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Sustainable Materials in Fashion

In many industries, new materials are on the rise, aiming for a more sustainable production.



The fashion industry is at the tip of the spear in using newly created materials that are either biodegradable or eco-friendlier than their current equivalents.


What are those materials? How sustainable are the commonly used materials? And how do you chose the right garments?


With determining the total material’s sustainable footprint, we need to take more in consideration than just the material itself. We can look at factors such as production methods, sourcing, and disposal practises. Additionally, new innovations and developments in the industry may impact the sustainability profile of existing and commonly used materials.


We will have a closer look at the most common materials first and grade each their sustainable footprint.


1/ Cotton

  • Harmful: Conventionally grown cotton is associated with high water usage, heavy pesticide and insecticide use, and soil degradation. It also requires significant amounts of land.

  • Sustainable: Organic cotton, which is grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, is considered more sustainable. Additionally, advancements in water-efficient irrigation and innovative farming practices can help reduce its environmental impact.

Wax Hollandaise, Gold plated Wax, and SuperWax are specific types of fabrics, typically made from cotton.

a/ Wax Hollandais

  • Harmful/Sustainable: Wax Hollandaise is traditionally made using a wax-resist dyeing technique, where hot wax is applied to the fabric to create patterns before dyeing. The process involves the use of synthetic dyes, which can have negative environmental impacts. Efforts are currently being made to improve the sustainability of the production process, such as using organic or sustainably sourced cotton and eco-friendly dyes.

b/ Gold plated Wax

  • Harmful/Sustainable: Gold plated Wax, also known as Dutch Wax or Ankara, is a type of fabric that features metallic or gold-coloured prints. Like Wax Hollandaise, it is typically made from cotton and printed using wax-resist dyeing techniques. The sustainability of Gold plated Wax depends on the same factors as Wax Hollandaise, such as the use of organic or sustainably sourced cotton and eco-friendly dyes.

c/ SuperWax

  • Harmful/Sustainable: SuperWax is another type of fabric (popular in African fashion, but more and more seen in other fashions as well) , known for its intricate designs and vibrant colours. It is also made from cotton and produced using wax-resist dyeing techniques. Similarly, the sustainability of SuperWax depends on factors such as the use of sustainable cotton and eco-friendly dyes.

— > Look for DATWAX, which only works with top quality authentic VLISCO fabric.

  • VLISCO is known for its commitment to quality and craftsmanship. While the sustainability of cotton production (the primary fibre used in wax-printed fabrics) and the dyeing process may have some environmental considerations, VLISCO has implemented sustainability initiatives to improve their practices. They have made efforts to reduce water consumption, promote responsible chemical management, and implement waste reduction measures.

2/ Linen

  • Sustainable: Linen is made from the fibres of the flax plant, which requires less water and pesticides compared to cotton. It is biodegradable and durable.

3/ Polyester

  • Harmful: Polyester is a synthetic material made from petroleum-based chemicals. Its production consumes fossil fuels and releases greenhouse gases. It is non-biodegradable and can contribute to micro-plastic pollution when washed.

  • Sustainable: Recycled polyester, made from post-consumer plastic bottles or other recycled materials, reduces the need for virgin polyester production and promotes circularity.

4/ Silicone

  • Not as common, but it does have some applications.

  • Silicone is a synthetic material made from silicon, oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen. It is known for its water-repellent properties, flexibility, and heat resistance.

Sustainability?

  • Water Repellency: Silicone can be used to create water-repellent finishes on fabrics, which can have sustainability benefits in certain applications. For example, silicone-treated outerwear or rainwear can provide effective protection against moisture, reducing the need for additional waterproof coatings that may be less environmentally friendly.

Concerns?

  • Environmental Impact: The production of silicone involves energy-intensive processes and the use of chemicals. The extraction and refining of silicon can have environmental consequences, including the emission of greenhouse gases. Additionally, the disposal of silicone-based products can be challenging, as silicone is not easily biodegradable.

  • Potential Harmful Additives: Some silicone-based products may contain additives or treatments that can be harmful to human health or the environment.

  • Micro-plastic Pollution: Silicone itself is not considered a micro-plastic since it does not degrade into small particles. However, some silicone-based products or treatments may contain micro-plastics or be combined with other materials that can contribute to micro-plastic pollution if they break down over time.

5/ Silk

  • Harmful: Silk production involves the killing of silkworms in the process of extracting the fibres.

  • Sustainable: Ahimsa silk or peace silk is an alternative to conventional silk, as it allows the silkworms to complete their life cycle before harvesting the silk.

— > Look for Ahimsa or peace silk


6/ Viscose

An absolute popular material in the fashion industry, a semi-synthetic fibre made from trees.

  • Cellulose (or wood pulp), coming from trees and plants such as Beech, Pine, Bamboo, Eucalyptus, Soy and Sugar Cane, is dissolved in a chemical solution, producing a pulpy substance. Spinning it creates fibres which are then turned into threads.

