sustainable fabrics guide

7 Sustainable Fabrics You Need in Your Wardrobe this Summer

Our list covers ethical alternatives to polyester & sustainable fabrics to invest in this summer

By Sanjoli Arora

Summer is here and with it, the promise of warmer weather, longer days and the opportunity to wear our favourite breezy fabrics. As you go through your wardrobe cleaning, you may want to throw out some of your clothes that have seen better days. Or maybe you’re just looking for a new outfit for those summer weddings on your calendar. Either way now is the perfect time to evaluate how we use fabric in our everyday lives and plan accordingly.

Your fabric choice has a great impact on dictating your carbon footprint and hence the health of the planet. While polyester seems to be the top choice with fabrics (the majority of our clothes are made with polyester fabric), it is not great for the planet. Polyester and planet are not friends. Its components gravely harm the environment by polluting air, water, and plant life during its production, use and disposal.

But polyester is not your only bet. There are several sustainable fabrics and ethical alternatives to polyester available in the market today. You might think that sustainable materials are expensive or hard to find but there are plenty of brands and designers who are making fabric sustainability an important part of their business model.

What are Sustainable Fabrics?

Sustainable fabrics are those fabrics that have been produced in an environmentally friendly way. This can take many forms—it could be made from recycled materials or grown sustainably. This would mean that extra care is taken in the production process to ensure organic cultivation, chemical-free production, and fair wages to workers. A sustainable fabric is one where the environmental impact was accounted for and the production process has very low harm to the planet.

With so many options out there it may seem overwhelming to know where to start when shopping for clothes that are good for you and the planet, but the beauty of sustainable fabrics is that they are good for both you and the planet.

Yes, sustainable fabrics may be costlier than fast fashion items but that is only because they include the environmental costs that fast fashion brands ignore. It is in part because of this ignorance of fast fashion brands that we face an environmental crisis.

Our list covers 7 sustainable fabrics that you should slowly switch to. They are not just good for the environment but also good for you and definitely summer-wear essentials.

1. Hemp

Hemp fabric is a type of textile that is made using fibres from the stalks of the Cannabis sativa plant. It is a durable and sustainable textile made of fibres of a very high-yielding crop. Growing and processing of hemp fibre do not involve the use of pesticides and other chemicals. This makes hemp fibre a natural and environmentally friendly product.

When it is processed into fabric, hemp has a similar texture to cotton. But it also feels somewhat like canvas. The material is better for the environment than cotton, which requires huge amounts of water to grow. The fabric is also eco-friendly because it can be grown in soil with poor fertility and low moisture levels.

Hemp does not crease easily, so it is great for people who do not like ironing their clothes. It also doesn’t catch a stain and is very easy to clean. In addition, hemp is a lightweight fabric and is highly breathable, so it is ideal for hot climates and summer weather.

It is easy to dye this type of fabric, and it is highly resistant to mould, mildew, and potentially harmful microbes. Hemp fabric softens with each washing, and its fibres don’t degrade even after dozens of washings. 

2. Bamboo

“Bamboo Fabric” refers to a variety of textiles created from the bamboo plant. It may be created in a variety of methods. High-quality bamboo cloth is produced using non-cellulose extraction methods. Instead, a natural enzyme is applied to crushed bamboo wood fibres, which are then cleaned and spun into yarn.

This process of producing bamboo fabric is not detrimental to the environment, and the finished cloth is sturdy and long-lasting. However, most varieties of bamboo fabric are not produced using this mechanical technique. To guarantee that you are purchasing high-quality bamboo fabric, confirm that it is produced using a mechanical rather than a chemical approach.

Bamboo is incredibly easy to plant; it develops rapidly and may thrive in regions where other crops cannot. Thus, in principle, the environmental effect of bamboo cultivation is rather little. Although it is up to individual bamboo growers to guarantee that their harvest is gathered in a sustainable manner.

The fabric is highly breathable, and it is also stretchier than cotton. It is highly seat absorbent making it ideal for summers. It is also antibacterial and does not cause allergic reactions. Bamboo is one of the softest fabrics on the planet you’ll love the way it feels.

3. Lyocell or Tencel

Lyocell (or Tencel) is a semi-synthetic fabric that is widely used as a cotton or silk alternative. This fabric is a type of rayon made mostly of cellulose obtained from wood and other plant material.

Lyocell is far better for the environment than other cellulose textiles. While the manufacturing process for Tencel is similar to that of rayon and other cellulose fabrics, if done correctly, it does not introduce any pollutants into the environment.

Lyocell manufacturing uses a “closed-loop” extraction technique. This implies that the same batch of amine oxide is used to extract numerous batches of Tencel. In comparison, the production of viscose rayon includes a number of distinct chemical processes that do not use a closed-loop system. As a result, these chemicals are eventually released into the environment as contaminated water.

It’s commonly used in clothing, especially sportswear and lingerie. Lyocell is soft, luxurious, and has a high lustre that makes it look like silk. In addition to its appeal as a fabric, lyocell is biodegradable and recyclable. Thus, you can feel good about wearing clothes made from this sustainable resource.

