Sustainable Fabric is a touchy subject. You can’t go to a store and look at a label and see that the garment was made with 100% sustainable material. It’s frankly too much to ask of a product because there is simply no way to judge if a fabric is sustainable or not. Instead, I am going to break down the different types of sustainable fabrics, what each of them actually does, what to look out for, and how sustainable it is.
1. Organic Cotton
Organic cotton is a prime sustainable fabric. Virtually anything that is organic is better for the environment. However, even though true organic cotton is a good eco-affordable fabric, it is not always ethical, or eco, therefore not always sustainable. A product needs to consider a lot of different factors in order for it to be considered sustainable. Just because it says it’s organic cotton doesn’t mean that’s the whole story. As I explain in my sustainable business list, companies may focus more on eco or ethical sides of things but not the other. Clearly, there has to be a lot more factors in play instead of it just being organic. however, true organic cotton is pretty sustainable as a whole.
2. Recycled Polyester
Recycled polyester is my personal favorite sustainable fabric because of its versatility and renewability. I started Bottle Thread on the premise that we can turn recycled bottles into a wrinkle-free fabric, and I still stand by that decision. I would prefer to have the products made by an even more renewable, plant-based material. Though, we have all these plastic bottles and nothing to do with them otherwise. Making comfortable fashion is a pretty good use, and I’m pretty satisfied with my clothing line so far.
Hemp is going to be the next big thing for fashion, and global production as a whole. I haven’t gotten too big into hemp yet because I’m still very focused on recycled polyester, but it’s on the list. I’ll probably end up writing a whole article on Hemp in the next couple months. Until then, just know that it is a pretty sustainable and versatile fabric as a whole and will be a lot more widely used in the future.
Fabric made out of Bamboo has a lot of sustainable vibes, but just like organic cotton, it may not be always sustainable. Bamboo grows very fast, but we cannot guarantee the working conditions in which it was made, nor the transportation costs in which it traveled to be produced. For this reason, bamboo can be a very sustainable fabric, but not by default.
Vegan fabric to me feels like saying the fabric is gluten free. Some people are vegan for sustainability reasons. Others are vegan out of empathy for animal cruelty, or diet, or a whole bunch of other things. You know what fabric is vegan? Virtually anything and everything from fast fashion. Vegan simply means “no animals,” and that is a very broad category when it comes to fabric. Therefore, I shouldn’t even have to say that vegan isn’t always sustainable. Though if you’re still into vegan fashion, awesome.
6. Made in the USA
Made in the USA, or domestically made if you live in another country, is sometimes touted as a sustainable fabric… but again, it isn’t always. Like I said about vegan fabric, made in the USA is a broad category, and clearly is not always sustainable. Also, things being made overseas isn’t inherently bad, I wanted to point that out. There are people who prefer USA made fabric to help motivate the local economy. Trading overseas can be just as sustainable, ethical, and even more affordable than domestic based products. The only really good thing about domestically made fabric is that it cuts down on the carbon footprint.
7. Fair Trade
Fair trade fashion is pretty noble of a cause, but alas it is not inherently sustainable. When we talk about fair trade, it falls on the ethical side of sustainability, not inherently eco-friendly or affordable. I wrote another whole article on this. Fair trade is most of the time made overseas to help real people in struggling economies. There is a whole certification process to be considered a truly fair trade product. That being said, the transportation emissions and affordability factor may not make fair trade sustainable by nature.
8. Small Scale
When I was going through my list of sustainable fashion companies, I came across this one brand called “A Wool Story.” It was by far the most sustainable brand out of all of them. I don’t even think it was their goal. From what I gathered, A Wool Story is a New York Based Brand that turns eco fabrics into ethical hand-made clothing at a pretty affordable rate. Every single company on this list has something that they do better than the others, but I couldn’t pin it on this brand. It surpassed the requirements for each of them, and I couldn’t think of any problems until I thought of scalability.
See, this is something I didn’t take into account of the economic side of sustainability for this list. I was basing it off the affordability for customers, and I haven’t thought of a “sustainable business plan.” In order to be a sustainable business and not a non-profit, there needs to be profit and scalability. It must be difficult for the person making these clothes because they are probably not paying themselves the full price that they deserve for the product, which in turns makes it less ethical.
Overall, there needs to be a scalability that matches the rest of the sustainability within a company to make it sustainable. No company is perfect. Each does really well in one regard while lacking in another, and that’s okay. Sustainability is not about perfection, it’s about balancing and leading to a brighter future.
But all that aside, I put together a list of sustainable businesses that meet or exceed at least one of these categories. You can download it for free by checking out the button link below.
Sustainable Fabric in Sustainable Fashion Companies
You can be into eco fashion more so than ethical fashion or vice versa. Finding the right brand is hard. I put together a full list on sustainable clothing companies in a spreadsheet. This is a free and ever-growing resource if you want to check it out.