Although the fashion industry has long faced criticism for its negative effects on the environment, things are improving. Sustainable fashion is gaining popularity among consumers, and for good reason.
Clothing created from toxic materials is a thing of the past thanks to the growth of environmentally friendly materials for clothing. You must be aware of these eco-friendly materials if you want to have an impact on the environment while maintaining your sense of style.
Each of these materials, from modal to organic cotton, has special advantages that can alter your wardrobe. Learn more about eco-friendly fashion and how you can support the cause of a brighter future for the earth by reading on.
Table of Contents
18 Awesome Environmentally Friendly Materials for Clothing
- Organic Cotton
- Recycled Cotton
- Bamboo Linen
- Recycled Nylon
- Deadstock Fabrics
- Bamboo Lyocell
- SCOBY Leather
- Brewed Protein
- Apple Leather
- Camel Wool
- Yak Wool
- Peace Silk
1. Organic Cotton
One of the most natural textiles available and at the top of our list of sustainable fabrics is organic cotton.
Contrary to traditional cotton cultivation, which is also known as the “dirtiest crop in the world,” organic cotton uses 62% less energy and 88% less water overall since it is cultivated without pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and processed without the use of any chemicals.
Several certifications are used with ethical and sustainable cotton to show that the cotton was A) grown without the use of chemicals or machine harvesting; and B) processed without the use of chemicals, leaving the finished garment chemical-free.
The most popular type of organic cotton is GOTS-certified (short for Global Organic Textile Standard).
Other important certifications, such as fair trade, ensure that farmers receive fair compensation and healthy working conditions (but not being exposed to pesticides in the field is already a significant component in that regard).
This eco-friendly material is used in a variety of textiles, including organic comforters and pajamas made of cotton.
2. Recycled Cotton
Utilizing either post-industrial or post-consumer waste, recycled cotton is created.
This implies that your preferred eco-friendly underwear or eco-friendly blue jeans might be created using leftover fabric from the manufacturing process or other recycled cotton clothing.
This eliminates the need for cotton farming and prevents textile waste from ending up in landfills. However, because it’s difficult to determine where the recycled cotton comes from, certifications and regulations are challenging.
Because a garment can be recycled into recycled cotton even if it contains 4% or fewer synthetic fibers, it also becomes challenging to determine whether recycled cotton is pure cotton (and can therefore be composted).
Given how chemically intensive traditional cotton is, looking for the bluesign® Approved or OEKO-TEX certification marks can convince you that the fibers in question are not harmful.
One of the most environmentally friendly natural materials is hemp fabric. It has a high yield, uses little water or chemicals, and benefits soil through phytoremediation, or cleaning pollutants like heavy metals and other toxins.
What is the primary driver behind our excitement for hemp clothing?
It’s regarded as a raw material with negative carbon emissions. It effectively collects CO2 from the environment.
Hemp tends to be slightly more expensive than other sustainable organic materials because it has so many wearable benefits (such as naturally antimicrobial and UV protective) and because it is more difficult to grow, but we may expect to see more of it in the future.
For many years, there was no way to certify organic hemp, but that has changed recently, and the cultivation of organic hemp is now supervised by a variety of certifying organizations that fall under the purview of the US Department of Agriculture.
In terms of sustainability as well as their incredibly light and breathable finished materials, linen and hemp are practically identical.
The only distinction?
The flax plant, whose development requires little to no fertilizer, pesticide, and other chemicals, is the source of organic linen.
Organic linen is more of a luxury good than hemp because it isn’t as high-yielding and only thrives in certain conditions (mostly in Europe).
However, it hasn’t stopped this age-old, environmentally-friendly fabric from becoming a favorite for everything from linen sheets to linen clothes.
5. Bamboo Linen
It is possible to harvest bamboo without harming the plant itself. This means that bamboo is one of the plants with the fastest rate of growth in the world since it can regenerate so quickly.
Similar to hemp, bamboo doesn’t need a lot of inputs and consumes more CO2 than most trees. It can also endure only in rain.
