Guide to Sustainable Fabrics: Future of Eco-friendly Fashion

by | Sep 11, 2023 | Fashion, Green Impact

The fashion industry contributes 10% of global emissions, exceeding even emissions generated by aviation and maritime traffic.

It has been calculated that each European citizen, on average, throws away around 11kg of clothing every year, the majority of which ends up incinerated or in landfill, with only 1% actually being recycled.

Polyester takes over 200 years to degrade in nature and that process is not complete.

This material is one of the main causes of microplastics in the oceans, both during the production phase and during domestic washing.

To improve the current situation, we have tried to identify new textile materials that are more ecological, ethical and cruelty free.

The following fibers are a sustainable choice for those looking for responsible fabrics from an environmental, animal and above all healthy point of view.

  • Flax :
    Flax is produced from the plant of the same name, which requires very few resources to grow. Even better, obviously, if it is organically grown flax  It should also be underlined that flax also grows in poorly fertile soil, and that it can absorb a lot of carbon dioxide.
  • Jute: 
    another fabric of plant origin and jute, a poor but decidedly sustainable material. As with linen and hemp, the textile material comes from the stem of the plant, which can reach 4 meters and absorb a lot of CO2.
  • Organic Cotton :
    Cotton can be grown organically, without the use of pesticides or chemicals.
  • Organic hemp: 
    Hemp, of the cannabis family but without any psychogenic capacity, has been cultivated for centuries for the manufacture of fabrics. It requires less water than cotton, does not require pesticides and does not deplete the soil.
  • Wool and cashmere: 
    of animal and non-vegetable origin, wool and cashmere can be produced sustainably and  ethically .
  • Rubber:
    it is a natural rubber extracted from the latex of some plants called Rubber Trees and is considered the oldest type of rubber in the world. It is traditionally processed through a mechanical process called Vulcanization and is environmentally friendly. Over the years, it has been replaced by petroleum-based synthetic rubbers due to high costs and long production times. However, some companies still use it to mainly produce shoe soles and other items. It is important to note that rubber is a completely natural, non-synthetic material, and is sometimes mistakenly confused as such. It has also been incorporated into natural textile fibers, although it is not a true textile fiber.

