Before I give you this not exhaustive list of fabrics you should look out for when you shop, I would like to clarify a couple of misconceptions about ecofriendly fabrics:
- A fabric being natural does not make it ecofriendly. This truth can be considered a version of what I call the cyanide principle: cyanide is natural, but that does not make it good for you. Likewise, some fabrics may be natural, but the growing process of the plants may require a lot of water and/or pesticides, or manufacturers of certain crops may just opt to use a lot of pesticides to maximize production and cut down on costs. A lot of the fabrics listed in the “grey area” are natural fabrics.
- A fabric being synthetic does not make it bad for the environment. Science can allow people to create ecofriendly fabrics that do not wreck the environment. There are still synthetic fabrics that are not ecofriendly, but synthetic fabrics should not be deemed bad solely for being synthetic. There are more significant factors that go into determining how ecofriendly a fabric is.
Although this list of fabrics is not exhaustive, it features some of the most common fabrics used in the fashion industry. This list should be a handy reference for fabrics to look for and to avoid:
These fabrics are produced with minimal water usage and no pesticides, which are the primary environmental killjoys in the fashion industry.
- Sheep, alpaca, etc. all count
- Lyocell (also known as Tencel)
- In the rayon family, but a more sustainable alternative to rayon
THE GREY AREA
These fabrics can sway either to the good side or bad side depending on a brands’ practices. I have outlined some issues to look out for when you shop.
- Cotton gets a bad rep for using a lot of water and pesticides, but organic cotton avoids the pesticides.
- For the most sustainable cotton option, organic cotton in its natural shades(light brown, cream, and light green) is the best pick for clothes
- Soy fabrics
- Brands sometimes use soy blends that include inorganic cotton and polyester
- Recycled polyester
- It is certainly more sustainable than traditional polyester. However, some forms of recycled polyester can still contain toxic chemicals.
- Brands will note that it’s RECYCLED polyester for those ecofriendly points, so you don’t need to look high and low to tell if a garment is made of recycled polyester or traditional polyester. If the label just says “polyester,” it is definitely NOT the recycled kind.
- Since cheap cashmere has become popular, it is important to check you are getting pure cashmere that has not been treated with dangerous chemicals
- Derived from corn, which involves a lot of water, pesticides, and land
These fabrics should be avoided because they are bad news for the environment, as the manufacturing of them typically releases a variety of harmful chemicals.
- Traditional polyester
- Can shed microfibers when washed, which goes into the sewage system and eventually the ocean; (also goes for acrylic and nylon)
- Derived from petroleum, a fossil fuel, so it is not biodegradable
- Although it is a renewable resource, the manufacturing involves a lot of water and harmful chemicals
- PVC(also known as vinyl)
- Also derived from petroleum
Image credit: Green and Growing