While cotton is a common fabric used in most clothing, it can cause a lot of harm to the environment. Organic cotton is less damaging, as it doesn’t use chemicals and pesticides.
Plant-based options like bamboo and Tencel require minimal water, whereas modal is made from recycled natural sources (like wood pulp) in a closed-loop system. Another sustainable option is Pinatex, made from pineapple leaves that would otherwise be discarded.
Hemp is a natural fiber that grows quickly and returns 60-70% of its nutrients to the soil. It’s one of the sustainable fabric alternatives to cotton because it uses less water and is more sustainable. It also requires no chemicals to grow and is non-toxic to humans and the environment.
Hemp fabric is also incredibly soft, breathable, and durable. Many sustainable brands use hemp to create their clothing and accessories. This versatile material is also biodegradable and naturally resistant to mildew and mold.
Another good option is organic cotton. This material is much more eco-friendly than conventional cotton because it uses no chemicals and requires less water to grow. Organic cotton is also better for the earth than non-organic cotton because it doesn’t pollute water or soil. When buying a modal, look for the FSC or PEFC certifications.
While linen has been relegated to the realm of acceptably-creased beachwear for many years, it’s now making a comeback as an on-trend clothing and homewares fabric thanks to its Scandi-chic au naturel aesthetic. Its eco-friendly credentials also extend to its fibers, made from natural flax material, which grows in temperate climates and requires few chemicals or fertilizers.
Organic linen can be found in various clothing, from outerwear and underwear to sleepwear and accessories. The breathable material is a great choice for warm weather, and the cellulose in linen fabrics naturally releases moisture and regulates temperature. This keeps you cool and comfortable in warmer conditions and allows your skin to breathe, which is good for your body and the environment.
When choosing linen, look for brands that prioritize low-impact dyes. The chemical retting process used for regular linen (including alkali or oxalic acid) can leave behind toxic runoffs that affect the local environment and water supply. Alternatively, opt for dew retting, where the flax stalks are left outside so that natural moisture softens the stocks and makes them easier to separate into fibers.
Lyocell is a natural fabric made from wood pulp, which makes it a great alternative to synthetic fabrics. It’s also a good choice if you’re looking for sustainable clothing that will dry fast since it’s very absorbent.
It’s commonly made from eucalyptus (but it can be made from other types of wood, like oak and bamboo), often harvested in sustainably managed forests. And unlike other plant-based fibers like wool, cotton, ramie, and silk, the eucalyptus used to make lyocell doesn’t require pesticides or much water to grow so it won’t wipe out any of its forest habitats.
Acrylic is a synthetic material well-known for warmth, making it a popular option for hats and sweaters. It’s crucial to remember that the harmful chemicals used in creating acrylic can harm factory employees’ health and could go into the user’s body through skin contact or inhalation.
If you’re looking for a sustainable alternative to acrylic, try vegan silk, made from recycled cotton garments or cotton linter, the short fuzz that sticks to seeds and is a waste product of cotton farming. Another sustainable option is Tencel, made from wood pulp from eucalyptus trees that require less water and pesticides than traditional cotton crops.
Another newcomer on the sustainable fabrics block is Pinatex, a cactus leather-style fabric that uses pineapples to create a cruelty-free and vegan replacement for leather. It’s also a great option for those who prefer a soft and supple fabric that drapes beautifully. Depending on the blend, Pinatex may be coated with petroleum-based resins to add durability, so make sure your purchase is 100% vegan!
Nylon is a synthetic fabric made from petroleum and is a type of artificial plastic. It’s a very durable material for clothing like stockings and activewear. Nylon also makes tarps, ropes, surgery sutures, and hair combs.
The production of nylon is a very energy-intensive process that uses much water and produces harmful chemicals. Since the production of nylon is based on fossil fuels (crude oil), it contributes to global warming, air pollution, and depletion of our natural resources.
The good news is that there are sustainable alternatives to nylon, including Econyl. This brand makes swimwear, outerwear, and accessories for men and women from regenerated nylon that would otherwise pollute the earth. They rescue old carpets, fishing nets, clothes, and pre-consumer waste destined for landfill and transform it into raw fibers to create new products. They also use modal, which is made from beech trees and has similar qualities to rayon, except it uses sustainably harvested forests and uses less toxic chemicals in the production process.