’t just for hippies. In fact, it’s one of the most versatile fibers on the market today. Hemp is considered a weed  because it doesn’t need much space or water to grow and can actually diminish the presence of pests. It is also naturally regenerates nutrients within the earth and balances out the abundance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Plus, the manufacturing process is often completely organic.

As long as you buy from honest, ethical companies that clearly label their hemp as organic, you’ve essentially struck fabric gold. Since this is our favorite fabric, we were sure to include a hemp dress from Arraei Collective in the featured products below. 

Linen

Linen is similar to hemp in the sense that they both come from the stem of a plant, can be grown virtually anywhere, and are highly versatile. Ideal for summer, this breathable fabric stands up against heat, absorbs moisture, and gets softer the more you wear and wash it. 

Just be wary of bleach or dyes that may be used in the manufacturing process. Whenever possible, opt for linen in its natural colors like ecru, ivory, oatmeal, and taupe. For a handpicked product, check out the linen shirt by Bay Active that’s featured below.

A stack of multiple colors of linen fabric
A stem of raw cotton on a sheet of fabric

Organic Cotton

Cotton is the most widely produced fiber on Earth. But it goes without saying that it is also tied to various unethical practices, including the use of pesticides. Thankfully, organic cotton is available as a non-toxic, all-natural alternative. Farmers who grow this crop organically are saving themselves, as well as consumers, from exposure to these harmful chemicals.

That being said, it must be noted that cotton requires a lot of water. Additionally, pesticide-free farming often results in crop loss, therefore, more land is needed to grow an adequate amount. Check for certifications like the Global Organic Textile Standard or Better Cotton Initiative to ensure you’re purchasing a quality product. One brand we love is The Very Good Bra, so we’ve included a link to one of its 100% organic cotton products below.

Silk

Whether you’re vegan or value non-toxic textiles, you likely avoid silk. Though this process can often be considered zero waste, traditional manufacturing processes are known to harm silkworms and often employ the use of chemicals, unless certified organic.

Thankfully, there are plenty of alternatives that can suit anyone’s needs. While not vegan, peace silk is a more mindful alternative to traditional silk. 

Two spools of semi-transparent silk fabric

Other plant-based options include ramie, synthetic spider silk, and fabrics derived from lotus stems.

Two folded pieces of fabric with a plant stem in front of them

 Tencel

Tencel is a brand name for lyocell and modal, which are derived from the wood pulp of eucalyptus and beech trees, respectively. This fabric is ideal for athletic wear due to its absorbency and breathability. Though the manufacturing process involves the use of chemicals, and often dyes, they are never distributed into the environment due to a closed-loop system.

Additionally, it has a much lower energy and water usage, especially compared to conventional cotton.

Bamboo

There are many eco-friendly aspects of bamboo-based fabrics: it doesn’t require a lot of water or typically any pesticides to maintain, it grows quickly and regenerates of its own accord. But not everything is as it seems.

Previously touted for its ability to diminish carbon dioxide emissions, researchers have recently called this into question. However, their findings are based on a significantly small study, so it’s difficult to determine the truth.

Bamboo stalks on a two-colored wood background

Even if growing bamboo is decidedly sustainable, the production process to create the likes of rayon or viscose often involves the use of harmful chemicals. Instead, opt for bamboo linen, which undergoes a similar process to hemp.

FEATURED PRODUCTS: 

Want to find sustainable products from ethical brands made from these eco-friendly fabrics? Visit getgoodhuman.com and get on the list for early access to the GoodHuman app.