Sustainable Materials for the Fashion Industry

We see it in magazines, window stores, and every retail shop online. It changes with every season and beckons us to keep up with it as models float on catwalks and A-list celebrities showcase at every movie premiere. It’s fashion and every facet of its industry, and it made its way into every aspect of our lives. We are constantly reminded of what is in, what is the latest style, and what color is hot, and with every season, a new line is manufactured, sent to the stores, and promoted. And we buy it as we are told that we’re outdated if we don’t have it.

The fashion industry moves at a fast pace, and oftentimes, it’s hard to keep up with it. The life-cycle of its products are short-spanned, and we need to replace them, whether we want to or not, with the latest trends. However, the fashion industry doesn’t take care of its by-products. Around 10% of the planet’s carbon dioxide emissions result from the fashion industry and approximately 92 million tons of solid waste annually. Considering this, should we ensure that the materials from which clothing is done won’t create mountains of waste that we’ll need to take care of?

That is why demanding for a more sustainable and eco-friendly approach from the fashion industry is important. When we have ample options for sustainable materials that we can implement on a global scale, continuing business-as-usual seems ludicrous.

Why Transition to Sustainable Materials?

Throughout the fashion industry, we hear the words “sustainable”, “eco-friendly”, “organic” and “green” all the time, especially when major brands start to use them. Still, how can we tell what’s really green and what’s merely greenwashing? The more mainstream these words become, the more erroneously they are being used. While there are materials that are eco-friendly with a low carbon impact and are sustainable throughout, using them on tags in 4% of the product or only in a small section of it does not make an article of clothing sustainable.

Being a conscious consumer, you may try only to choose clothes that are cheap, that you’ll wear, and we can combine that in an outfit with ease. While selecting a neutral color pallet does make it easier to combine clothes, if your shirt gets damaged from washing after the third time in the tumble dryer, you’ll need to replace it. Many people mention the cost of sustainable clothing. There’s no denying that. Yes, sustainable clothing is more expensive because it is sustainable throughout, meaning environmentally, societally, and economically. Still, if you buy one pair of jeans that last you a decade for $200 or 20 pairs of jeans that will each last you half a year at $80, which is actually more expensive. Not to mention the impact the resulting waste has on the environment.

The materials from which our clothes are made can either further pollute (acrylic, polyester, polyamide, etc.) as they’re not biodegradable or make pollution a problem of the past (hemp, cellulose, linen, organic cotton). While there are sections of the fashion industry that fights back against the continuous disrespect towards the environment, knowing what materials to look for can make your personal choice their financial struggle. With less demand, the supply can decline, and alternatives should become more easily accessible.

Sustainable Materials – Eco-Friendly Alternatives

While being sustainable and eco-friendly is more straightforward in the natural environment, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we didn’t look elsewhere for our materials. Wherever you look on this planet, you will come across items of clothing that we made from materials nurtured from nature. While some of these materials require more work than others, production is scalable and equalitarian as people from different backgrounds can join this segment of the fashion industry.

Plant-based Materials

Recycled Cotton – One of the most common materials on Earth is light, breathable, and versatile. While growing cotton leaves a massive impact on water and chemical usage, organic cotton is a less harmful alternative but challenging to verify and certify. The best option for cotton is recycled cotton, with the potential to reduce water and energy consumption and will save cotton clothes from landfills.

Organic Hemp – The “sober” cousin of Marijuana is easily cultivated, uses very little water, doesn’t need fertilizers or pesticides, and grows in four months in any climate. As one of the oldest fibers in the world, hemp keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The plant’s versatility works hand in hand with its low soil impact, being used even to clean polluted soils.

Organic Linen – Another plant that’s been used for textile over the centuries is similar to hemp and requires little amount of water, no pesticides, and quickly grows in low fertile soil. Linen is a strong, moth-resistant, and 100% biodegradable when untreated.

TENCEL® lyocell – this fabric is made from light cellulose extracted from dissolved wood pulp. Its popularity comes from being 50% more absorbent than cotton but requires less water and energy to produce. At the same time, the chemicals used in its production are managed in a closed-loop system, recycling the solvent and decreasing the amount of dangerous waste.

Animal-derived Materials

Recycled Wool – This durable animal-derived fiber is long-lasting, warm, and comfortable. While conventional wool can raise ethical concerns, recycled wool reduces environmental and ethical impacts. As there is so much wool already in circulation, the recyclable variant becomes more desirable. Conventional wool will simply be extracted from discarded clothes and recycled into new clothes, like that limiting the amount of conventional wool required in the industry for the production of new clothes.

Innovative and Futuristic Fabrics

Bananatex® – In 2018, the Swiss brand QWISTION launched Bananatex®, the first durable fabric in the world made entirely from banana plants. Similar to hemp, the banana plant doesn’t need pesticides or fertilizers and uses a limited amount of water. However, unlike hemp, it is self-sufficient, being able to provide itself with all the nutrients it needs. Bananatex® can potentially become the first 100% circular alternative to man-made alternatives, increasing reforestation efforts in areas eroded by agriculture. At the same time, it will enhance the biodiversity of those areas while providing economic prosperity to its farmers.

Piñatex® ” – Also known as Pineapple “Leather is a fabric made from pineapple leaves grown in the Philippines. Unlike traditional leather, pineapple leather is completely animal-free and much more sustainable. For its growth, pineapple doesn’t require harmful chemicals and uses limited amounts of water, making it an ecologic alternative to a healthy biosphere. Whatever is left from production is recycled and can be used as fertilizer or biomass.


By switching to these sustainable materials, we can motivate the fashion industry to follow an environmentally friendly path for a greener future for all of us. Another way to impact the carbon footprint modern life has on the environment is to add an eco-friendly flair to your wardrobe. Still, it shouldn’t be and isn’t entirely on our shoulders as consumers to change the fashion industry for the better. Aside from much more environmental consciousness, the fashion industry, together with every other industry, should focus on transitioning towards a circular economy that pursues de-growth methods. More for the sake of consumption shouldn’t be the norm, and a change in mentality is necessary.

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