Bamboo can be transformed into a sustainable material when it comes from legally managed forests, provided that it is mechanically treated rather than chemically processed.
Instead of bamboo that has been plasticized into bamboo rayon or viscose using toxic chemicals, look for organic bamboo fabric in its raw form.
We’ll talk more about this later because it’s crucial to understand the difference given that the sustainable version of bamboo only makes up a very small portion of what we see on the market.
The board and the bottle have been replaced by our bodies with cork cloth.
By simply shaving away the bark, cork is sustainably obtained from a cork oak (yep, it comes from a tree). Quercus suber can—and ought—to—be harvested throughout its life.
Cork plantations serve as a carbon sink because, while the tree is regrowing the bark, it consumes more carbon dioxide than most other plants.
Additionally, cork is an important component of a distinct ecosystem that supports a variety of plant and animal species.
The cork can be taken every 9 to 12 years from a mature tree, dried out in the sun, and then transformed into something suitable for clothing by adding water.
It has gained popularity as one of the most environmentally friendly vegan leather substitutes for vegan handbags and shoes.
Modal is a fabric created by Lenzing that uses the pulp of beech trees, doesn’t require a lot of water or chemicals to develop, and is less harmful to the environment than rayon. Modal can grow on recycled natural resources in a closed-loop system when generated sustainably, making it a semi-synthetic fabric.
8. Recycled Nylon
Recycled nylon, a strong substitute for virgin nylon, is created from nylon that has already been consumed, such as fishing nets or pre-owned garment fabrics. By being used commercially, abandoned fishing nets are kept out of the ocean where they would otherwise end up as trash, making the marine environment somewhat safer for marine life.
9. Deadstock Fabrics
It refers to clothing made from other apparel, including manufacturing off-cuts and scraps, vintage clothing, and unsold clothing (sometimes known as “deadstock”).
It has a smaller manufacturing footprint and prevents valuable resources from ending up in landfills because it doesn’t need to be processed because the colors and patterns are just what they are.
It makes sense why recycled clothing brands and zero-waste fashion brands favor it.
Similar to recycled cotton, further certifications for non-toxicity testing can guarantee that there are no hazardous remnants from the original textiles.
10. Bamboo Lyocell
Like ordinary lyocells, bamboo lyocells are sometimes produced using a closed-loop manufacturing process that recycles chemicals and water.
It is not always true that every bamboo viscose is a closed-loop bamboo lyocell.
The plasticization of the wood pulp into silky fibers in both cases requires chemicals, but a closed-loop method guarantees that they are recycled. Additionally, bamboo lyocells use fewer hazardous chemicals.
This more environmentally friendly kind of processing is used by a few companies that produce bamboo pajamas and socks, but it’s crucial to check the transparency whenever bamboo is mentioned.
Waste-based plant or fruit “leathers” are beginning to gain popularity. For instance, the material created from the leaves of Philippine-grown pineapples is called Piatex.
Its manufacture is entirely animal-free and more environmentally friendly than traditional leather. It uses less water and doesn’t contain any hazardous compounds that are detrimental to wildlife.
The remaining leaf waste is recycled and utilized as biomass or fertilizer. Currently, the upholstery in London’s first vegan hotel suite is made of the material.
However, some brands coat Piatex with non-biodegradable resins, which should be avoided if at all possible. Piatex in its most sustainable fabric form uses wood-based PLA resins to enhance resilience.
Bananatex, a prize-winning newcomer to the plant-pulp fabric scene, has the potential to rank among the best sustainable fabrics if widely adopted.
It begins with leftover stalks from Abacá banana plants cultivated naturally in the hills of the Philippines. They are not only self-sufficient plants, but they are also employed in regions formerly degraded by monoculture palm oil farms to reforest and boost biodiversity.
Bananatex® solely employs beeswax, as opposed to certain other plant-based vegan leathers that still use plastic coatings.
Its Cradle to Cradle® Gold certification can ease your concerns if you have any reservations about its promising end-of-life prospects.
Additionally, the dying procedure is OEKO-TEX-approved.
