On the most part, people have begun to question who made their clothes. This is a fantastic question and movement that has led to an increase in businesses paying and treating their workers correctly. A lesser-heard question, however, is what are my clothes made from, and how does that affect our planet.
In 2019, Earth Overshoot Day fell at the end of July. Earth Overshoot day represents the date in which we have used up all of the ecological resources the Earth can regenerate within a year, and any consumption past that point is unsustainable. The Overshoot Day website also marks dates on our calendar for different countries that show what the overshoot date would be if everyone lived like the average population of that country. Australia’s overshoot day for 2020 was the 30th of March. This means if everyone lived like Australians, we would need 3-4 piles of earth worth of resources just to be considered sustainable!
I believe there is more each of us can do, and one area that we can make a huge difference in is the fashion industry. Clothing is often overlooked as something harmful because talking about fashion can come across as vain or uneducated. But if we did talk more about fashion, perhaps we would see a truly positive change that would have a global effect. The fashion industry is the 10th most polluting industry in the world, and we can work on reducing this impact through our buying choices. One of the best ways we can do this is by choosing to buy clothing that is made using sustainably sourced materials. To make your life a little easier, we have put together a list of sustainable fabrics so you can make the best choices possible for you. Let us know if you would also like a list of unstainable fabrics you should steer clear of.
Tencel / Lyocell
Lyocell is perhaps most commonly referred to as Tencel these days, however, Tencel is, in fact, a brand name for lyocell fibres. “Tencel branded lyocell and modal fibres are produced by environmentally responsible processes from the sustainably sourced natural raw material wood.” (Tencel) The fibres are strong and super soft, making it a great option for clothing. Tencel can also be combined with other textile fibres such as cotton and wool.
This dress from the ethical and Australian label, Indecisive, is made from a Tencel and linen blend, making it soft, breathable, completely natural and great for the Aussie climate. All INDECISIVE garments at Velvety are made to order, so as to diminish the environmental impact of possible overproduction.
💚 Sustainably sourced
Organic cotton usually yields around 40% less cotton than regular cotton because it is grown without pesticides or synthetic chemicals. Farmers can use natural pesticides on organic cotton, but the crop is more susceptible to pest damage. Because of these risks, it is not economically viable for all farms to grow cotton organically.
However, the use of pesticides that use harsh chemicals can deplete the soil of nutrients, meaning that nothing new can grow, which will financially burden non-organic farmers in the future. These farmers are also exposed to pesticides every day and can lead to skin irritations. To make matters even worse, most non-organic cotton farmers are underpaid, usually because they are competing to sell their cotton for the best (lowest) price to be used for fast fashion.
Organic cotton is safer for farmers to grow and it won’t damage the soil. Additionally, a lot of organic cotton farms use rainwater to feed their crop which saves a lot of water!
Despite the positives, financially it is a risk for farmers to grow organic cotton. So, to support them, and to support healthy soil, we should choose to buy organic cotton. This will incentivise other farmers to which to organic and lead a higher quality of life.
It is important to note that brands can market their items as organic without any certification, so when buying organic cotton garments, make sure they are GOTS certified. Global Organic Textile Standard products must be at least 95% organic fibre and, aside from being one of the most well-known certificates for fabric throughout the world, it is also one of the most difficult certificates to acquire. This is because producers must meet requirements throughout the manufacturing process, beyond just the crops themselves. When you buy something that is GOTS certified, you know you can trust the brand and the product quality.
Sorella Organics is one of our favourite Australian labels as it uses GOTS certified organic cotton sourced from certified Fair Trade farms.
💚 Sustainably grown
💚 Saves water
💚 Safe pesticides
💚 Super soft
Hemp is pretty much a wonder-plant that can be used to create everything from face oils to the fabric. Hemp is fast growing and is ready to harvest at twice to speed of cotton. Plus, it requires a lot less water and due to the crop’s density, there is no need to use pesticides.
Like Tencel, hemp can be mixed with other fabrics such as organic cotton to create a garment that is both soft and strong. Quillan is an Australian ethical fashion label that uses a blend of natural fabrics such as hemp and organic cotton in their clothing, such as this gorgeous Swallowtail top, a classic t-shirt style with a twist.
Hemp fabric is not yet widely known about, since growing hemp (cannabis) is illegal in various countries due to its use as a drug. However, as these laws change, we are able to fully embrace the many wonderful uses of the hemp plant, and since it is also fully biodegradable at the end of its life it makes a great choice as natural clothing.
💚 Sustainably grown
💚 Less water to grow
💚 Zero pesticides
Cork comes from cork oak trees, and it is just about as good as it gets in terms of sustainable materials. Unlike most natural sources, a cork oak tree is not cut down in order to harvest the cork. Plus, each time the cork is harvested, the tree absorbs more CO2 to aid in the bark’s regeneration process. Regularly harvested cork trees store three to five times more CO2 than those left unharvested and help to keep our air clean.
While cork is commonly used for wine bottles, it also makes for a fantastic fabric! Cork is flexible, water-resistant and can be just as strong as leather. Thamon, uses thin cork shavings to produce this beautiful backpack, and sustainably sourced birch, lotus and sal leaves for the side pockets.
💚 Sustainably harvested
💚 Increases CO2 absorption
💚 Super strong
Pinatex is a strong material made from pineapple leaves that is a great alternative to leather. The pineapple leaves are stripped into fine fibres through a process called decortication. These fibres are converted into a 'mesh' like material and then go through a manufacturing process.
Pinatex is durable, breathable, light and flexible, making it a great natural alternative to leather. It also has an incredibly small environmental footprint because while pineapple is used for many things, the leaves are generally viewed as a waste product.
Maravillas Bags uses Pinatex for their gorgeous bags, making them one of the most sustainably made vegan leather bags on the market. Not to mention, Maravillas bags are stunningly well designed so you will keep on wearing them season after season!
It blows my mind that we are still creating new processes and fabrics every year that are able to make our world more sustainable, and I think we are going to see so many more in the next few years.
💚 Low environmental footprint
💚 Reduces waste
💚 Durable and breathable
We can’t have a list of sustainable materials without mentioning linen! Linen is made from flax plant fibres and can fully biodegrade if left untreated (dyed). Unlike cotton, flax is resilient and can grow with very little water, plus all parts of a flax plant can be used to make different products (such as linseed oil). Linen itself has many uses and is commonly used for household items, canvases for art, and of course clothing.
The perks of using linen for clothing include its brilliant durability, while still being light and soft making it ideal for warmer months. Seaside Tones uses organic, prewashed linen in their collection for soft clothing that drapes beautifully. Their collection is minimalist and timeless and each garment is dyed without harmful chemicals. Everything is ethically and consciously made in Poland from GOTS certified pure Polish linen, a perfect, permanent addition to your conscious closest.
💚 Saves water
About the author: Chloe is an ethical lifestyle writer and video maker known online as Be Kind Coco. She loves cats and a good cuppa and is on a mission to make ethical living easy.