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Bamboo itself can be a highly sustainable crop, if grown under the right conditions. However, most bamboo fabrics on the market are a form of rayon where the manufacturing process is highly intensive and involves many harmful chemicals.
The majority of products labelled as “bamboo” are actually rayon, involve intensive chemical emissions, and likely without the same beneficial properties as the unprocessed bamboo plant. Bamboo fabric is much less costly to produce than cotton (and avoids the extensive use of pesticides in non-organic cotton production), and production is not as chemically intensive as polyester, but bamboo fabric is sadly not the perfect answer to all our ethical clothing conundrums: in fact European NGO Made-By rates bamboo viscose on a par with conventional cotton at the bottom of its A to E rating scale. As the LA Times has said in the past, bamboo “has largely been discredited as an [eco-friendly] alternative source.”
Bamboo has advantages over cotton when it comes to its sustainable farming potential. But there’s a lot of work done to develop and make widely available cost-effective and environmentally sustainable ways of creating the soft and silky bamboo fabrics that we’re dreaming of.
Cashmere is a natural fabric, meaning its biodegradable, which is better than most synthetic fabrics, but we now know the environmental and social impacts it can have. So, our recommendation is to buy recycled or reused cashmere.
Cotton requires a lot of water but is mostly grown in arid conditions. This means that large amounts of water are used to grow cotton every year. This “virtual water” needs to be considered when you purchase your cotton products. According to studies, it can take more than 2,700 litres of water to produce enough cotton for just one t-shirt.
Another recycled fabric we really like is Econyl. This fibre, created by Italian firm Aquafil, uses synthetic waste such as industrial plastic, waste fabric, and fishing nets from the ocean, then recycles and regenerates them into a new nylon yarn that is exactly the same quality as nylon.
This regeneration system forms a closed-loop, uses less water, and creates less waste than traditional nylon production methods. Waste is collected, then cleaned and shredded, depolymerised to extract nylon, polymerised, transformed into yarn, and then re-commercialised into textile products. Econyl is a promising fibre, far more sustainable than nylon, yet traditional washing of Econyl can still shed plastic Microparticles that can end up in the ocean.
FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council. When you buy a product made from FSC Certified Wood, it is your guarantee that for each tree used, a new tree is planted. Brands like Mater, We Do Wood and Skagerak all use FSC Certified Wood for their products.
It seems like hemp is everywhere at the moment. Marijuana’s ‘sober cousin’ is extremely versatile: it’s used as a food, a building material, in cosmetics, and it has been cultivated and used for hundreds of years as a fabric.
The great thing about hemp is that it’s grown all around the world and it requires very little water, no pesticides, and naturally fertilises the soil it grows in – making it much better for the environment than other crops.
One of the oldest fibres in the world, hemp helps keep you warm in winter and cool in summer, and gets softer the more you wash it. For all these reasons, we also consider hemp one of the most sustainable fabrics out there.
Linen is one of the most biodegradable and stylish fabrics in fashion history. It is strong, naturally moth resistant, and made from flax plant fibres, so when untreated (i.e. not dyed) it is fully biodegradable. Its natural colours include ivory, ecru, tan, and grey.
Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus. When used correctly, the biodegradable fungal material can be used for anything from lamps to furniture to even wall panels. For a sneak peak into how you can use Mycelium, check out London’s zero-waste restaurant Silo where the material has been used for lamps, tables and seating poufs in the lounge area.
Recycled plastic is a welcome alternative to traditional plastic which has become one of our world’s biggest waste problems. Fortunately, quite a few manufacturers have successfully been able to transform recycled plastic into new material or products. But make sure to go for the ones that are both recycled AND recyclable like e.g. the Delta stools featured here so that we reach a circular product and make sure that we can continue to use the material again and again.
Tencel is lyocell and modal fibers produced from wood and manufactured by the German pioneer, Lenzing. The Tencel fibers can be used in combination with a wide range of textile fibers.
For more on tencel see Lenzing’s own description here.