13. SCOBY Leather
Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY), the mass of living cultures used to ferment kombucha, may also be used to make leather. The SCOBY leather is laid on a mold, where it cures and forms a material that may be used to make shoes, wallets, clothes, and other items from tea.
Genuine leather is substantially more expensive than SCOBY leather, which uses no animals, is compostable and biodegradable, and contains no heavy metals, or other tanning chemicals.
14. Brewed Protein
The leader in the market for sustainable fabrics is Japan’s Spiber Inc.
As an illustration, consider brewed protein, a silky protein fiber produced by fermenting plant-derived (sugarcane) biomass.
One of its sustainable advantages is its adaptability; it may be made into delicate silk-like strands, cashmere-like yarns, fleece, denim, fur, or leather substitutes, or it can be solidified into a resin resembling that of a tortoise shell.
In addition to its many uses, it is fully biodegradable, has the sustainable sugarcane Bonsucro certification, and emits fewer greenhouse gases than comparable animal-derived protein fibers.
In the US, the polymers are also grown as a remediating cover crop, particularly in regions with extensive agricultural overproduction and degraded soil.
Spiber and The North Face worked together to design The Moon Parka, but since it’s so new, you probably won’t find it in too many places.
15. Apple Leather
Apple Leather is created from waste products from the apple juice industry and is also referred to as Frutmat or Pellemela.
It is one of the most durable sustainable materials, totally biodegradable, waterproof, and breathable on its own (beware of additional coatings).
Because of this, you’ll primarily see it in high-wear items like sustainable purses, wallets, and footwear.
16. Camel Wool
Which animal-derived textiles are the most environmentally friendly?
One of the items is camel wool. There have been less documented instances involving camels where animal welfare is an issue with other types of wool.
The Bactrian camel, the species chosen, sheds naturally, reducing the possibility of suffering for the animal.
Small-scale, family farmers are usually responsible for raising these camels, which also lessens the impact on the environment.
Camel wool is biodegradable and doesn’t need to be processed with chemicals or colors. Unfortunately, even among manufacturers that use the most environmentally friendly fibers, it is hard to find.
17. Yak Wool
Yak wool is a luxuriously soft and warm substitute for cashmere that is sustainable, therefore you might see it in sustainable beanies or other winter clothing accessories.
It is taken from Yaks bred outdoors on the Tibetan Plateau, either from the outer coat, which produces a coarser fiber or from the undercoat, which produces a softer fiber.
Yaks shed a lot all year round; therefore, the animal isn’t used in the gathering process. Instead, it makes use of a substance that would naturally biodegrade.
The nomadic herders who tend to these herds receive additional compensation as a result.
18. Peace Silk
Silk is a substance that is so delicate that its name is used as an adjective.
Due to its antimicrobial qualities, it is beneficial to the skin in addition to feeling wonderful on it. Being compostable is also beneficial to the environment.
Either wild silkworms or, more often than not, domesticated silkworms generate it. Although the worms shouldn’t be harmed by the manufacture of silk in theory, this does occasionally result in their death.
Slave labor has also been connected to sericulture, popularly known as the silk business.
While some companies are experimenting with silk made of yeast, sugar, and water, peace silk is a more environmentally friendly option in the meantime.
Peace Silk employs a humane method of sericulture, and the World Fair Trade Organization Guarantee mechanism is used to confirm output.
The peaceful manufacturing process, also known as Ahimsa silk, enables the silkworm to enjoy a normal and humane life before eventually transforming into a butterfly, at which point the silk is gathered.
With no use of fungicides, sprays, or pesticides during the breeding process, the silkworms can emerge on their own and continue living their lives.
Poor fabric selection is a major contributor to unsustainable fashion. Numerous substances that end up in our clothing often cause harm to either or both people, animals, or the environment. However, the future of sustainable textiles is promising.
The greatest sustainable clothing companies are constantly experimenting with sustainable textiles, both new and old, including natural fibers, sustainable synthetic fibers, and wacky futuristic fibers.
By stocking your minimal wardrobe with items manufactured from the following list of sustainable materials, you can support them.
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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.