Your Complete Sustainable Fabrics Guide
Demand for sustainable fabrics is increasing.
As consumers learn more about the impact their purchasing choices have on the environment, they’re beginning to prioritize more ethical shopping.
Currently, 67% of consumers say they believe the use of sustainable materials and processes is essential to their decision of which fashion brand to buy from. Additionally, many younger generations are willing to pay extra for the promise of sustainability. Approximately 73% of millennials say they would pay a premium to buy from an eco-friendly brand.
The rising interest in sustainability is in part, thanks to increasing access to information about the side effects of unsustainable production practices in the fashion landscape. Studies show that fashion companies account for around 10% of our global carbon dioxide output today. They’re also responsible for significant waste, as proven by many big-name labels dumping and even burning out-of-date items from their collections.
Today, we’re going to explain what sustainable fabrics are, why they’re so important to the environment, and how both consumers and businesses can make the right choice when selecting eco-friendly textiles.
What Makes Textiles Sustainable?
There are various ways fashion companies, manufacturers, and producers can contribute to a more sustainable industry. The most common strategy starts with looking at the materials used in the creation of fabrics. Sustainable textiles are more durable, resilient, and long-lasting than their less-eco-friendly counterparts. This means they don’t have to be replaced as often.
Sustainable textiles also feature:
- Environmentally friendly components: Certain materials cause less damage to the planet than others. Organic cotton, hemp, linen, and recycled polyester, for instance, are often biodegradable and recycled, and create less emissions during production.
- Reduced water consumption: The textile industry is known for its heavy use of water, in producing materials, dyes, and other components. Reduced water usage can be an important part of making materials more sustainable.
- Recycled components: Some materials are made with recycled components, such as textile scraps and even plastics, to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills. Today, approximately 85% of all textiles are sent to landfills each day, and less than 1% of clothing is recycled for the creation of new garments.
- Sustainable production process: Sustainable production practices involve reducing energy use, waste, and emissions. Companies can make textiles more sustainable with the use of non-toxic chemicals and dyes, which produce fewer emissions.
- Natural resource preservation: Through organic farming practices, recycling, and other components, companies can reduce their use of natural resources. This is crucial at a time when the fashion industry consumes around 98 million tons of crucial resources from the world every year. Sustainable companies minimize their use of resources by producing new products only when they’re needed.
Sustainable Fabric Certifications
At present, the sustainable and ethical fashion landscape is growing at an accelerated rate of around 9.7% per year. While some companies are genuinely investing in more sustainable textiles and fabric choices, the rising demand for eco-friendly products has also led to a new issue: greenwashing.
Some brands create false marketing and branding materials designed to convince customers their products are eco-friendly when they actually aren’t sustainable at all. To combat this issue, various certifications have been produced to help customers distinguish which fashion products are truly beneficial to the planet. Options include:
- Fairtrade certification: The Fairtrade mark authenticates a company’s commitment to ensuring workers and producers are treated fairly and ethically in the fashion industry. Fairtrade labels demonstrate a fabric has been produced with ethical considerations in mind, including fair labor and material growth practices.
- Oeko-Tex: The International Oeko-Tex certification is given to fabrics which are free from harmful substances and chemicals. If a fabric carries the Oeko-Tex standard label, this indicates it has been thoroughly tested for any toxic ingredients.
- Bluesign: Perhaps one of the most significant fabric certifications in the sustainable industry, the Bluesign label indicates a company has focused on reducing its environmental impact throughout all stages of the textile supply chain.
- Cradle to Cradle: The cradle to cradle certification is an eco-label which demonstrates a company has made a concentrated effort to create an eco-friendly product. Clothing and fashion companies can be accredited with a basic, silver, gold, or platinum level certification based on their commitment to social responsibility, renewable energy usage, water efficiency, the use of eco-friendly materials, and recycling.
- Better Cotton Initiative: A non-profit organization label, the BCI label indicates whether a company has worked with the non-profit to promote sustainable cotton farming practices, reducing waste and damage to the textile landscape.
- GOTS Certification: Produced by the leading standards organizations in the sustainability landscape, the Global Organic Textile Standard label is specific to the fashion and textile industries. This standard looks at the eco-friendly and sustainable practices used in all stages of fabric creation, from harvesting raw materials, to manufacturing clothing and linen.
Common Sustainable Fabrics
Thanks to the rising interest in sustainable fabrics, there are now a number of valuable, eco-friendly textiles available to consumers and fashion designers. While options on offer can vary depending on the region and type of garment being produced, common solutions include:
Bamboo is often used as an alternative to cotton, as it offers a similarly soft and durable experience to wearers. However, unlike cotton, bamboo is a highly regenerative and fast-growing crop, which doesn’t require excessive fertilization. However, not all bamboo products are produced with sustainable practices. Some companies do use chemically processed bamboo in their wares.
Hemp is a versatile and durable plant. It is associated with the cannabis plant, which means it requires a specialty license to grow. However, it thrives quickly, and doesn’t exhaust soil wherever its planted. It also doesn’t require the use of pesticides. Hemp is organic, and durable, and offers a comfortable experience to wearers in place of alternatives like cotton.
Organic cotton is one of the most common forms of sustainable fabric. However, it can be difficult to access, as it’s often more expensive to produce than standard cotton. Organic cotton is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Instead, farmers use natural methodologies such as composting and crop rotation to manage plants.
