How to Choose Sustainable Fabrics and Materials

The fabrics you choose are a big part of your sustainability impact. They take a lot of resources to make, and many conventional materials use harmful chemicals.

Cotton, for example, has a significant environmental impact because it requires a lot of water and pesticides when overfarmed. It’s best to choose organic or sustainable cotton when possible. Another great option is lyocell (known by brands like Tencel), which uses wood pulp in a kinder process with no chemicals.


Linen [lin-uh-ne] is one of the planet’s most stylish, sustainable fabrics. It’s quick-drying, strong, and naturally moth-resistant. It also gets stronger when wet and ages beautifully over time. It’s also fully biodegradable and a more sustainable fabric than cotton when you consider its entire life cycle.

The raw materials for linen are sourced from flax plants, a versatile rainfed crop that can be cultivated without toxic synthetic chemicals. This makes them a highly sustainable yield, mainly when grown organically.

Like other natural cellulose fabrics (cotton, rayon, viscose, and lyocell) these days, linen is often made from plant sources that are sourced and manufactured in different cities, countries, and continents before being shipped to your closet. This can have a high energy impact, so look for GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) or USDA Certified Biobased textiles certifications to minimize these impacts.


Choosing sustainable fabrics and materials means selecting ones that don’t harm Mother Earth or people. Plant-based fabrics and regenerated or organic fibers have less impact than synthetic ones like polyester (made from non-renewable oil).

Likewise, animal-based fabrics are better than cotton when it comes to sustainability. But even those like cashmere or silk must be treated well so they don’t cause unnecessary suffering.

When buying eco-friendly fabrics, check the label to see what it’s made of. Look for a material that requires less water and energy, no chemical processing or bleaching, and no toxic dyes. Additionally, ensure it’s biodegradable so it doesn’t end up in landfills for centuries. Lastly, please pay attention to care instructions, as they can also hint at the fabric’s environmental impact. For instance, cold wash recommendations typically indicate material that uses less energy.


Hemp fabrics are breathable and light to wear. They’re also solid, which helps them resist wear and tear better than cotton T-shirts. This durable fabric can be found in dresses, skirts, and pants.

Hemp is an eco-friendly choice because it requires little to no chemicals during production. Since it grows so densely and quickly, it chokes out competing plants, which means harsh chemical herbicides aren’t necessary. Plus, hemp absorbs and returns 60-70% of the nutrients it takes from the soil.

However, it has high energy requirements during manufacturing and shipping, which results in carbon emissions. Choosing hemp fabrics that travel shorter distances and are made closer to your home can help reduce this impact. Also, look for OEKO-TEX certification and Fair For Life labeling, which prioritizes transparency at every step of production. In addition, try to avoid products that use large container ships and planes when possible, which are the highest carbon emitters.

Bamboo Rayon

Bamboo seems like a low-impact fabric; it proliferates, doesn’t need much fertilizer or water to grow, and has carbon-sequestering powers. However, it’s essential to understand what goes into making a bamboo fabric before buying.

The problem lies in the processing. Most brands that use bamboo fabric make it using the same chemical process as rayon (using caustic soda), which is very toxic. This process also uses wood pulp, which could be sourced from unsustainably harvested trees or ancient forests.

The most sustainable way to manufacture bamboo fabric is through lyocell (Tencel), which uses a closed-loop production system that recaptures and reuses 99% of the chemicals used. Look for the TENCEL(TM) label and companies that are transparent about their sourcing and manufacturing processes to ensure your clothing is sustainable.


If you’re looking for a lighter, more relaxed fabric, opt for linen or hemp. If you’re looking for a more formal look, try silk, which is sustainable, odor-free, and anti-bacterial.

When selecting natural and semi-synthetic fabrics, look for less water and chemical treatment, such as lyocell or modal fabric (both made from eucalyptus wood pulp). Also, select those with a closed-loop production process that reuses 99.5% of water and dissolving agents.

When choosing fabrics, choose those certified as GOTS organic or OEKO-TEX Standard 100 for free from harmful chemicals. Then, look for those with a Made in Green label to ensure your garments are produced in factories prioritizing environmental practices and worker welfare.

Alpaca Wool

When shopping for sustainable clothing, look for labels that indicate the fabric’s composition and origin. These can help you determine if the textile has been produced ethically, with consideration for the environment and the universal rights of workers. In addition, care instructions can clue you into a garment’s sustainability. For example, cold wash recommendations suggest that the materials are energy-efficient.

Alpaca wool is soft and lightweight, making it a desirable choice for winter jackets, vests, coats, hats, scarves, and shawls. It’s also hypoallergenic and lanolin-free, preventing it from retaining moisture or causing allergies. It is also dyeable, making creating garments in custom colors easier.

Another benefit of purchasing garments made with alpaca wool is supporting the local economy in Peru, where it’s harvested. The material is also durable, allowing you to wear the pieces for years.

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