The fast fashion industry is one of the most polluting in the world. It is harmful to our planet with a long list of adverse effects on our environment, people and species. Fast fashion is not sustainable; it depletes the Earth’s natural recourses and promotes cheap labour to allow for a cheap end product for consumer.
But there is a way to move forward and away from our current unhealthy consumer trends. The focus needs to be on finding materials that are more sustainable. Luckily, manufacturers are becoming aware of the problem and more alternative options are available than ever before. Us as consumers have also become more conscious of where products come from and the true story behind their low cost. Slow fashion is the answer- brands which are dedicated to ethical and sustainable practices.
Check out these eco-friendly, natural materials. These are some of the best clothing options for those that care about looking after our planet.
What are the most sustainable fabrics?
You have probably heard how water intensive it is to produce cotton, so you may be thinking this is an odd first choice for a sustainable material. Yes this is true, plus some cotton requires large amounts of fertilisers and pesticides to be used during farming. However, there are more suitable ways to make and buy this very versatile material which take into account the health of the environment. Organic cotton can be an eco-friendly textile material for the fashion industry- it is free from harmful toxins which means it is healthier for both the environment and farm workers. A lot of work is also being done around the world to make the cotton industry more sustainable. The Better Cotton Initiative is the largest sustainable cotton programme in the world and supports farmers to care for soil health, water and natural habitats. When it comes to buying cotton sustainably it is about knowing where it has come from and processes involved.
Linen is natural material made from the fibres of the flax plant. It has been used for thousands of years due to its durability and comfort. When grown in the correct region it doesn’t require any pesticides or fertilisers and can be a very sustainable clothing material to choose. It is hard wearing which means it is great to wear over and over again, plus, it requires a lot less water to make than cotton.
Wool is a natural, strong and resilient fabric which means it lasts for a long time, reducing the need for fast fashion. It is also biodegradable (as long as it is not mixed with man-made fibres). The downsides of wool are its higher emissions compared to plant based materials and the poor welfare standards of some farms. However, there are many ethical brands out there, so make sure you do your research and buy from someone who treats their sheep well and has sustainable methods.
Bamboo, Lyocel, Tencel, Rayon, Viscose
These are tree based fabrics! They are derived from tree pulps and then worked into a soft and wearable fabric. Again, it is not to say that these materials are perfectly sustainable- some of them require harsh chemicals which can end up in rivers and oceans. But they are better alternatives to plastic-based, man-made fibres.
SeaCell is a silky, soft fibre made from seaweed. This innovative fabric comes from an abundant source and has many benefits as a sustainable material. It is breathable, lightweight and supple with the ability to absorb water better than cotton. Maybe the most remarkable aspect of this new material is the nutrients that it holds. Iron, calcium, magnesium and vitamin E are retained in its fibres and there is a transfer of nutrients when your skin comes into contact with the fibres. SeaCell is completely biodegradable and manufactured with sustainable practices. It is early days for this material, but the potential is clearly there as a healthy alternative for our planet.
If you wish to make the shift to a more ethical wardrobe, looking out for these natural materials is a great place to start.
Which fabrics should be avoided?
As an addition to my list of eco-friendly fabrics, I also wanted to list out a few of the materials you should try to avoid:
- Elastane (Lycra/Spandex)
All of these are made using oil. This means they’re made from fossil fuels, extracted from the ground and then processed into a plastic thread which is woven into wearable fabric. When they’re washed, they shed microfibres, and when they’re thrown away, they take hundreds of years to degrade.
Fashion in the Future
Fashion and sustainability can go hand in hand and we will continue moving towards more eco-friendly practices in the industry. Education is essential, allowing people to understand the consequences their actions make. Fast fashion will hopefully decline and instead be replaced by slow fashion and a more conscious way of thinking.