Linen is an all-natural product made from flax plant fibers. Similar to many sustainable fabrics, it can be grown without fertilizer, and even thrives well in areas where other plants cannot grow. Flax can also be used in its entirety, meaning there’s minimal waste from excess seeds and oil. The material is also biodegradable, provided that chemicals are left out of the production process.
Modal, Tencel and Lyocell
Modal fabric is a type of semi-synthetic fabric, made from wood pulp primarily taken from beech trees. While the pulp itself is natural, the production process does require the use of chemicals. The naturally-occurring solution is generally more delicate and softer than other sustainable solutions, such as Tencel and lyocell, which are made using similar wood pulp processes.
Otherwise known as PET, Recycled polyester is made from plastic water bottles and other plastic products that are broken down into fabric. Recycling these items helps to minimize the amount of human waste in landfills. What’s more, polyester can be recycled many times, ensuring it can be used over and over again for new items.
Silk is a naturally occurring substance which comes from silkworms subsisting off a diet entirely made up of mulberry tree leaves. These trees are relatively easy to grow, and are also resistant to pollution. The characteristics of the plant make silk a relatively sustainable fabric option. However, because the production process requires animal labor, it can be controversial.
Wool can also be a highly sustainable natural fabric, depending on the production methods used. Wool is naturally biodegradable, and renewable, and it’s made from the fleece of sheep and other animals, such as llamas and alpacas. The key to sustainable wool is ensuring the animals used in the production of this material are protected.
Sustainable Fabrics Used at NovaTomato
Here at NovaTomato, we believe sustainability is crucial in the fashion industry. Our entire business model is built around creating fashion on demand, without the need for minimum order quantities. We can produce unique designs for companies on an as-needed basis, allowing organizations to build their own range of clothing online, without having to store large amounts of fabric. This simple approach to manufacturing helps to reduce waste significantly.
What’s more, unlike other brands using a similar print-on-demand production strategy, NovaTomato also takes additional steps to ensure we’re minimizing waste in the textile landscape. We use low-water production processes, non-toxic inks, and as much recycled and eco-friendly fabric as possible. Even our packaging and hanging tags are made with sustainable materials.
Some of our most popular sustainable fabric options include:
1. Recycled Polyester
As mentioned above, eco polyester fabric is one of the most common sustainable fabrics used in the fashion industry today. Our materials are sourced from clear plastic water bottles, which are carefully cleaned and turned into pellets, which can then be spun into high-quality yarn.
Through recycled polyester, we can help companies and consumers to divert waste and plastic away from landfills, where they would take decades to degrade. Additionally, the production of recycled polyester requires far fewer raw materials than the creation of new fibers.
Recycled polyester is a highly durable, resilient, and versatile fabric, which can be used for a wide range of garments, including hats, shirts, and even dresses.
- Reduced energy usage during production
- Minimizes the amount of plastic in landfills
- High durability for long-term wear
- Multiple varieties with large application in sportswear, casual wear and fashion wear
- May release microplastics during washing
2. SORONA Fabric
SORONA Fabric is a unique form of sustainable textile, used by high-quality POD brands like NovaTomato. This unique cotton and polyester blend combines the comfort and absorbency of cotton, with the durability and versatility of polyester. It offers a combination of high-quality cotton (Grown to ethical standards), and resilient polyester fibers.
SORONA fabric is challenging the idea that eco-friendly fashion products need to compromise on performance or softness. The sustainable, and luxurious fiber offers excellent stretchability, wrinkle resistance, reduced piling, and moisture wicking properties. It can also be more resistant to stains than other forms of textile.
- Excellent durability and longevity
- Highly soft and comfortable results with cotton like hand feeling
- Flexible and versatile performance
- May be less sustainable than polyester alone
3. Ecodear Fabric
Leveraging plant-based materials, and recycled polyester Ecodear fabric is one of the most luxurious options available in the textile market today. The fabric is made from a blend of recycled polyester and plant-based materials, which helps to reduce the energy and production materials required (such as oil) to make new garments.
The plant components used in ecodear fabric are renewable, and can absorb carbon dioxide in the air, helping to lower carbon footprints across the globe. The material is known for its moisture-wicking properties, durability, and softness, making it ideal for home textiles, sportswear, and a range of other garments. It has also received various certifications for sustainability, including the Global Recycle Standard and Bluesign certification.
This is the primary fabric we use to create premium products based on customer’s made-to-order requirements.
- Plant and recycled polyester-based product
- Reduced production costs and energy usage
- Minimizes carbon footprint through plant cultivation
- Largely used in outwear like windbreaker or vest
- Can be more expensive than other sustainable fabrics
Want to learn more about the sustainable materials used at NovaTomato? Reach out today to start producing your own ethical clothing line, with absolutely no waste.
Still Have Questions?
What Fabric Is the Most Sustainable?
Organic hemp and other plant-based recycled products are generally considered to be the most sustainable fabrics. However, they can be expensive to produce. Recycled polyester and other recycled materials can offer an excellent alternative of premium quality.
How Do You Know if Fabric Is Sustainable?
Looking for the certifications mentioned above on your textiles should help you to determine whether a fabric is truly sustainable or not. You can also discuss production processes and eco-friendly practices with your manufacturer.
What’s the Softest Sustainable Fabric?
The softest sustainable fabric can vary depending on your preferences. Silk and organic cotton are often extremely soft. However, bamboo is an excellent sustainable alternative. Ecodear has won awards for its softness, and sustainability.