Issues with Viscose are

  • Wood pulp sourcing — depletion of native forests and tree waste (only 30% of the tree is used)

  • Use of many toxic chemicals such as Carbon Disulphide in a highly polluting manufacturing process

— > Look for more sustainable alternatives: Ecovero, Tencel (Lyocell), Modal, Monocel, Refibra, Spinnova, Circulose and Orange Fibre.


7/ Wool

  • Harmful: Wool production can have negative impacts such as land degradation, water pollution, and the release of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) from sheep.

  • Sustainable: Ethical and sustainable wool can be obtained through responsible sourcing, ensuring good animal welfare practices, and supporting regenerative farming techniques.

— > Look for ethically sourced wool


What are the more innovative materials that have already or are slowly finding their way into the sustainable production of garments?


We take a look at 22 sustainable materials, but there are obviously a lot more out there. Let us know in the comments which sustainable material we should include in this overview.


With each material, we assume an eco-friendly and responsible harvesting and/or processing is used, to maximise the material’s sustainable footprint.


1/ Algae-based Textile

Made from seaweed.

  • They can be renewable, biodegradable, and require fewer resources compared to traditional textiles.

  • Companies Algaeing and Algatech are growing algae in indoor vertical farming, using solar energy and seawater.

  • They convert the algae into a liquid. That liquid has a two-way application. By itself, it is used as a textile dye. Or it is used as a fibre by adding a cellulose to the liquid.

  • Algae-based fibres are using 80% less water than cotton production.

2/ Apple Leather

A vegan leather alternative made from apple peel waste, usually combined with a binder.

  • A sustainable option that utilises apple pomace and peels, agricultural by-products, containing cellulose, ideal for making new fabric. The entire process entices the making of the apple pumice powder, combined with polyurethane, a synthetic, sustainable, safe and affordable material.

  • Due to its soft character, it’s often used for producing fashion accessories and shoes.

3/ Bamboo

  • Mixed: Bamboo can be a sustainable material, as it grows quickly and requires little water and pesticides. However, the production process can involve chemicals and energy-intensive methods. Bamboo fabric made through a closed-loop process using eco-friendly solvents is considered more sustainable.

— > Look for closed-loop Bamboo fabric or Monocel.


4/ Banana Fibre

Derived from the stems and stalks of Banana (Abaca) plants.

  • It is a sustainable material as it utilises agricultural waste (around a billion tonnes each year) and does not require additional resources.

  • Not a new one in the Fashion industry. Since the 13th Century, the leaf sheath around the base is being stripped off, layer by layer, until only the fibres are left. After drying, they are knotted together while using a twisting technique.

  • Banana fibre is a tough, but lustrous fibre, that can be used for creating a supple yet versatile textile. It offers an eco-friendly alternative to conventional fabrics.



5/ Bio-fabricated Leather

Leather-like materials grown in laboratories using cell cultures.

  • It aims to provide a more sustainable and cruelty-free alternative to traditional animal leather.

  • The final result of the lab-generated yeast strain, is a cowhide-like leather that is stronger, thinner, lighter and more versatile and sustainable.

  • The scalability and commercial availability of bio-fabricated leather are still in the early stages.

6/ Cactus Leather

Also known as Desserto, is a vegan leather alternative made from cactus plants.

  • It is a sustainable material that requires minimal water, land, and pesticides to grow.

  • Mature leaves from the Nopal Cacti are harvested, cut, mashed and dried. Then they are mixed with non-toxic chemicals and attached to a backing.

  • Cactus leather has gained attention for its eco-friendly characteristics.

  • An additional advantage is the great CO2 sequestering capacity of cacti.

A brand of regenerated nylon made from post-consumer waste, such as fishing nets and discarded textiles.

  • It helps reduce waste and lowers environmental impact with 90% when compared to conventional nylon production.

  • Aquafil up-cycles and reuses the nylon of the abandoned fishing nets and processes them into yarns. Econyl can be recycled over and over again without losing its quality.

8/ Hemp

  • Sustainable: Hemp is a fast-growing plant that requires minimal water and no pesticides. It can be used to produce durable fabrics and has a lower environmental impact compared to many other crops.

Also known as vegetable leather or plant leather.

  • Collected tree leaves (mostly teak) are soaked, dyed and dried while covering one another. A bonding agent might be used or the leaves bond together within the drying process. The sheets are stitched together with cotton. And before sewing, a BOPP (biaxially-oriented polypropylene) film is applied to make the material more durable.

Also known as lotus silk, is made from the fibres of the lotus plant.

  • It is a sustainable material that requires minimal water and pesticides to grow.

  • It looks like a blend of silk and linen. Breathable and stain- & wrinkle-resistant, Lotus Fabric is perfect for clothing and accessories. Additionally, Lotus Fabric is very soft, can regulate temperatures (cool in Summer / warm in Winter) and is 100% waterproof.

  • Lotus fabric offers a natural and eco-friendly option for textiles, however it is time-consuming as it is made by hand.

11/ Mango Leather

A sustainable alternative to animal leather made from the fibres of mango peel.

