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Sustainable Fashion: What materials are sustainable?

The word ‘sustainability’ has created a huge amount of buzz and lots of people are looking for ways to be more sustainable in their daily lives. Although many of us are aware of the impact fast fashion has on the environment, not all of us are. Let me catch you up, fast fashion essentially means what it says on the tin, it is clothing that is produced really quickly in order to keep up with demand and rising trends. It is a kind of fashion that exploded in the 90s and has been conquering since.

Before fast fashion exploded, we had about 2 seasons of fashion a year and now, we have 52 seasons of fashion. That is a huge amount of clothing to be made in one year. Fast fashion clothing is also known to be extremely cheap and this is because the fast fashion retailers use very cheap materials such as polyester and nylon and these materials wear very quickly which leads to people having to part with them. 

Not only are these materials not sustainable in regards to longevity, once they are dumped into landfill, they take a huge amount of time to break down because they are made of plastic. According to Close The Loop, although fabrics such as polyester, nylon and spandex will eventually break down, they can take anywhere between 20 to 200 years. 

In addition to the above-mentioned issues, fast fashion also has a huge impact on worker’s rights as many fast fashion retailers outsource production to developing countries, I mean just look at your clothing tag and you will see Cambodia, Bangladesh and so on. The problem here is that it has been reported by many media outlets and documentaries that these factory workers are not treated fairly and that they also get paid very little. 

Film still taken from “The True Cost”
“The True Cost”

I know it’s a lot to take in, trust me, I was the same when I first found out because there is not just one problem here, there are so many levels to it. We don’t want you to walk away from this article feeling bad that you ever bought an item from a fast fashion retailer. Our intention here is to provide you with some education. In this article, we are going to talk about how you can be more sustainable with your wardrobe and one way to do that is to purchase fabrics and materials that are sustainable and promote longevity!

One way to be more sustainable with your wardrobe is to simply pay that bit extra for the fabrics that will last. Think of it this way, you could buy a polyester t-shirt that will last you a few weeks or a cotton t-shirt that will last you forever. This is all about smart spending.


Photo Credit: Pxfuel, The Flax Plant

The first sustainable fabric that will last you a long time is linen. Linen is a natural fibre and has been used to make clothing for thousands of years. It comes from the flax plant which takes months to grow, treat and process until the fibres are soft enough to be woven into clothing. Linen can be grown in a variety of different climates and does not require pesticides to grow.

Organic Cotton

Next up is organic cotton which is another natural material. What is challenging with cotton is that it is very difficult to really call it sustainable because it requires so much water to produce. For example, a white t-shirt and a pair of jeans can take 20,000 litres of water to make. That is equivalent to 13 years of someone’s drinking water. In saying that, if you want to buy cotton sustainably, you absolutely can, there are just a few things you need to look for. 

Look for companies that use closed-loop water systems that reduce water usage and wastage. Look for organic cotton, grown without pesticides as this helps to protect cotton itself in addition to nearby flora and fauna. Buying organic cotton also protects cotton workers, promoting that they earn a fair wage. Also, look for marks such as the Better Cotton Initiative mark or the Fair Trade mark. 

The Better Cotton Initiative mark promotes more sustainable farming and the Fair Trade mark guarantees the ethical treatment of cotton farmers. 

Wool & Cashmere

Photo Credit: Myriam Zilles On Pixabay

Another natural material to look for when purchasing clothes is wool. Although wool is not without its issues, there are definitely ethical wool and cashmere brands out there.

Wool and cashmere create very warm and high-quality clothing items that are also biodegradable (as long as it is not blended with plastic-based fibres). When it comes to finding sustainable wool and cashmere, you should look for a couple things. Ensure there is ethical treatment of the wool-growing animals and be aware that there are high emissions associated with cultivating wool compared to plant-based materials.


Photo Credit: Flickr

The next sustainable fabric is called econyl. Not ringing a bell? Well, it is essentially recycled nylon. Nylon is made from oil and is a plastic fibre as we have mentioned previously. However, for certain items of clothing such as swimwear, nylon can be very useful. This is where recycled nylon comes into play. 

Recycled nylon is made from recycled plastics such as plastic bottles, fishing nets and much more recycled plastics. It is the sustainable answer for rainwear, bikinis and other clothing items. One word of caution here, if you are washing recycled nylon, ensure you purchase something like the Guppy Friend to ensure the microplastics are not being released into the ocean. 

Bamboo, Lycocell, Modal, Tencel, Rayon & Viscose

Photo Credit: Flickr

There are many tree-based fabrics out there that are brilliant materials for clothing. They include but are not limited to, bamboo, lyocell, modal, tencel, rayon and viscose. They are all derived from tree pulp and then processed chemically until they transform into soft, wearable fibres. Although there can be unethical practices associated with these materials, it is a matter of researching to find out whether the company selling them is ethical. 

I’ve personally tried bamboo socks before and I have to say they are so soft and comfortable; I would highly recommend. Both lyocell and rayon are made from bamboo also! 


Photo Credit: Flickr

Last but not least on the list of sustainable fabrics to embrace is good ole hemp. Although it is stereotyped as being a hippy-dippy fibre that people tend to think of when someone utters the words ‘sustainable fashion’, it is on-par with linen when it comes to its sustainability credentials. 

Hemp has been grown and spun into fibre for thousands of years. It grows extremely fast and can be grown in the UK. It has a variety of uses and has a very similar feeling to the likes of linen. 

The Fabrics You Should Avoid

Now that we’ve discussed the sustainable fabrics you should embrace with open arms, it is time to get down to the nitty gritty that is the fabrics you should avoid. They are acrylic, elastane (aka spandex and lycra), nylon, polyamide, polyester, polyurethane and sequins. 

All of these fabrics are made using oil which essentially means that they are made from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are extracted from the ground in a disastrous way, processed into a plastic thread and finally, woven into wearable fabrics. When these fabrics are washed, they shed microfibres. In addition, when they are thrown away, they take hundreds of years to degrade. 

Where Do We Go From Here?

Don’t go throwing out all your polyester clothing, we feel that throwing those fabrics away is much worse than simply wearing and loving them. If you want to do better with those fabrics, purchase something like a Guppy Friend so that you are not releasing microplastics into the ocean. If you want to become more sustainable with your wardrobe, know what fabrics to purchase for longevity. Although sustainable fashion looks like fun, bright coloured clothing, it is not a particular kind of style, rather it is trying to hold onto your clothing for longer. Take care of your clothes. If you get fed up of them, look at our blog on upcycling for some inspiration on how to make those items a bit more jazzy!

Purchase a Guppy Friend to do not release micro plastics into the ocean.
Peace Over War