Did you know that the US produces 15 million tons of textile waste per year?
That means that many of us move the piles of clothes in our closets right into a landfill.
Fortunately, the sustainable fashion movement is taking the clothing industry by storm. Gone are the days when “eco-friendly clothing” meant a boring rack of identical garments. Now, there are tons of exciting options to satisfy every fashionista’s creativity (and to fit every buyer’s budget).
If it’s time to give your shopping habits a makeover and open the door to sustainable fashion, the first question on your mind is how to choose the most sustainable fabrics. Without compromising your style, of course.
That’s why we’ve created this guide to your sustainable fabric options. From unconventional to time-tested, read on to learn about all the fabric types that can help save the planet. Plus, you’ll find lots of tips on how to wear them with style.
Cotton fabric is a standby that you can wear head-to-toe. From your oldest vintage t-shirt to your fashion-week-approved blue jeans, this versatile favorite is a natural fabric.
Since it’s naturally grown, it doesn’t require an abundance of energy to produce. Plus, at the end of its life, it’s biodegradable and recyclable. That means there’s no need for it to stuff a landfill at the end of its life.
Cotton fabric is a sustainable fashion go-to for all your basics, and it’s easy to find on the market. It’s a great first step into the sustainable fashion world — especially if it means you get to add a few more vintage tees to your collection.
Here’s the problem: not all kinds of cotton are sustainably made. All cotton is biodegradable and natural, but most of the cotton on the market causes pollution through pesticide use. If you want to make a sustainable choice with your cotton garment, pick one that is certified organic.
Organic cotton is grown and processed without the use of chemicals, like pesticides or fertilizers. This cuts down on environmental pollution, decreases the energy needed to farm it, and ensures safer working conditions for farmers. Talk about a win for the planet!
When it comes to the sustainable fashion world, linen is controversial. On one hand, it’s a natural product of the flax plant, and when it’s produced in the right conditions, it leaves no waste. But on the other, conventional production of linen can cause water pollution.
The solution is to look for “organic linen” on your clothing labels, to ensure that your linen garment is as good for the environment as it is for your style.
And speaking of style, make sure to make this natural fiber a staple of your summer wardrobe. Its softly wrinkled look gives a casual, yet sophisticated, vibe to your summer wardrobe, whether you’re sporting a linen top, pants, or even a dress.
The hemp plant is a new star on the natural fibers lineup. This versatile plant doesn’t need pesticides to grow, is easy on soil, and grows quickly. All of this adds up to make a natural fiber that wears well and isn’t hard on the earth.
Like linen, hemp is wrinkle-prone. It also doesn’t hold dye well unless it is dyed with harsh synthetic chemicals, so sustainable hemp garments tend to have a muted, earthy tone.
For fashionistas seeking sustainable fashion options, hemp lends itself well to a laid-back, boho style. Pair a hemp blouse with muted colors with your favorite organic cotton blue jeans, and you’ve got an instant earth-lover-chic look that actually loves the earth!
Used for millennia by our ancestors, wool is the original sustainable fabric. Not only is it produced with purely natural means, by allowing sheep to graze naturally on free-range grass, but it’s totally biodegradable. Plus, wool pieces can be dyed to any color, and you can find them in everything from outerwear to basics to ball gowns to onesies, so let your fashion imagination run wild!
A common concern with wool is whether it exploits sheep. But did you know that sheep can die from overheating in the summer unless they are shorn? Just make sure that your wool pieces are sourced from a cruelty-free farm, and you’ll know that your garments aren’t harming any animals.
Be warned: wool can be expensive, so it’s a great choice for your investment pieces that you want to last for a lifetime.
Recycled Plastic Fibers
Synthetic fibers get a bad rap, and no wonder — polyester is a plastic-based fiber that consumes tons of energy in its production. As well, it’s not biodegradable, so it is environmentally unfriendly throughout its lifespan.
However, some synthetic fabrics can help the environment, not hurt it. And thank goodness, because it gives us that comfy stretch that we depend on for our coziest sweats and masks.
That’s why creative companies around the world are reclaiming plastics to make post-consumer polyester. Using environmentally harmful plastics like marine debris, plastic bottles, and even recycled polyester clothing, they are transforming these landfill-bound wastes into new garments.
This is a big turnaround for the fashion industry, which currently generates the most pollution of any industry worldwide except for the oil industry. These unconventional synthetic fabrics are turning fashion into a pollution-eater instead of a pollution-maker.
Plus, recycled synthetic fabrics can be made into garments that are hard to replicate with purely natural ones, like stretchy materials such as swimsuits, sports bras, and athletic wear. Look for them the next time you’re looking for an ultra comfortable face mask or leisure sweatshirt.
Choosing the Most Sustainable Fabrics for You
With so many sustainable clothing brands and fabrics to choose from, you can get creative when you are finding the most sustainable fabrics to fit your lifestyle. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to being environmentally friendly, so don’t think inside a box. Instead, let your fashion imagination run wild, and find a creative clothing solution for everything from face masks to swimsuits to formal wear.
Looking for more fashion insights? Check out the rest of our blog for more on sustainability, business, and fashion.
Andrea Parker is a reporter for Zobuz. She previously worked at Huffington Post and Vanity Fair. Andrea is based in NYC and covers issues affecting her city. In addition to her severe coffee addiction, she’s a Netflix enthusiast, a red wine drinker, and a voracious reader.