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5 materials you can use to make your designs more sustainable

Eleonora Saylon
July 15, 2022

In our previous article, we analyzed why it is necessary to begin using more alternative materials in the production of fashion, and why this can also be beneficial to your fashion business (if you haven’t read the article yet, check it out). Now that we understand why we must make this change, it is time to delve into the details and discover which alternative materials are already on the market and fit your products.

1. Organic cotton & recycled cotton

Cotton is one of the most common and most used fabrics. However, cotton used is harmful to the environment in several ways, three of which appear to be prevalent: the use of pesticides and fertilizers, the use of cultivable land (cotton accounts for up to 2.5 percent of the world’s cultivated land), and the need for additional watering (up to 10,000 liters of water per kilo of cotton). Organic cotton can be used to counteract the negative effects of conventional cotton. It is grown without the use of pesticides, fertilizers, or weed killers. Crop rotation is used in organic farming to keep the soil healthy, natural pesticides are used and small amounts of water are required.

However, even if  organic cotton is a step towards a more sustainable practice by avoiding the use of synthetic and toxic pesticides, it still needs a lot of water and space to grow. So if you want the most sustainable option, go with recycled cotton. Cotton that has been recycled or up-cycled is made from post-industrial and post-consumer cotton waste so it helps to prevent fashion waste from ending up in landfill and using virgin cotton.Recycled cotton is as versatile as its standard version, it can be used to create any variety of garments, from t-shirts to knitwear to even cotton denim jeans.

2. Organic Hemp

This may come as a surprise to some, but hemp is actually a fiber derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. One of the great things about hemp is that it can be grown all over the world and doesn’t require pesticides: hemp literally chokes out competing plants, so harsh chemical herbicides aren’t required. Hemp also naturally repels pests, so pesticides are rarely required. Furthermore, hemp naturally fertilizes the soil in which it grows, making it far more environmentally friendly than other crops. Hemp is a densely growing plant that is not only gentle on the environment but also requires very little water, especially when compared to cotton. The cultivation of hemp also requires a smaller amount of land, sounds like a dream material right?

However, it is important to note that hemp does not always imply organic; many farmers continue to use environmentally harmful fertilizer. So when choosing hemp, make sure it’s organic.

Hemp fabric clothing is extremely comfortable and gentle on the skin, and it gets softer with each wash. Furthermore, hemp clothing is tightly woven to prevent sun rays from escaping the material’s surface. As a result, it protects you from UV rays. Hemp clothing is hypoallergenic, making it suitable for all skin types. Hemp fabric is used in anti-UV clothing and is therefore suitable for garments for a wide range of outdoor activities.

3. Organic Linen

Linen is one of the oldest fabrics ever used, dating back thousands of years (ancient Egyptians and Romans both made extensive use of it). In terms of sustainability, it is nearly identical to hemp. Linen is made from the fibers of the blue-flowered flax plant. Flax farming is beneficial to the environment; according to the European Confederation of Linen and Hemp (CELC), European Flax Fiber absorbs 250,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. Linen is one of the most durable fibers; it outlasts other fabrics and upholstery. Even when linen reaches the end of its useful life, it does not have to rot in a landfill. It is fully compostable as a natural fiber (as long as no toxic chemicals, dye, or synthetic fibers have been added).

Non-organic flax also requires few pesticides or fertilizers; however, as previously stated, if you want to go for the most sustainable solution, go for the organic option to ensure that no pesticides or fertilizers were used during cultivation.

Organic linen is really a great material for making summer clothes, it is breathable and delicate on the skin (so it’s also a good choice for making clothes for babies and children). Linen tank tops, shirts or even linen trousers are always an excellent solution for the warmer seasons.

4. Organic Bamboo

Because of its amazing fabric properties, bamboo has become extremely popular among clothing brands. For starters, it’s very durable while remaining soft to the touch. Because bamboo fabric is also stretchy, it has become a popular fabric for activewear, particularly organic bamboo underwear. The fabric’s hypoallergenic, antifungal, and antibacterial properties contribute to its natural deodorizing power.

Organic bamboo could be transformed into one of the most sustainable fabrics, but this is not always the case. Depending on how it’s processed, it could involve chemically intensive processes and all the negative consequences that come along with it. Be careful when choosing and make sure that the bamboo plant was grown organically and in responsibly managed forests. Once you have made these considerations, there are numerous advantages to using this material: the bamboo plant grows quickly, it does not require pesticides, fertilizers, or irrigation, it only requires rainwater. Furthermore, bamboo produces 35% more oxygen and absorbs five times more carbon than other types of trees, and it biodegrades better than other semi-synthetics, particularly those derived from oil.

Because the bamboo plant has natural antibacterial properties, it is frequently used in activewear and bedding to naturally eliminate odors. Bamboo has excellent moisture-wicking properties, which means it absorbs sweat while keeping you dry. That is why it is ideal for sportswear, both in warmer seasons and as a top or legging as a base layer in colder climates, as you will not be left wet and shivering out in the cold!

5. Econyl

Another recycled fiber you should consider is Econyl, a fiber developed by the Italian company Aquafil that is made from synthetic waste such as industrial plastic, waste fabric, and ocean fishing nets. It is recycled and regenerated into a new nylon yarn of the same quality as traditional nylon. Compared to traditional nylon production methods, this regeneration system uses less water and generates less waste. Nylon waste is collected, cleaned, shredded,, polymerised, transformed into yarn, and re-commercialised as textile products. Econyl is a promising fiber that is far more environmentally friendly than virgin nylon as it can also be infinitely recycled.

Econyl does, however, have a disadvantage. Like many other synthetic fabrics it sheds microfibres in its use. While this means it isn’t the best choice for clothing that is frequently machine washed, it can be a more practical and sustainable option for accessories or shoes that are rarely washed or are hand washed.

So what do you think? These amazing materials are just some of the many alternatives that are becoming more and more common among fashion brands, isn’t it great?! Now what you can do is to go to your manufacturer and ask for any of these fabric possibilities, give them (and your fashion business) a chance and focus on using high quality textile to create everlasting products.

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