Many of today’s consumers want to make more sustainable purchases. That often includes buying eco-friendly fabrics. Here are some options that manufacturers and people interested in textiles should consider.
- Woolen Fabrics
Merino wool and cashmere are two popular fabrics in this category. Wool is a naturally biodegradable material. Plus, products made from wool tend to last a long time. That feature supports sustainability because people can purchase products and wear them for years.
Another benefit of wool is that it has a 5% market share of the recycled fibers market. Woolen fabric sustainability extends to its typical care, too. Clothing labels often recommend washing the products at lower temperatures, which reduces the environmental impact associated with laundering.
ECONYL became part of the fabric industry in 2011 after an Italian company called Aquafil developed it. It’s a recycled nylon fiber made from plastic ocean trash. The company uses a chemical purification process to clean and shred the plastic and pull pure nylon from it. Thus, the fabric has the same properties as virgin nylon, except it’s more sustainable, since ECONYL helps tackle the ongoing problem of ocean rubbish.
The company also says ECONYL causes an 80% reduction in global warming potential compared to virgin nylon. Relatedly, every 10,000 tons of raw ECONYL reportedly saves 70,000 crude oil barrels and avoids 57,100 tons of CO2-equivalent emissions.
- Recycled Polyester
Recycled polyester is becoming a more popular option for designers and manufacturers looking for sustainable fabrics. Known as polyethylene terephthalate (rPET), recycled polyester is another appealing option because it allows repurposing plastic bottles that would otherwise end up as waste.
Statistics show that polyester accounts for 65% of the textile industry’s fabrics. Moreover, rPET generates 71% fewer carbon emissions compared to the conventional way of producing polyester.
An ongoing Recycled Polyester Challenge encourages fashion brands and suppliers to use 45% rPET by 2025, up from the current 14% levels. Some companies may even incorporate rPET usage into supplier management strategies. Such programs within certain industries caused a 20% increase in suppliers that received 100% quality ratings. However, they could also spur the use of more sustainable fabrics.
Linen is a perpetually popular fabric that comes from the flax plant. Flax is hardy and does not require as much water as other possibilities, such as cotton. Farmers can also successfully grow flax with relatively low pesticide usage. Those characteristics help make linen a sustainable choice.
An Italian study focused on Europe’s certified linen supply chain showed that linen had a low environmental impact compared to fabrics like cotton, polyester, and even wool. The researchers confirmed that the linen supply chain requires a lot of energy.
However, even that fact does not necessarily make it an unsustainable fabric. That’s because the study showed many companies that produce linen use renewable energy in their processes.
TENCEL is a brand of fabric made with two types of rayon and spun wood cellulose. Manufacturers sometimes combine those materials with other options, such as cotton, to improve TENCEL’s functionality.
The production process starts with sustainably sourcing wood from forests. Manufacturers then dissolve wood pulp into a chemical solvent and create fibers by pushing the mixture through small holes. After the fibers get chemically treated, later processing steps concern spinning them into yarn and weaving it into cloth.
TENCEL fibers are both biodegradable and compostable. They’re also highly breathable, which is why many manufacturers choose to use them for workout wear. TENCEL costs more to produce than cotton. However, the associated production practices are comparably more environmentally friendly, which may make the extra expenses worthwhile.
- Hemp Fabric
People often compare hemp fabric with cotton, asserting that the former option is more sustainable. That’s true in many ways. For example, hemp yields triple the metric tons of fiber compared to cotton. It also needs less water, land, and pesticides to thrive.
However, since hemp is a rougher fabric, manufacturers often combine it with other fibers to improve softness. One downside of that practice is that it could affect hemp’s biodegradability. Hemp itself has biodegradable properties, but other materials added to it could negatively affect that quality.
Moreover, the fiber extraction process for hemp results in high CO2 emissions. Despite these downsides, the textile industry generally considers hemp fabric a sustainable option.
Additional Sustainable Fabrics Will Become Available
The six choices listed here are among the most sustainable fabrics you’ll find. However, it’s wise to stay abreast of other options in development.
As consumers demand more sustainable fabrics, textile experts and manufacturers continually look for ways to meet their expectations. Thus, materials like these will likely grab the attention of consumers and industry decision-makers alike for the foreseeable future.