Next-gen materials

  • Econyl :
    recycled polyester from an Italian company, Aquafil, which produces nylon yarns starting from the collection and processing of various types of synthetic waste, from fishing nets to recycled plastic, to arrive at various types of waste material.
  • Lyocell or Tencel:
    is an eco-sustainable fabric made mainly from wood. It is known for its complete biodegradability and rapid degradation. This fabric was developed in the 1980s and is now widely used in the eco-friendly fashion industry. Its production is considered sustainable thanks to a “closed loop” process that avoids harmful by-products, requires little water and energy and is fast. However, true sustainability depends on the responsible management of the forests from which the wood comes.
  • Kapok:
    Kapok is a natural textile fiber extracted from the “Ceiba pentandra” plant. This fiber is light, insulating and eco-sustainable. The Mayan culture considered it sacred, they believed that the souls of the dead climbed this plant to reach the sky. The main characteristics of kapok include its light weight, ability to float, luster and the fact that it does not require the use of fertilizers or pesticides in cultivation. It is also used in the textile and clothing sector.
  • “Ecovero” viscose:
    it is a specific variant of viscose, a semi-synthetic fiber derived from vegetable cellulose. However, compared to traditional viscose, it has a lower ecological footprint.
  • Banana :
    “Bananatex” is a resistant, waterproof and compostable fabric obtained from Abacá banana plants, developed by QWSTION, a Swiss brand. The Bananatex fabric was made open source to encourage other brands to use it. Production takes place in Europe and China, in a small family-run factory with ethical standards.
  • Beer:
    “Beer Dress” produced by  Nanolloose. An alternative to cotton the cellulose fibers used to create the fabric are obtained through  fermentation  and can be produced on an industrial scale without the huge environmental costs of cotton. The system would also allow the creation of seamless clothing
  • Bamboo: 
    is a plant that can be transformed into fabrics and clothing. However, the manufacturing process involves chemicals, so bamboo fiber is considered artificial, not natural like cotton or wool. Bamboo is sustainable as it grows quickly without pesticides, is biodegradable and does not require replanting after harvesting. Bamboo fiber is breathable, hypoallergenic, resistant to UV rays and keeps clothes fresh.
  • Coffee :
    here is a fabric invented a few years ago, starting from coffee waste for sportswear. A Finnish startup, for example, manages to make a pair of sneakers from the waste of 12 cups of coffee.
  • Spider web:
    “Qmonos” this fabric was launched in Japan, starting from the combination of microbes and genes present in spider webs. The resulting silk is totally biodegradable, extremely light and ultra-resistant.
  • Rayon or Modal :
    “wood silk” is a semi-synthetic fiber similar to lyocell. In this case, however, we start from the beech pulp. Even in this case, as elsewhere, however, it is necessary to check the supply chain to ensure that we are dealing with truly  sustainable modal .
  • Soy :
    the waste from its processing is used to be transformed into biodegradable textile fiber whose characteristics are: light but resistant and elastic, breathable and antibacterial. The extraordinary softness of this material makes it comparable to “vegetable cashmere”. There is a sore point, the soy extraction process is chemically complex, in some ways similar to that from which rayon is obtained.
  • Lotus flowers: 
    Lotus fibre, extracted from leaves and seeds, comes from Asia and is biodegradable; it is possible to create naturally waterproof, soft and smooth fabrics, suitable for underwear and sportswear.
  • Calotropis Plant :
    “WEGANOOL” is a plant-based, chemical-free fabric made from calotropis fibers mixed with organic cotton by the Indian company FABORG. It is known as “vegan wool” as it is lightweight, thermoregulating and soft thanks to calotropis fibers that are finer than cashmere.
  • Citrus: Artificial cellulose
    is   obtained from squeezed citrus pulp. Thanks to  nanotechnology , experts are now able to convert cellulose into yarn. In Italy, citrus peels are discarded every year and their correct disposal costs a lot of money.
  • Oranges :
    Orange fiber , owned by Enrica Arena, is an Italian company that produces sustainable fabrics from citrus fruits. Founded in Catania in 2014, Orange Fiber has created a new sustainable way of designing high-quality materials.
  • Nettle:
    it is similar to the finest silks; it is even better than silk because, thanks to its structure, it is more breathable. Growing nettle fiber is less harmful to the environment than growing cotton, because the plants require less water and pesticides.
  • Rose :
    Rose fiber is a viscose extracted from rose petals, remarkably soft, shiny, absorbent and breathable, similar to silk. It stands out for its excellent dyeability, producing brilliant colours. This fiber allows you to create fabrics that are ideal for sensitive skin, including that of children, and is a natural, sustainable and biodegradable choice.
  • Seaweed:
    SeaCell™ fibers are produced using seaweed sustainably harvested from Icelandic fjords and processed in Austria. The algae are harvested sustainably, keeping their beneficial properties intact, and integrated into a natural cellulose fiber through a patented process. These fibers are biodegradable and compostable and offer benefits for the skin thanks to the nutrients of the algae, promoting cell regeneration and reducing skin inflammation.
  • Milk :
    Origami Organics , a young start up that has created  a yarn made from casein, a milk protein. some advantages are: hypoallergenic, antibacterial, protects from UV rays and biodegradable.
  • Crabs :
    Crabyon is a Japanese textile fiber created by Omikenshi. It is produced by grinding crustacean shells, mixing them with solvent-free cellulose. This fiber is antibacterial, antimicrobial, hemostatic, biodegradable, hypoallergenic, ecological and biocompatible. It maintains these properties over time, absorbs humidity and prevents skin dehydration

