When it comes to understanding sustainable fashion and incorporating it into your life, sometimes it’s best to go back to the very basics: what clothing is made of.
The realization of the fashion industry’s harmful effects on both people and the planet is what ignited the sustainable fashion movement. There are many impacts you’ll want to know about that involve the materials used to make our clothes. For one, there’s a lot of contamination happening. In many of the countries where garments are made, water from the factories is often left untreated, flowing into water systems that connect directly to local rivers and waterways. Wastewater contains toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and arsenic, among others. This not only causes issues for wildlife in the area but also can wind up in people’s drinking water. One of the main culprits of this toxicity is fertilizer, which is used to grow conventional cotton. Deep diving into the debate around cotton use could be an entirely different reading in and of itself. We’ve decided to focus on the positive for now—in other words, those innovative, sustainable textiles that are being introduced in the fashion world.
Check out this list we’ve compiled of textiles that are trailblazing for a cleaner and more ethical fashion industry.
1. Cotton alternatives that won’t harm the planet: hemp, lotus, and nettles. Let’s start with hemp, one of the most popular alternatives. This plant is fast-growing and requires very little water and no herbicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or GMO seeds. It even improves soil health by replenishing vital nutrients and preventing erosion. Similar to hemp, lotus and stinging nettle fibers also require much less water and pesticides to grow. These fibers are also extremely lightweight, making for a very breathable garment.
2. Leathers that fight for animal rights: apples, pineapples, and mushrooms. Leather is a very messy business. Its production process involves the use of harmful chemicals and kills more than a billion animals a year. It’s no surprise that sustainable fashion companies have turned to vegan alternatives. These materials have not one but two superpowers. Not only are they vegan, but they are helping combat food waste as well. Leftover apple waste from juice production and pineapple waste as a by-product of pineapple harvesting can both be repurposed to make leather. Piñatex, which is produced from the pineapple by-product, is remarkably similar to leather. Mushrooms have also long been used as a leather alternative, and today designers are turning to it again as an organic, gluten-free, and chemical-free leather. It also has highly absorbing, antibacterial, and antiseptic properties that are light and have an insulating effect. So many advantages!
3. Breakfast staples that moonlight as great textile fibers: coffee and bananas. Can you believe that coffee grounds can be spun into yarn? This thread can be used to create a natural, anti-odor material. Banana fiber is another material making a comeback in the fashion industry. It’s used in multiple other products, ranging from tea bags to car tires to saris and Japanese yen notes. Strong and durable, banana fiber makes for a sturdy fabric that can eventually be dyed or woven.
Alternative materials in the fashion industry can be fun, ethical, and sustainable. They offer a fresh perspective to design and another way to shop consciously. Whether you are a buyer or seller, everyone should be taking these recommended materials to heart. To shop sustainably, it’s not as easy as simply finding the right material, but it’s a great place to start.
For more ideas on how to shop sustainably, read our tips and tricks here.