An overview: what fabrics are sustainable?

Cotton, wool, linen, polyester or the innovative fabrics: if you like sustainable fashion purchase, it is useful to know that your clothing was made. Sustainable fabrics are both fair and ecologically produced, last a long time and pollute the environment, even after production. How do you know which textiles what is sustainable? We will help you on your way.

Textiles © istock

The history of a garment is quite complex. Also varies the story for different types of materials. So was textile of a natural raw material, such as cotton plants, first grown by farmers for use in the textile industry ended up.

There is a lot to be said for natural materials, but the cultivation of plants also opens the door for exploitation of farmers, the mismeesteren of the land on which the plant grows, and dramatic water waste.

Cotton © istock

1. Natural fibers are derived from cellulose fibres from plants and trees. When there is no complex chemical processes are necessary to the plants with fibrous structure, to processing, to textiles, we speak of natural fibers. Linen, jute, hemp, flax and nettle are textile bast fibres, cotton is a zaadvezel and fibres that originate from the ananasplant and the agaveplant are leaf fibres.

Fleece © istock

2. Synthetic fibers, such as polyester, are not naturally present on earth. There are chemical processes needed to the raw material petroleum processing to textiles. There are polymers – molecules that consist of long chains – are synthesized from smaller molecules. The origin of synthetic fibres is petroleum, a non-renewable resource.

Viscose © istock

3. There are also a regenerated natural polymers. That are synthetic fibres with origin plants and trees. The difference with natural fibres is that these artificial fibers are derived from natural raw materials that are additional steps necessary to be a textile fibre. Examples of this type of fibre are acetate, sojavezels, lyocell and rayon. They are semi-synthetic substances. Currently, they make about six percent of the textile market.

Wool © istock

4. A fourth type of material where fashion items are made of is is of animal origin. These include leather, wool, silk, fur and down. They are natural products, but that is not to say that the environmental impact is negligible. In addition, suffering of the animals where these materials come very often. Vegans strive to avoid animal materials.

Pineapple © istock

5. Innovations: There is also experimented with the clothes of soy, milk, seaweed, corn, cow manure, citrus peel, banana, pineapple, coconut, fungi, coffee and tea. Textiles made of these raw materials can be sustainable if the organic way is grown, in an environmentally responsible and ethical manner is substance, and does not compete with the food industry.

If they are using eco-friendly processes to incorporate to dust, would these innovations be the future of fashion may mean. A second condition is that they do not compete with cultivation of food and a third is that they are not biologically break down while you the clothes or accessories yet. There are still challenges to overcome, but who does not dare does not win.

Front & disadvantages

All materials have their own advantages and disadvantages. It is not easy to create a scoreboard of textiles as consumers have different expectations of the clothes they buy. However, there are some things you can look out while shopping. Some of the materials consume large quantities of water and energy in the production process, other discharge toxic substances into rivers or filling the plastic soup.

We go by category after which textiles the least impact on the environment, the least to contribute to human or animal suffering, and the best to withstand the ravages of time.


  • The best performing materials score A: organic hemp, recycled cotton, recycled wool, organic linen, mechanically recycled nylon, mechanically recycled polyester.
  • The best performing materials score B: organic cotton, Tencel (Lenzing Lyocell product), Monocel (bamboo Lyocell product), chemically recycled nylon, chemically recycled polyester, CRAiLAR flax fiber.
  • What should you remember? Of course, it is not automatically better, choose organic or recycled materials if possible, and ask yourself whether a garment is difficult to maintain.
  • Look at the labels (click here for an explanation about the most famous labels)

To know more about fair textile? Ghent Fairtrade has an interesting brochure on this subject.

Shopping today is more complex than ever. What do all those labels in your clothing or on food products, and are they reliable? Why would you refrain from cheap chains like a lot of expensive brands just as well in shady sweatshops produce? Do you actually know what’s on your plate, or what you smear on your skin? Is bio better, or are you going for organic, and what is the difference? Who knows what is best for you and how you should navigate in a forest full of ominous messages and well-intentioned advice? We are convinced that everybody had better wìl consume, but that we simply do not know how. Discover our guide to conscious consuming.

Aware Consume

  • Textiles under the microscope: animal materials
  • Textiles under the microscope: semi-synthetic substances
  • Textiles under the microscope: natural fibers
  • Textiles under the microscope: synthetics
  • An overview: what fabrics are sustainable?
  • Read all articles about Conscious Consuming

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.

Most popular