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A Guide To Eco-Friendly Fabrics: The Future Of Sustainable Fashion


At Filling Good, we give anything to help reduce plastic waste, even the clothes off our backs. Quite literally, too - unless they’re polyester.


Here’s why.


Polyester is a synthetic fibre made from fossil fuels. Since its invention in the 1940s, it’s rapidly gained popularity thanks to being cheap and versatile. It’s currently the most used fibre globally, after overtaking cotton in 2002.


Since then, the consumption of synthetic fibres has skyrocketed. In 2020, polyester made up 52 per cent of fibres produced globally. It’s no coincidence the rise in fast fashion has followed a similar trend.


Increasingly cheap materials and labour have made it easy for fast fashion businesses to churn out endless items to fit the latest trend cycles. Since the poor-quality items don't have longevity in mind, they often end up in landfills or choke up waterways.


Thankfully, natural fibres are coming to the rescue. Hurrah!


The next time you go shopping, check the label. Opt for natural, organic fibres like cotton, hemp, linen and bamboo. They're better for the environment and your body!


How? Read on to find out.



Organic Cotton


When it comes to cotton, organic really is better (check out our blog on organic vs. non-organic for more info). This simple fabric has stood the test of time for many reasons. It’s versatile, durable and breathable.


While conventional cotton production can be heavy on pesticide and water use, organic cotton is much more environmentally friendly. Organic cotton farming takes a holistic approach to avoid contaminating waterways and soil degradation.


By focusing on replenishing soil health, using less water and eliminating pesticides, organic cotton farmers help improve biodiversity. This is crucial for supporting all life on earth.


And, that’s not all. Organic farming is better for the workers, too. Those involved in the production process don’t need to worry about coming into contact with harmful chemicals since none are used. Plus, many organic cotton farmers are part of cooperatives. Profits are shared, and farming practices are collectively decided, often leading to fairer wages and safer working conditions.


Cotton is also great for wearers. Thanks to its breathability, cotton is ideal for all seasons, keeping you cool in the summer and insulated in the winter. Plus, as a natural fibre, cotton is 100% compostable. Untreated, it can break down in 6 months but requires a bit longer if blended or treated.



Hemp


Hemp is an ancient fibre material once used by countless civilisations for clothing, bedding, rope, sails and home textiles. It’s only fallen out of fashion in our modern society due to its unfortunate connection with marijuana.


Both hemp and marijuana come from the same cannabis sativa plant. And, while one is an illegal substance in the UK, the other is a versatile and durable textile. The only high you’ll get from hemp is high praise for wearing a sustainable fabric!


While producing hemp is labour-intensive, its environmental impact is minimal. The high-yielding crop requires less water than cotton and no pesticides. Hemp grows quickly. It naturally resists many insects. And, it has a deep root system which helps reduce soil erosion.


Hemp is harvested by hand, removing the need for fuel-hungry machinery to do the job. Once harvested, the stalks are exposed to moisture and bacteria to break down the pectin that binds the natural plant fibre rather than chemicals.


And, the coolest thing about hemp crops? They’re carbon-negative. Hemp crops absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than they release in a process called carbon sequestration. The crops draw in CO2 and store it in the fibres. An impressive 1.62 tons of CO2 is removed from the air for every ton of hemp produced.


What about wearing hemp? Isn’t it scratchy?


Not at all. The fibres soften with wearing and washing. Hemp clothing becomes more comfortable over time. If you look after it, an item made from hemp can last you 20 to 30 years. Better for the planet and your wallet.



Linen


Think of linen as hemp’s cousin. It’s equally as ancient (Egyptians used it to wrap their mummies), versatile and environmentally friendly. Linen comes from the inner stalk fibres of the flax plant. Yes, the same flaxseeds you can buy unpackaged in the shop.


In its natural untreated state (not dyed), linen is one of the most biodegradable textiles. It’s strong, naturally moth-resistant and quick-drying. And, don’t think that means you must suffer a bland wardrobe - far from it. Natural linen comes in ivory, ecru, tan and grey.


As a crop, flax is pretty resilient. It grows well in poor soil. It uses less water than non-organic cotton. Plus, every part of the flax plant is useful, so nothing is wasted. As well as producing linen, common by-products of flax are linseed oil and flaxseeds.


Turning flax fibres into linen is labour and time-intensive. The plant has to go through nine stages - from sowing the seeds to spinning the yarn. It’s why linen often comes with a higher price tag. So, it’s always good to check for second-hand options for a deal!


So long as you wash it properly (cool and gentle cycles) and leave it to air dry, good quality linen should last a decade. When it reaches the end of its life, like all natural fibres, it is fully compostable (providing it’s not chemically dyed).



Bamboo


In sustainability circles, bamboo is the material du jour. From cutlery to furniture and from toothbrushes to socks. We’re seeing it everywhere.


Bamboo is an easy crop to sustain and maintain. Technically a grass, it grows fast and without fertilisers. It also doesn’t need replanting since it self-generates from its own roots. Pretty cool, right?


However, not all textiles made from bamboo are created equal. It’s worth taking note to make the most sustainable decision for you. While bamboo doesn’t require chemicals to grow, turning the raw material into a supple fabric can.


From bamboo, you can make bamboo linen or bamboo rayon. The former is a labour-intensive method of combing out the fibres to spin into thread. The latter chemically dissolves the cellulose material to create a pulpy viscose substance, which is spun into fibres.


This second highly chemical process produces the soft bamboo rayon often used in underwear, bedding and clothing. The chemical cocktail used in this process releases harmful fumes into the environment. About 50% of hazardous waste from rayon production (including the bamboo variety) cannot be recaptured and reused.


But, all is not lost!


A similar fibre called lyocell (aka TENCEL™ Lyocell) uses a closed-loop process to recapture and reuse 99% of the chemical solution. While often made from sustainably farmed eucalyptus trees, the same process is used to create a bamboo lyocell textile.


And, it’s this very fabric that Boody uses to make its soft, sustainable underwear and t-shirts - which we sell at Filling Good. As a company, Boody is not only opting for a sustainable fabric, but they are also committed to mitigating waste in the manufacturing process through clever design. They also only work with Fair Trade-certified factories, making their items beneficial for people and the planet.


 

We’ve mentioned four of the most popular sustainable fabrics, but the truth is, there are many many more! Sustainably-minded innovators are constantly discovering new ways to make leather from apples or mycelium. Vegan silk from cotton. Or dying textiles with bacteria.


It’s exciting to see the textile world developing eco-friendly alternatives for the future. And, in the meantime, we can stick with the natural fibres we know and love!

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