5 Eco-Friendly Types of Fabric for Feel-Good Fashion (Inside and Out)


These 5 types of fabric are examples of materials that do less bad and more good for the world we live in.

When it comes to pursuing an eco-friendly lifestyle, your actions are meaningful beyond what you choose to eat and drink, your choice of transportation and the extent of your use of electronics and appliances that contribute to global warming. Environment-conscious living can get as subtle and not obvious as the seemingly innocent and simple cotton shirt you are wearing right now. “Eco-fashion”, as I will refer to it in this piece, is a growing sector in the fashion world, shining light on how the industry exploits the world’s resources for the sake of vanity and keeping up with the demands and trends inherent in fast fashion. And it’s largely defined by the types of fabric used in garments.

Did you know that cotton utilizes 22.5 percent of all the insecticides and 10 percent of all pesticides used globally, on just 2.5 percent of agricultural land? Moreover, were you aware that producing just one T-shirt requires the use of 257 gallons of water?

Insecticides and pesticides are used to prevent living organisms from growing on the cotton and interfering with its growth. However, these chemicals don’t just stop the growth of pests – they stick around the entire life cycle of the cotton. Between 25 million and 77 million agricultural workers suffer from pesticide poisoning each year, with 1 million requiring hospitalization. The chemicals used also affect the water stream applied to cotton, which can make its way into the water supply of indigenous populations. In 2004, a study detected chemicals in cotton clothing that can negatively affect those who wear them. Ultimately, 7 of the 15 most prevalent chemicals used in conventionally grown cotton have been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as suspected carcinogens (read: cancer-causing).

Additionally, dyes that are applied to fabrics have been shown to retain cancerous substances, which have only recently been banned by the EU. Formaldehyde, which is limited but allowed, is a chemical that irritates the skin and can contribute to cancer. Rayon, another common material used to make clothing, is often linked to the depletion of the worlds rain forests. Polyester products’ main raw material is oil. Yes, you read that right: oil. Petroleum-based fabrics continue to damage and exploit the world’s resources and are non-sustainable in the long run. Polyester is also non-biodegradable and simply stress landfill capacity.

With this in mind, it begs the question: what’s the alternative? Here are 5 eco-friendlier fabrics with which we should all acquaint ourselves.

1. Bamboo

Bamboo fabric comes from bamboo grass pulp. It doesn’t require pesticides to grown nor other chemicals during irrigation. It biodegrades quickly. It is often spun into bamboo rayon for a more durable shape and texture. Bamboo matures in two years and in a close-loop system. It can take on more than 3-times its own weight in water and works well in both hot and cold climates by trapping warm air in its fibers in the winter and absorbing perspiration in summer to keep you cool. Bamboo fabric is soft, quick-drying, and smooth, having a silk or soft-cotton-like texture. It also has a 99.8 percent antibacterial rate, which means it kills odors and keeps you smelling fresher for longer.

2. Hemp

Hemp fabric is considered among the most eco-friendly types of fabric around the world. It grows without pesticides, crowds out weeds on its own, produces oxygen and controls topsoil erosion. It is cultivated quickly – in less than 100 days – and produces more fiber per acre than cotton or flax. It is also extraordinarily versatile. Its versatility derives from the fact that it has incredible strength: 8-times more than that of cotton. Furthermore, it is hypo-allergenic and does not irritate the skin. Studies have shown that it stops the spread of bacteria. It has the texture of flannel and wrinkles easily. For some, it may have a scratchy feeling.

3. Organic cotton

Organic cotton is grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides or other chemicals. It has all the benefits of conventional cotton, only it is less toxic to your body and the environment.

4. Tencel

Man-made fiber tencel is also referred to as lyocell. It is derived from wood pulp of sustainable farm trees. The fabric is versatile and can take on the texture of suede or silk. It is gentle, lightweight, and absorbent (50-percent more moisture absorption than cotton), and thus good for those with sensitive skin. Despite these qualities, tencel is quite durable. It even has anti-bacterial properties due to its efficient moisture management.  Tencel textiles utilize nanotechnologies in a closed-loop process recovering and decomposing all solvent and emissions. Certified by the international Forest Stewardship Council and 100-percent biodegradable, tencel fabric is a huge victory among eco-fashion enthusiasts. While it is on the expensive side relative to other eco-friendly fabrics, it is well worth it!

5. Soy

Soy fabric is made from soybean hulls that come from food production waste. It has been dubbed the “vegetable cashmere” due to its soft texture, and it has just a bit of stretch to it. It also absorbs dyes quickly, meaning it requires less of it, and is relatively easy to take care of. Its ability to absorb well makes soy fabric fitting for those who perspire a lot or are at the mercy of hot weather. Soy fabric biodegrades quickly and has little environmental impact. It is also UV-resistant and anti-bacterial.

Related on EcoSalon

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Why Hemp Fabric Makes Sustainable, Durable, Fabulous Fashion: Fiber Watch

Photo Credit: Bethan