Do you wear green clothes? Are they made out of eco-friendly textiles?
You might have heard about sustainable fabrics, but just where do they come from? What makes them “sustainable?”
Generally speaking, there are two main categories of textiles: plant-based and synthetics. Each individual type of fabric has pros and cons with respect to price, availability, farming methods for production, whether they use chemicals or petroleum, and how they perform when incorporated into green clothes (feel, durability, versatility and more).
For example, cotton is the most widely used textile for clothing world-wide because of its easy maintenance and soft feel. It is farmed in China, India and the United States. Organic cotton is grown without the use of pesticides or other chemicals, and is often more expensive than its “regular” counterpart. Eco-friendly yarn from organically-grown crops can also be purchased at fabric stores for knitting or crocheting your own creations.
Bamboo, flax and hemp are three up-and-coming sources of sustainable fabrics. Bamboo plants do not require irrigation or use of chemical fertilizers, which makes textiles created from it very “green.” Clothes made from bamboo fabric are soft and drape nicely, for a flattering look. Flax is another plant that is used to make fabric very similar to cotton. However, even though bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants, it takes some heavy duty solvents to process the fiber into textiles. So, it might not be the most eco-friendly option.
Like bamboo, flax does not require irrigation to produce, and fewer chemicals and pesticides are needed than for cotton crops. Hemp also does not need irrigated water to grow, and fewer chemicals and pesticides. Hemp clothing is durable, versatile and also UV-resistant. A number of clothing manufacturers, from Calvin Klein to Stella McCarthy, use the fiber. Unfortunately, its not legal to grow hemp in the U.S. which means that most of the sustainable fabric is imported from China.
Tencel is another eco-friendly cloth that is created from pulp of eucalyptus trees from South Africa. People love Tencel because it feels like rayon, yet is a sustainable fabric. It does not require many pesticides to grow, and the crops take up less acreage than cotton. Most wood pulp is Forest Stewardship Council-certified.
Beyond these more traditional sustainable fabrics, don’t forget that yarn can be made from just about anything – even discarded cigarettes!
As a consumer, read labels and do some research as to where the textiles used for your clothing are coming from. Organic is a great start.