Our Fiber Ranking
We created our own fiber ranking, using, inter alia, MADE-BY Fibres Environmental Benchmark, Textile Exchange Preferred Fiber Market Report and other studies on the environmental impact of each fibers. Here we have only considered the fiber production and not the dyeing and finishing.
We divided fibers in 2 categories:
THE FIBERS WE LIKE
The FIBERS WE LIKE are “eco-friendly” fibers, which means that their production process has a low impact on the environment and meet at least half of the below criteria:
RECYCLED FIBERS made with waste material
NATURAL FIBERS with low eco-impact
FIBERS USUALLY DIRTY porduced in sustainable way
SEMI-SYNTHETIC with low eco-impact
THE FIBERS WE AVOID
The FIBERS WE AVOID have one or several notably negative environmental impact of the below criteria. We consider those impacts serious enough to try to discard these fibers from our wardrobe:
Linen is a natural fiber from the flax plant. It uses considerably fewer resources than cotton or polyester (including water, energy, pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers).
Flax can grow in poor soils which are not used for food production. In some cases it can even rehabilitate polluted soils. Flax plants have also a high rate of carbon absorption.
For these reasons, we consider linen to be a sustainable material, even when it is not organically grown.
Hemp fabric comes from the plant with the same name. It is one of the fastest growing plants and it doesn't need much water, energy, pesticide or fertilizers. The plant is very good for the soils, it can be grown for many years in the same place without exhausting the soil. This is why hemp is considered to be eco-friendly.
Hemp has very similar property to linen. They are actually often difficult to differentiate.
However, as hemp belongs to the same family as cannabis (although it does not have the same psychoactive effects), hemp growing is heavily regulated or prohibited in many countries.
Ramie / Stinging Nettle
Ramie and Stinging nettle or European nettle are plants used to produced fiber similar to linen. They are not very common but they are considered sustainable. Learn more...
Alpaca fiber comes from the fleece of the animal bearing the same name. Alpacas are mainly bred in the Peruvian Andes. Alpacas are much more eco-friendly than cashmere goats, because they cut the grass they eat instead of pulling it, which allow the grass to keep on growing. Also, Alpacas have soft padding under their feet, which is more gentle for the soil than the goat's or sheep's hooves.
They need very little water and food to survive and produce enough wool for 4 or 5 sweaters per year when a goat needs 4 years to produce just one cashmere sweater.
Finally buying alpaca supports indigenous communities in Peru who often live under the poverty line.
Silk is a protein fibre spun by silkworms which is a renewable resource. Silk is also biodegradable. For those reasons we consider silk a sustainable fiber. However chemicals are used to produce conventional silk, so we will always consider organic silk as a better option.
Because the conventional silk production kills the silkworm, animal rights advocates would prefer “Peace Silk”, Tussah, Ahimsa silks which allow the moth to evacuate the cocoon before it is boiled to produce silk.
It has the same quality as conventional cotton but without negative impact on the environment. Organic cotton addresses most of the environmental challenges involved in conventional cotton production.
It is grown from non-GMO seeds and without the use of pesticide, insecticide or fertilizer. Unlike conventional cotton, organic farmers are using ancestral farming methods, including crop-rotation, mixed farming or no-till farming to preserve soils. Organic cotton uses up to 71% less water than conventional cotton according to some sources.
Organic cotton farmers are not exposed to harmful substances.
Several organizations have established certification for organic cotton such as GOTS, USDA-NOP, Organic Content Standards, IVN and Naturland. Certification is the only proof that a product is truly organic.
Conventional wool is far from being as eco-friendly as we would expect. However, there are some Sustainable Wool options on the market which make it possible for us to dress warmly and sustainably.
So far we have found the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), which ensures that farms use best practices to protect the land, and treat the animal decently.
Certified organic wool guarantees that pesticide and parasiticides are not used either on the pastureland or on the sheep and that good cultural and management practices of livestock are used. Certified organic wool is still pretty rare on the market. GOTS seems to be the only organization certifying organic wool.
As we can see in the related section, conventional cashmere has very negative consequences on the environment.
The good news is that there are some few sustainable cashmere options addressing those environmental problematics which give us the possibilty to buy cashmere without feeling bad about it:
Bamboo is a very sustainable plants: it grows fast, easily, and it doesn’t require fertilizer, pesticide, or replanting. No GMO are normally used. Bamboo improves the soil quality, helps to rebuild eroded soil and prevents soil erosion. Bamboo plantations also reduce greenhouse gases. Bamboo clothes are 100% biodegradable.
The main environmental issue with bamboo fiber, as mention is the relative section is the process to transform the plant into textile, which normally involves harmful chemicals.
However, manufacturers such as Monocel® have developed a process which doesn’t involve any chemical additives and recycles the solution and the water involved in the process.
There is also a “mechanical” process to make bamboo clothing, often called bamboo linen. The process doesn’t involve chemicals and it is 100% eco-friendly. However the world production of bamboo linen is very limited because of its cost.
Leather will never be an animal friendly product: it is made of dead animal skin. However, the skin used to make leather comes from animals raised for their meat. In that sense it uses a byproduct from another industry so it doesn’t really need additional land and resources.
Conventional leather is heavily criticized for the environmental impact of the tanning process. But leather can also be eco-friendly. There are not many options in the market yet, but they do exist, such as Ecolife™ by Green Hides which provide an eco-friendly chrome-free leather, from Italian tanneries that recycle and purify wastewaters.
Lyocell is a manufacturing process of rayon which is much more eco-friendly than its relatives Modal and Viscose. Lyocell is made in a closed-loop system that recycles almost all of the chemicals used. “Lyocell” is the generic name of the manufacturing process and fiber. Tencel® is the brand name of the lyocell commercialized by the company Lenzing AG. Tencel® is made from eucalyptus from PEFC certified forests. Eucalyptus trees grow quickly without the use of pesticides, fertilizers or irrigation.
Just like rayon and viscose, lyocell is 100% biodegradable.
Ioncell-F is another rayon developed by Aalto University in Finland, similar to Lyocell but considered even more sustainable.
Orange Fiber is an innovative fabric made from orange skins that comes from the juice industry’s wastes. Learn more…
Pineapple Fiber (Piñatex)
Piñatex is a fiber that comes from pineapple leaves. It is considered sustainable because it uses the by-products of pineapple harvests, so there is no need of extra resources to produce it. It is used as a substitute for leather. Learn more…
Refibra™ is a fiber produced with the lyocell process and using cotton leftover from the textile industry. It is considered sustainable as it is a fiber made from wastes.
Crailar is a very sustainable fiber made from the flax plant (like linen) and uses an environmental friendly process. Crailar is softer than linen, it has similar properties to cotton.