Sustainable Fabrics – What to look for on the label

When you think of the term “conscious consumer”, what comes to mind?

Buying organic?


Those are two actions we can practice as conscious consumers. We can take this one step further by paying more attention to the clothing we wear.

I’ve mentioned before how the massive production of clothing (Chris- please internal link to other article on fur) has led to overflowing landfills, but that’s only part of the problem. The way clothing is manufactured, depending on the materials used, can be incredibly taxing to the environment.

For example, cotton is far from a “natural” fabric, if you consider what goes into growing the crop. According to the Environmental Justice Foundation, 16-25% of all insecticides used globally are used on cotton. That is more than any other single crop.

The irony is, many of us have been conscious of our food and home environment, while we are wearing fabrics manufactured with potentially harmful chemicals.

Although the facts above are disheartening, it’s an opportunity for us to broaden our awareness of what our clothing is made of and how it is manufactured.

There are several ways for us to become better clothing consumers:

  • Buying used. Used garments are easier on the budget and let’s face it – thrift store shopping can be a lot of fun!
  • Educating ourselves about sustainable fabrics and supporting retailers that produce garments made from natural fabrics.
  • Recycling and repairing clothes. Find a good seamstress that can repair or tailor garments. Tailored clothes fit and look better as well.

There are quite a few natural alternatives that can be used to produce garments. Below is a list of plant and animal fibers that are biodegradable and manufactured with minimal chemical processing. The animal products listed are cruelty free.

  • Organic Cotton – This is cotton grown without the use of pesticides. Since it is grown organically, it’s also biodegradable.
  • Organic Linen – Linen is derived from the flax plant.
  • Alpaca – An animal native to South America, they have been bred for their fiber for over 5,000 years.
  • Hemp – Hemp is a plant fiber that does not require pesticides and uses minimal water.
  • Soy Silk – Made from soy proteins, this fabric has a luxurious texture that feels like real silk.
  • Lyocell – This fiber is made from wood cellulose and blended with organic cotton.
  • Jute – Americans call it burlap. This fibrous plant can be used to make fabric that rivals silk in its texture.
  • Calico/ Muslim – A fabric made from unbleached and unprocessed cotton.
  • Nettle Fiber – The fiber from stinging nettles can be woven into a cloth.
  • Ingeo – This fiber is derived from fermented corn starch.

As retailers embrace the trend toward natural fabrics, these materials are being used on a more regular basis.

We can support this movement by continuing to purchase sustainable garments, and we can continue to recycle and repurpose the clothes we currently have.

Do you read clothing labels? What natural fabrics are your favorites? Join the conversation below!

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