Vegetable skins

  • Apple Skin :
    “AppleSkin” A vegan leather made using waste from apple production, such as peels and cores. It is an eco-friendly option as it recovers previously unused materials from the food industry.
  • Corn and potato leather :
    Parblex plastic is a bioplastic , an artificial fiber obtained from natural raw materials, such as corn and potatoes, rather than from petroleum products. It is partly biodegradable and can be used for bags, shoes, fashion accessories and sustainable packaging.
  • Cactus Leather :
    “Dessert” A vegan leather derived from the mature leaves of the prickly pear (cactus). It is ecological because it contains up to 90% vegetable and organic raw materials, and is partially biodegradable and recyclable.
  • Mango Leather :
    “Fruitleather” A vegan leather obtained from the residues of mango juice production. It does not use toxic solvents during production and is 100% biodegradable.
  • Wooden Leather :
    “Ligneah” A vegan leather made from thin sheets of wood from certified forests. It does not use toxic substances during production.
  • Coconut Leather :
    “Malai” A vegan leather made from coconut water discarded by the food industry. It is made without the use of harmful chemicals.
  • Pineapple Leather :
    “Piñatex” A vegan leather made from pineapple leaves. It is considered environmentally friendly and socially responsible as it uses waste from pineapple production and creates local jobs.
  • Wheat Leather :
    “Renew” A vegan leather obtained from the inedible parts of wheat. The production is solvent free and does not use harmful chemicals.
  • Cork Leather :
    A natural fiber extracted from cork oak. It is sustainable as oak trees thrive without chemical treatments, and it is biodegradable and recyclable.
  • Grape Leather:
     Vegea” A vegan leather made using waste from wine processing, such as grape stems, skins and seeds. It is sustainable as it recovers tons of waste from the wine industry.
  • Mushroom Leather:
     Muskin” A vegan leather derived from the Phellinus Ellipsoideus mushroom. It is ecological because the mushrooms grow naturally and the production does not use harmful chemicals.
  • Mycelium Leather:
    “Mylo” An alternative to leather of animal origin obtained from the mycelium of mushrooms including Reishi . It is grown in vertical gardens without the use of toxic solvents.
  • Leather from Minerals and Plants:
    “Mirum” is a no-plastic alternative to leather and is produced from different materials that include coconut husk fiber, cork powder, rice husk, soybeans and is supported by organic cotton. According to the US company, the material can be infinitely recycled and is therefore completely circular.
  • In Vitro Leather:
    VitroLabs lab-made leather is produced using very few animal cells, replicating the look and feel of traditional leather.

Recycled fabrics

Among the most used recycled fabrics in fashion we have:

  • Recycled cotton
  • Recycled wool
  • Recycled cashmere
  • Recycled Polyester (rPET)
  • Recycled polyethylene

Some uses of these recycled fabrics:

  • Circulose
    The Circulose material from Swedish Renewcell is produced using only discarded clothing. Through the use of renewable energy, the cotton in the clothing is extracted and dissolved into wood pulp, before being transformed into a type of viscose. H&M was the first brand to launch a product made with Circulose in 2020, while Levi’s used this fabric earlier this year for its iconic 501 jeans.
  • NuCycl
    Also made from 100% recycled clothing, American Evrnu’s NuCycl material is made primarily from post-consumer cotton waste. This completely recyclable fabric has already been used by Stella McCartney in 2019 for its Infinite Hoodie, created in partnership with Adidas. 

Negative carbon footprint materials

Examples of advanced and eco-sustainable fabrics:

  • The Breath
    The fabric that captures pollution and purifies the air
  • AirCarbon – A
    Newlight Technologies’ AirCarbon material is carbon negative, meaning it absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere. This alternative to leather is created by replicating a process that occurs in nature: marine organisms are in fact able to convert methane and carbon dioxide into a biodegradable molecule. Last year, the company announced a partnership with Nike.
  • LanzaTech – The dress made of CO2
    Another company to have developed a carbon-capturing material is LanzaTech , which converts CO2 emissions from steel mills into a form of ethanol, then transformed into a polyester yarn. Zara launched its first clothing items made with this technology this year (they were produced with 20% carbon emissions, the rest in polyester). In 2021, Lululemon also partnered with LanzaTech.


The fashion industry is facing a crucial challenge in reducing its environmental impact and helping to fight global emissions. Alarming statistics regarding emissions, uncontrolled disposal of clothing and the persistence of synthetic materials such as polyester in our ecosystems highlight the urgent need to adopt more sustainable textile materials.

Fortunately, there are numerous eco-friendly, cruelty-free alternatives and innovative materials that offer additional options for sustainable clothing and fabrics.

Additionally, vegetable leather and recycled fabrics are gaining traction in the fashion industry, allowing consumers to make more responsible choices. There are also carbon-negative materials, such as The Breath and AirCarbon, which have the potential to actively contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions.

In a world where sustainability has become a priority, it is vital that consumers, brands and manufacturers work together to embrace these alternatives and drive the industry in a greener and more ethical direction. Fashion can and must become an ally in the fight against climate change and the preservation of the environment, and the choice of sustainable materials is a fundamental step towards this goal.

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