  • It repurposes agricultural by-products and reduces waste. De-seeded mango pulp is combined with a water-based polyurethane and poured into trays. Screeding the surface is making it smoother. When dried, the leather-like material is coloured and waterproofed.

12/ Microsilk

A sustainably-produced textile, spun from the same proteins as a spider’s web.

  • It is created by using biology, fermentation, and traditional textile production

  • Bolt Threads, sustainably replicated the amazing process of spiders producing silk fibres, known for their strength, elasticity, durability and softness.

13/ Modal

  • Mixed: Modal is a type of rayon made from beech tree pulp. The production process involves the use of chemicals, but efforts are being made to improve its sustainability by implementing closed-loop systems and responsible sourcing.

  • Its characteristics are breathable and absorbent, making it an ideal fabric for activewear, underwear, pyjamas, bathrobes and bed sheets.

— > Check its production and sourcing methods before purchasing Modal based fabrics, as it carries the risk of having native forests destroyed and the use of harmful chemicals.


14/ Mushroom Leather

Known as mycelium leather or Mylo, it is produced using mycelium (the root structure of fungi) grown on organic waste materials.

  • Bolt Threads develops this vegan leather by vertically farming the mycelium in a 100% renewable energy powered facility.

  • The dried root structure is tanned and transformed into a leather-like material.

  • It is a soft, supple and durable leather.

Derived from the stalks of nettle plants.

  • Ironically enough, nettle fibre is not new. It was even used during the Bronze Age (earliest recording in Voldtofte, Denmark), however it lost its popularity from the 16th Century due to the arrival of cotton.

  • It is a sustainable material as nettles grow easily without the need for extensive resources or pesticides.

  • The fibres are carded and spun, producing a very strong cord. In the textile manufacturing, nettle fibres are often blended with cotton or wool.



16/ Orange Fibre

A textile made from citrus juice by-products, such as orange peels.

  • Made by Orange Fiber  — a company who wanted to do something against the 110 million tons of yearly discarded citrus waste.

  • It is a sustainable and biodegradable material that offers an innovative way to utilise waste from the citrus industry.

  • The silk-like fabric is soft and lightweight. Depending on its final finish, it can be shiny or opaque.

17/ Parblex

A type of biodegradable innovative plastic made from potato waste, wood flour or walnut shells.

  • It is used as an alternative to conventional plastics, offering potential sustainability benefits.

  • Chip[s] Board is creating Parblex without any toxic resin or oil derived chemicals

  • As it is a type of plastic, it can be used in ie. eyewear products.



18/ Piñatex

A natural leather alternative made from pineapple leaf fibres.

  • It utilises agricultural waste and reduces the need for additional land, water, and chemicals.

  • The dried pineapple leaves are mixed with a corn-based Polylactic acid. Piñafelt, the non-woven mesh, is then coloured, using GOTS-certified pigments and coated with a polyurethane resin, making the material durable and even waterproof.

  • Piñatex has gained attention for its sustainability credentials, and has been used by over 1,000 brands.

19/ Recycled Fabrics

  • Sustainable: Fabrics made from recycled materials, such as recycled polyester or recycled nylon, help reduce waste and the demand for new resources.

20/ Spinnova Fabric

Produced using a sustainable and innovative fibre spinning technology that transforms wood pulp into textile fibres.

  • It boasts a lower environmental impact compared to traditional textile production methods.

  • Spinnova makes this fabric from wood, agricultural and textile waste with 99% less water usage as its cotton counterpart.

  • With being 100% bio-degradable and recyclable, Spinnova Fabric is made in a closed-loop system

21/ Tencel (Lyocell)

  • Sustainable: Tencel is a brand of lyocell fibre, made from Eucalyptus wood pulp, sourced from sustainably managed forests.

  • The pulp is mixed with a solvent. This mixture is dried and then pushed through small holes to create the threads, which are spun into yarn.

  • It is produced, using a closed-loop process, where the solvents are recycled, reducing waste and environmental impact.

22/ Vegea

Made from leftover grape skins, a by-product of the wine industry, along with vegetable oil, natural fibres from the agro-industry and a water-based polyurethane.

  • It is a sustainable alternative to leather, utilising waste from grape processing. Its creation process excludes toxic chemicals, solvents and heavy metals.

  • One square meter of Vegea can be created from every 2.5 litres of waste, coming from 10 litres if produced wine.

  • Vegea has the potential to up-cycle waste and reduce our environmental impact.

It’s also worth looking into the other stages of the garment production before labeling a brand. Dyeing is one of these steps that can perfectly make or break a product’s sustainable character. Look for plant-based paints.

Transportation, garment finishing, and disposal are other elements to check upon.


Additionally, certifications like Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Bluesign, and Oeko-Tex can provide assurance of sustainable practices within the brand’s production process.


Let us raise an awareness around more sustainable textile alternatives together and complete this list by leaving a comment, mentioning new and innovative materials.


At Locally Crafted Australia, we support those businesses that are making efforts in producing more sustainably and reduce the footprint of our consumption.


Locally Crafted Australia — Your Sustainable Choice.

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