4. Khadi

Khadi is one of India’s most popular fabrics which has historical and philosophical significance in the country. It was presented by Mahatma Gandhi, the nation’s father. He founded the Swadeshi movement to promote khadi cloth and help India become self-sufficient and independent.

Khadi is currently one of the solutions to the world’s current environmental crisis. Many individuals are becoming more inclined to use this eco-friendly and long-lasting fabric. Khadi is hand-spun and handwoven fabric using a spinning wheel called a charkha. As it is handwoven, it reduces energy and natural resource usage. The machinery used in khadi production is simple, which reduces the setup cost.

There are three different types of khadi fabrics – Khadi Cotton, Khadi Silk, and Khadi Wool. For the summer months, we suggest you opt for Khadi cotton or muslin. Khadi cotton is a light, breathable, and dry fabric.

Khadi fabric does not irritate the skin or stick to the skin. Therefore, it is suitable for sensitive skin. It keeps the body cool in summer as it allows air ventilation. It can absorb moisture and sweat, making it the perfect choice for summers.

5. Banana Fibre

Banana fibre production entails time-consuming methods of cultivation, fibre extraction, fibre processing, and sorting. This produces a tough but fine and lustrous fibre, which when woven produces a supple yet adaptable textile.

Abaca (banana) fibre is low impact, has low (mechanical) energy, and requires no chemicals to cultivate or process. It is typically woven in local communities on electric-free looms. The tree has a low transportation impact because it is grown locally.

Unlike cotton, which must be tilled to re-fertilize the soil, abaca plants will regrow in the same location. The plants don’t require any additional land, water, or fertilisers to flourish, and they’ll even develop roots long enough to hold the earth in place, preventing landslides.

Banana textiles have a low environmental impact due to their low water and energy consumption. It also does not use chemicals in growth or fibre production. Banana fibre is a natural fibre that is biodegradable, making it a great alternative to polyester. The fibres are soft and comfortable on your skin making it a summer essential!

6. Organic Cotton

Organic cotton is defined as cotton grown naturally from non-genetically modified plants without the use of synthetic agricultural chemicals such as fertilisers or pesticides. Its manufacture is intended to promote and improve biodiversity and biological cycles.

High levels of agrochemicals are used in the production of non-organic, conventional cotton. Cotton production uses more chemicals per unit area than any other crop and accounts in total for 16% of the world’s pesticides. The effects of this overuse of chemicals on the environment and human health are alarming.

Organic farming practices replenish and preserve soil fertility, limit the use of hazardous and persistent herbicides and fertilisers, and promote biological diversity. Third­party certification bodies ensure that organic farmers employ only organically permitted procedures and materials. Organic cotton is grown without the use of pesticides that are hazardous and persistent, as well as synthetic fertilisers.

While cotton is a summer favourite, it is not a planet favourite. So instead look for organic cotton to get the same benefits as regular cotton but with a better environmental approach.

7. Soy Fabric

Soy fabric, often known as “vegetable cashmere,” has the softness of silk and is one of the world’s most eco-friendly materials. This fascinating textile, made from soy protein obtained from soybean hulls, takes a waste product and converts it into a useable textile with minimal usage of hazardous chemicals and limited processing.

Soy fabric has a complicated and diversified environmental impact. Soy fabric appears to be one of the most environmentally friendly fabrics because it is made from a waste resource. The manufacture of soy cloth diverts waste from the landfill and gives it a new use. However, converting soy protein into fabric frequently necessitates the use of hazardous chemicals. However, soy fabric makers who do not utilise alkali or formaldehyde produce one of the most environmentally friendly materials ever created.

Because of its chemical composition, soy cloth has distinct qualities. This material, for example, is UV-resistant and extremely antibacterial. Soy cloth looks like silk because of its light-reflective properties, and it is also exceedingly soft and lightweight.

Soy fabric has a great drape and is quite elastic. While this fabric dyes well, colours may bleed over the first few washes. Soy cloth does not wrinkle or shrink, despite being somewhat prone to pilling. It is bio-degradable and a perfect sustainable fabric for summers.

It’s important to keep these fabrics in mind when shopping for clothes this summer. As the planet warms, you’ll find yourself sweating more than usual, but with these sustainable fabrics, you’ll be able to stay cool and comfortable.

Sanjoli is currently working as a Content Strategist and has a Master’s degree in Fashion Journalism. She has contributed to publications like MensXPMindless Mag and Sustain: The Mag in the past. Conscious Charcha is her way of learning more about sustainability and spreading the word about a sustainable lifestyle.

FAQs about Sustainable Fabrics

1. What are Sustainable Fabrics?

Sustainable fabrics are those fabrics that have been produced in an environmentally friendly way. This can take many forms—it could be made from recycled materials or grown sustainably. This would mean that extra care is taken in the production process to ensure organic cultivation, chemical-free production, and fair wages to workers.

2. How to tell if a fabric is sustainable?

Certifications are a good way to know if a fabric is sustainable. It is good practice to ask questions- how was the fabric made, who made it, where is it made, and what is the production process like? This will help give an idea of the environmental impact.

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