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What are sustainable fabrics?

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

Sustainability is certainly coming to the forefront of the fashion industry and consumers are starting to take an interest into where their clothes are made and what they’re made of. The ‘what are my clothes made of’ was a big topic this year with Fashion Revolution Week. But what actually makes a sustainable fabric? Here we discuss the different types of sustainable fabrics, how they’re made and what makes them sustainable.

Sustainable fabrics usually originate from natural or recycled materials which aim to have a low impact on the environment, whether that’s through the production process or the actual fiber properties. A low environmental impact could be low water or energy needed during production, from renewable resources, no GMO or chemical controls used, biodegradable or made from waste.

Sustainable Fabrics Glossary

Organic Cotton

Perhaps one of the most natural fibers, organic cotton certainly gets the sustainability badge. Grown without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, it originates from non-genetically modified plants. This makes it not only better for the environment, but safer for the workers health as well, since no toxic chemicals are used in the process.

organic cotton plant - sustainable fabric

There are several certifications for organic cotton including: GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), OCS (Organic Cotton Standard) and OEKO-TEX 100. This assures the customer that the cotton you’ve used is in fact organic cotton.


Linen is one of the world’s oldest fabrics. It’s a great natural and biodegradable fabric (when not dyed) that is made from flax plant fibers which is grown without the use of pesticides or fertilizers. The great thing about the flax plant is that all of it can be used (seeds, oil and crop) so there’s no waste at all!

linen - sustainable fabric

Linen comes in natural colours, including ecru, off-white, tan and grey. Often used for summer clothing it is light, breathable and thermo-regulating.


ECONYL is regenerated nylon made from recycled fish nets, plastic bottles and other discarded materials especially found in the ocean. It is 100% sustainable as it is made from pre and post-consumer waste which is repurposed into new products. Plus, it has the same features in terms of performance and qualities as virgin Nylon so it’s really a win-win! There’s less water, energy and fossil fuel consumption involved during the process.

fishing nets on beach - ECONYL

Find out more about the process of turning waste into wear by clicking here.

Recycled Polyester

Recycled polyester can also be known as rPET and is made from recycled single-use plastics, including plastic bags and bottles. Existing plastic is melted down and re-spun into a new polyester fiber. This prevents plastic being sent to landfill and provides a second life to materials that are not biodegradable.

single use plastic bottle on beach - recycled polyester

It has almost the same qualities as virgin polyester but requires 59% less energy during production. For example, 5 2l fizzy pop bottles can make enough fiber for an XL t-shirt.


Reclaimed/deadstock fabric is leftover or excess fabric from textile mills or garment factories that would have been sent to landfill as they have no use to them anymore. This could be because they ordered too much, it wasn’t the right fabric, they changed their mind or even the fabric was dyed the wrong colour.

deadstock fabric - sustainability

Whilst the fabric may not have been originally made sustainably, it has been prevented from being sent to landfill and repurposed into a new product so is now sustainable in terms of reducing waste and lowering the carbon footprint.


Bamboo is a fast growing crop that requires no pesticides or fertilizers and even self-regenerates from it’s own roots meaning it doesn’t need to be replanted. Bamboo absorbs CO2 and releases over 30% more oxygen than some trees. However, it can’t be said that bamboo is totally sustainable as it depends on how the fabric is processed; sometimes it is processed with chemicals.

bamboo plant - sustainable fabric

That said, bamboo has some great material qualities, including moisture wicking, naturally anti-bacterial, breathable, thermo-regulating and UV protection.

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