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Stylish And Sustainable: Eco-Friendly Fabrics Explained

March 4, 2024
Stylish And Sustainable: Eco-Friendly Fabrics Explained

Eco-Friendly Fabrics Explained” />


Sustainability has become an increasingly important consideration in the fashion industry. As a consumer, I want to make choices that are good for the environment while still being fashionable. That’s why I decided to learn more about eco-friendly fabrics and how they can allow me to dress stylishly and sustainably.

In this article, I will provide an in-depth explanation of the most popular eco-friendly fabrics, including how they are made, their benefits, and examples of how they are used in fashion today. Understanding the range of sustainable textile options can help us make informed decisions when shopping for clothes. My goal is to highlight that we don’t have to sacrifice style for sustainability.

What Makes a Fabric Eco-Friendly?

For a fabric to be considered eco-friendly, it needs to have a reduced environmental impact compared to conventional textiles. Here are some of the main considerations:

  • Sustainably Sourced Materials: Fabrics are made from renewable materials like bamboo, hemp, and organic cotton that are grown and harvested using eco-friendly farming methods. These methods reduce the use of pesticides, water, and other resources.

  • Reduced Chemical Processing: Eco-friendly fabrics limit the use of toxic chemicals, dyes, and bleaches in production. Natural and plant-based dyes are preferred.

  • Ethical Production: Factories adhere to labor standards and workers are paid fair wages in decent conditions. Supply chains are transparent.

  • Biodegradable: The fabrics break down naturally at end of life, unlike synthetics derived from fossil fuels.

  • Recyclable: The materials can be recycled into new fabrics and textiles, creating closed-loop systems.

Popular Eco-Friendly Fabrics

Organic Cotton

Organic cotton is one of the most popular sustainable fabrics because it is biodegradable and grown without toxic pesticides and fertilizers. Brands like Patagonia and PACT source organic cotton for many of their clothes. The organic farming methods help protect waterways and soil health while providing natural habitats on farms.

While more expensive than conventional cotton, organic cotton products are a classic, versatile choice for eco-friendly wardrobes. The fabric is soft, breathable, and ideal for dailywear like t-shirts, dresses, and denim jeans.


Hemp fabric comes from the fibers of the fast-growing hemp plant. It is highly durable, absorbent, breathable, and antimicrobial. Hemp requires much less water to grow than cotton and no pesticides.

Brands like Levi’s now use hemp blends in some of their jeans. Hemp is also woven into clothes like dresses, shirts, and jackets. It drapes well and softens over time, developing a unique patina. While the fabric feels similar to linen, hemp is more substantial and resistant to wear and tear.

Lyocell (Tencel)

Lyocell, also known by the brand name Tencel, is a sustainable semi-synthetic made from wood pulp. The manufacturing process uses a closed-loop solvent system that recycles over 99% of chemicals. Lyocell is silky, smooth, breathable, and exceptionally good at wicking moisture.

It is found in products like activewear, loungewear, and dresses from brands like Allbirds and Everlane. Combining the best qualities of synthetic and natural fabrics, lyocell has a luxurious drape but is fully biodegradable. It inhibits bacterial growth, minimizing odors even for sensitive fabrics like underwear.

Bamboo Rayon

Bamboo rayon or viscose comes from fast-growing bamboo grasses. While rayon is a semi-synthetic fiber, the raw bamboo plant material gives it natural properties like softness, moisture absorption, and breathability. Bamboo rayon drapes similarly to silk but is more affordable.

The fabric must be processed carefully to ensure sustainability. Done correctly, bamboo rayon can be an eco-friendly option for clothing like t-shirts, activewear, dresses, and bedding. Popular brands using bamboo rayon include Reformation and girlfriend.collective.

Recycled Polyester

Not all eco-friendly fabrics need to be 100% natural. Recycled polyester takes waste plastic like water bottles that normally end up in landfills and re-spins it into a synthetic fiber. Brands like Girlfriend Collective and Rothy’s are creating swimwear, activewear, shoes, and more using recycled polyester and other recycled synthetics.

The recycled synthetic fabric diverting plastic waste makes it preferable to virgin polyester. It is also stretchy, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying. However, recycled synthetics still release microplastic fibers into waterways when washed. More durable than pure synthetics, buying these fabrics used or recycling them responsibly helps prevent waste.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Eco Fabrics

When buying eco-friendly fashion, here are some things I consider to ensure products align with my sustainability values:

  • Certifications: I look for reputable third-party certifications like GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), bluesign, or OEKO-TEX to validate eco claims. Certification logos on product pages signal trustworthy standards.

  • Impact Rating: Some brands like Good on You rate the sustainability practices of clothing companies to help identify ones with ethical and eco-friendly supply chains. I lean towards brands with “Great” or “Good” ratings.

  • Lifespan: Higher quality, durable fabrics last longer and avoid premature disposal to landfills. I check material blends and read reviews to evaluate lifespan and minimize re-purchasing.

  • Care Requirements: Fabrics requiring less frequent washing, minimal ironing, and hang drying are preferable. I avoid fabrics needing dry cleaning since chemicals pollute air and waterways.

  • Biodegradability: If a fabric like lyocell or organic cotton is compostable at end of life, that is ideal. Some synthetics may be recycled but not biodegraded.

The Future of Sustainable Fabrics

Eco-friendly fabrics have made major strides but innovation continues. Exciting developments I’m watching include:

  • Mycelium leather: Mushroom roots and other agricultural waste are meshed into a leather-like material. Bolt Threads’ Mylo brand is commercializing mycelium “leather”. It uses fewer resources than animal leather to create a durable, low-impact fabric.

  • Lab-grown silk, cotton and wool: Biotech startups like Bolt Threads are growing silk proteins from cells versus farming silk worms at scale. This eliminates insects and land required. Similar approaches are emerging to “grow” cotton, down and wool.

  • ** Orange fiber**: This uses citrus juice byproduct from juicing as a cellulose material alternative to cotton and synthetics. Orange Fiber has partnered with brands like Salvatore Ferragamo on the technology.

  • Algae fabric: AlgiKnit produces a yarn-like material from algae that can be knit or woven into textiles. It is durable when wet, reducing microplastic pollution and dye use compared to polyester.

Shopping Eco-Friendly Doesn’t Mean Sacrificing Style

I used to think I had to give up fashion and only buy basics to be sustainable. However, there are now so many options that I can maintain my personal style and minimize my environmental impact. With a greater awareness of eco-friendly fabrics, I look for the materials, certifications, brand ratings and manufacturing details that align with my values. The innovations in sustainable textiles give me hope for the future of ethical fashion.

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