What is Sustainable Textile?
Sustainable textile refers to materials that are obtained from eco-friendly resources and materials, such as natural or renewable fibers and recycled materials. It means that all the materials used in the production, as well as the processes, and the output are safe for the environment and humans across all stages of the product life cycle.
According to Grand View Research, the global textile market
size was valued at USD 993.6 billion in 2021. It is estimated to rise at a CAGR of 4 percent from 2022 to 2030. Fashion is a large industry, in which the textile chain consumes a huge amount of water, chemicals, energy, and other resources. However, sustainable fashion is considerate of the environment, humans, animals, and the planet, reducing the environmental impact throughout the supply chain.
Most Sustainable Textiles and Fabrics You Should Know
The following is the list of sustainable textiles or environment-friendly fabrics that are derived from natural, recycled, or renewable materials.
Conventional cotton is the second most used fabric in the
world with wide usage in the fashion industry. With an annual
global production of 26 million tonnes in 2020, the market
share of preferred cotton stood at 30 percent in 2019-20 in the global fiber market. In 2019-20, organic cotton production equaled a market share of 0.95 percent of all cotton produced.
Cotton is a famous natural fiber but it has several harmful effects on the ecosystem and humanity. Organic cotton is a more sustainable solution that mitigates its detrimental impact. It is considered an environmentally sustainable option over conventional cotton because of several reasons, including:
Besides the above environmental benefits, farmers also benefit from organic cotton through improved health outcomes. The resulting garments produced from organic cotton are also safe for the end-user as they do not contain toxic chemicals.
Switching to organic cotton will mean fewer pesticides and fewer resources. It is also better for global warming. Organic cotton also requires far less water than conventional cotton.
According to Textile Exchange, the global average total water
consumption to produce 1000 kg of organic cotton fiber is 15,000 cubic meters.
How do you know it’s organic? Well… there are certain standards, such as GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) and OCS (Organic Content Standard) that set internationally recognized requirements for organic textiles.
Organic cotton with GOTS certification provides a credible assurance to the consumers about the responsible harvesting of its raw materials, and environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing, packaging, and labeling of textiles.
It is considerate of the environmental and ethical standards, including fair wages, safe and healthy working conditions, no workplace discrimination, etc. Another certification, Fair Trade, ensures that workers are treated well throughout the supply chain.
Due to its skin-friendly and soothing properties, organic cotton is used for making garments, materials for protecting and cleaning newborn babies, bandages, baby clothes, towels, and more.
Hemp fabric is another sustainable textile that is produced from the fibers of a high-yielding crop in the Cannabis Sativa plant family. It was traditionally used for industrial purposes, like rope but now hemp is a perfect fabric for making everyday use clothing, cosmetics, bioplastics, food supplements, and building materials.
The market share of hemp stood at nearly 0.2 percent of the
total fiber market in 2020. It is mainly grown in China, but other countries, including the USA, are also taking initiatives.
As for sustainability, hemp is a natural environmentally friendly textile that requires little water and no pesticides. and is. It has long roots that prevent erosion and it also improves the soil by returning nutrients. It is a fast-growing plant that does not require genetically modified seeds because it is pest resistant.
Characteristics of Hemp Textile
Hemp is a versatile and durable fiber with several times the tensile strength of some other natural fibers. It softens the more it is washed and is ideal for all seasons. Hemp is a zero-waste plant with has minimal growth needs. The whole hemp plant can be utilized by farmers as its stalks are used to produce fibers while seeds can be used to make oil and food supplements. It
absorbs more carbon dioxide than what it emits by the
equipment used to harvest, process, and transport it.
Hemp textile is mostly used to make garments, such as t-shirts, jackets, dresses, skirts, clothing for kids, baby bibs, kitchen towels, and aprons.
Linen is a natural fiber derived from the flax plant. Its fibers are thicker than cotton fibers and have a lower thread count, ensuring high quality. Linen fabric is durable, lustrous, and offers a good drape. It feels crispy to touch in the beginning but softens with time.
Items made with linen are twelve times stronger than their
cotton counterparts. Linen textile is highly absorbent and
dries quickly. It can retain water or repel it up to 20 percent
of its weight without feeling damp to the touch.
Due to its excellent properties, linen fabric is very popular in the fashion industry for making clothing items, beddings, and home furnishings. It is a great textile choice for use during the summer in warmer climates and months.
Linen is a sustainable fabric as it is derived from the flax plant that has a short growing cycle. It requires nearly 100 days to sow and harvest, with each crop blooming just for one day. The flax plant can be fully utilized, which keeps the wastage level low.
Characteristics of Linen Textile
Linen textile is majorly used to make garments, beddings, upholstery, tablecloths, curtains, and towels. It is also used to make sewing threads and is also embroidered on women’s apparel and home furnishings.
Lyocell is a natural, biodegradable, and compostable textile made from wood pulp, which often comes from eucalyptus, oak, bamboo, or birch trees. Lyocell is considered a highly sustainable and natural fiber but it falls somewhere between natural and man-made fibers.
The production process of this semi-synthetic fabric is closed-loop. Eucalyptus trees grow quickly, without irrigation and pesticides but the manufacturing of fabric involves processing with synthetic substances. However, the dissolvent chemicals involved in fabric creation are not toxic and can be used repeatedly. They are not released into the environment after the process is finished.
Characteristics of Lyocell Textile
The basic lyocell textile is soft to touch but it can have different textures depending on how it is processed. Lyocell textile is used to make a variety of items including t-shirts, cardigans, activewear, bedsheets, towels, curtains, etc.
This textile is derived from bamboo – a type of grass that requires less water and no fertilizers or pesticides to grow. Bamboo is a fast-growing plant that survives on rainfall, absorbs
5 times more carbon, produces 35 percent more oxygen than
some other trees and renews itself after harvesting.
Bamboo is a highly breathable fiber that is also known to have antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Bamboo fabric is durable, smooth, and moisture-wicking.
Bamboo fabric is increasingly used in the fashion industry because of its eco-friendliness but its sustainability actually depends on the manufacturing process used to make the fabric. While the cultivation of bamboo is highly environment-friendly, its manufacturing process (turning it into fabric) may not be as sustainable for the planet.
There is a wide range of methods that decide the type of fabric that will be produced. There are three main types of bamboo fabrics – bamboo viscose, lyocell-type bamboo fabric, and mechanically-produced natural bamboo.
Mechanically processed bamboo is eco-friendly while chemically processed bamboo involves toxic chemicals that are not sustainable. Chemically produced bamboo, such as bamboo viscose goes through chemical-intensive processes to create fabric and the finished product. Yet, it is still considered a more sustainable fabric compared to polyester and conventional cotton. On the other hand, the bamboo lyocell variety is produced with a closed-loop process.
Characteristics of Bamboo Textile
Bamboo fabric is mostly used to make t-shirts, socks, beddings, blankets, hand towels, underwear, and many other garments and home furnishings.
We hope this article helped you gain a good understanding of sustainable textiles. Now you are ready to go out into the world and make more eco-friendly sourcing choices. Whether you are a large brand, a clothing line startup, or an independent designer, the fabrics you choose for your clothing line can make all the difference when you are trying to be sustainable.
By using as many organic and natural materials as possible, you can contribute to reducing pressure on resources and restoring the balance between people and the planet.
If you are a fashion brand looking to incorporate sustainable
textiles into your clothing line, get in touch with us today. Our
team of experts will help you take better control over your sourcing, while also allowing you to track your orders from start to finish – all from one dashboard.