When I saw a recent article for an A to Z on Sustainable Textiles I was shocked to see so many eco yet unethical textiles included. So I created my own list to exclude the ones that promote harm and exploitation.
Bamboo is a type of grass originating from eastern Asia that usually requires no fertilizers or pesticides and very little water for its rapid growth. The fabric made from bamboo fiber is silky in texture, has moisture wicking properties, and is very durable. Although current bamboo fabric manufacturing processes involve toxic chemicals, developments for harmless and environmentally sound processes are underway.
Banana Fiber (Abaca)
The stalks of the banana plant contain long fibers that can be spun into silky threads most often used in rugs and other interior textiles. Banana fiber has been used in Asian cultures for centuries, where hand extracted, processed and spun banana yarn and fabric can still be found today in the form of tablecloths, curtains and kimonos.
Coir (Coconut Fiber)
Coir is obtained from the husk of a coconut, and is most often found in the form of floor mats, doormats, brushes, brooms and as furniture filling. The fiber is also used as a sturdy material for weaving baskets, bags and indoor or outdoor decorations.
Cork fiber is harvested from the cork oak tree and is currently made into a soft-shell activewear fabric that keeps the wearer warm and is extremely breathable and supple. Raw cork is harvested from FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified forests through a process that doesn't actually involve cutting down any trees. The thick and rugged bark grows back naturally after harvest, causing no harm to the tree.
Hemp fabric is made from the inner fibers of the stalk of the hemp plant, which belongs to the bast fiber group. Hemp does not require any pesticides or toxic chemicals when cultivated, produces 2-3 times more fiber per acre than cotton, and the plant even fixes nutrients back into the soil. Hemp fabric is breathable, warm, moisture-wicking, anti-bacterial and easily blended with other natural fibers such as cotton and wool for a soft, durable textile.
Jute is a bast fiber plant native to India that contains coarse fibers most often used for products such as coffee sacks , rope, mats and on the soles of shoes like espadrilles. Finer jute fibers are often woven with cotton to create a strong material used in apparel and home textiles.
Kapok fiber is found inside the seedpods of the kapok tree in the form of silky fluff that surrounds the kapok seeds. Since kapok fibers are rather short and not very strong, they are difficult to spin on modern machines, but make a plush and light filling for home textiles, bedding, furniture and even flotation devices.
Kenaf is another bast fiber that was used by the Ancient Egyptian and Asians. Related to both hibiscus and cotton, kenaf can be grown in several places including the U.S., converting CO2, improving soil structure, fixing nutrients into the soil and requiring minimal amounts of water and no fertilizers. Kenaf is a superior option for garments, as its extremely long fibers make for very fine yarn when spun, after which it is often blended with cotton.
Linen (Flax Fiber)
Linen is made from flax, another plant in the bast fiber group, and has been used as a textile since Ancient Mesopotamian times. Growing linen requires far less water than growing cotton, no chemical fertilizers, and it is one of the strongest plant fibers. The material takes dyes well, is highly absorbent and keeps the wearer cool, making it ideal for a range of textile uses from apparel to home textiles and canvas bags.
Lotus Flower Fabric
Lotus flower fabric is a material created from the stems of the Asian lotus flower through arduous processing and weaving by hand. The finished fabric is a cross between silk and linen in texture, and was historically used to make robes for high-ranking Buddhist monks. The unique and soft material is breathable, wrinkle-free, naturally stain-resistant, and waterproof due to its aquatic origin.
Modal is a fabric made from the cellulose found in beech tree fiber. The production process of Modal involves very few chemicals and recycles most of the water and solvents used. The fabric dyes well, resists shrinkage and fading and is extremely soft.
Fabric Nettle fabric is made from the fibrous stem of stinging nettle plants, which produce a soft and lustrous fiber that was very popular in medieval times. Cultivating nettles for textiles is a much more sustainable alternative to cotton, as it is low-maintenance, requires minimal amounts of water and no pesticides, attracts copious amounts of wildlife and thrives even in the poorest of soil unsuitable for other crops, also fixing nutrients back into the soil it grows in.
Organic cotton is obtained from cotton that is grown from non-GMO seed without the use of any harmful or synthetic chemicals, pesticides or herbicides. This method of growing cotton supports biodiversity, healthy ecosystems, improves the quality of soil and uses less water than the cultivation of conventional cotton. Growing organic cotton does require more time, knowledge and skill, and is currently more costly than growing conventional cotton.
Pineapple Silk (Pina)
Pineapple silk is made from the fibers of pineapple leaves, which are processed and woven entirely by hand. The resultant fabric is a glossy but slightly stiff, ivory-colored material that is diaphanous, breathable, softer than hemp, better in quality than raw silk and has excellent cooling properties. The fiber takes natural dyes very well, and the glossy surface of the material eliminates the need for toxic treating agents since it acts as a protective layer for the fabric.
PLA stands for polylactic acid fiber, which is derived from a plant sugar called dextrose obtained mostly from corn as well as sugar beets, wheat or sugar cane. Ingeo corn fibers are essentially PLA fibers, and so considered part of the plant-based synthetics fabric group.
Ramie is an age-old bast fiber plant used by the Ancient Egyptians to make cloth for wrapping mummies. Though very similar to linen, ramie produces a lustrous, silk-like material that is soft to the touch, eight times stronger than cotton, and even strengthens when wet. Industrially processed ramie is chemically intensive, but hand processed ramie is environmentally friendly.
Sisal is a type of agave plant that grows in the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. Sisal fiber is obtained from the leaves of the plant, and was traditionally spun and woven into ropes and twines. Finer sisal fibers are spun into yarn used mostly by the carpet industry, but also used for other home textiles.
Soy fabric is made from soybeans and by-products of soy foods (like tofu) that undergo chemical manipulation in order to be turned from plant into fabric. Soy fabric is soft in texture and comparable to silk in the way it drapes. It is also very durable and lends itself well to many different types of garments or home textiles like sheets. Although soy fabric is essentially a natural fiber, toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde are used in the production process.
Seacell is a cellulose-based material that is made up of the fiber from eucalyptus trees blended with sushi grade, USDA certified organic, 'knotted wrack' seaweed. With a fiber structure that facilitates active exchange of nutrients between the skin and fabric, Seacell releases nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, iron and vitamin E (which is extremely beneficial for repairing stretched or damaged skin) onto the wearer. The fabric is very soft, breathes well and is produced through mostly sustainable processes.
Tencel / Lyocell
Tencell is a biosynthetic fiber made from the cellulose-rich pulp of rapidly growing eucalyptus trees. Lyocell was the original term for the fiber, but was coined Tencel by the company that currently manufactures the material. Tencel is produced through a closed-loop process where nearly 100% of the water and non-toic solvents used are re-used. The resulting fiber can be spun into high quality yarn that is used for anything from underwear to sheets, jersey fabrics and even denim. Tencel drapes well, is soft, breathable, moisture-wicking, wrinkle-resistant and entirely biodegradable.
Although many vegan leathers are petroleum based and chemically toxic, ethical and environmental options do exist. Paper, cork, waxed cotton, kelp and wood fiber are all used to create 'leather look' fabrics that omit the slaughter, toxic and energy intensive processes of the conventional leather industry, and are made from completely natural materials. Don't forget PINATEX (pineapple leather) which will be coming to our range soon in the form of stunning bags, wallets and belts.
Thanks to 1 Million Women for the words... but I had to leave out the cruel stuff...