Eco-Friendly Fabrics - Fashion School Experts Examine the
Pros and Cons of the Top Green Fabrics  
by Lily McCallister
fabric good - or bad - for the environment.

Organic cotton. Organically-grown cotton is produced without pesticides or artificial
fertilizers. This sustainable farming practice not only results in cotton that is free of
chemical pesticides, it creates a healthier workplace for farm workers. But just
because a garment is made from organic cotton doesn't mean it's completely
eco-friendly. If it's been dyed, see if it was done with low-impact dyes that are better
for the environment. Better yet, look for organic cotton in shades that it's naturally
grown in, like cream and light brown.

Bamboo. Bamboo is currently the superstar of eco-friendly fabrics, and on the
surface, it appears to have everything going for it. More like a grass than a tree,
bamboo grows rapidly, and after it's cut, regenerates itself. And bamboo fabric feels
as soft as cashmere. But the way it gets that soft is primarily through extensive
chemical processing; in fact, the chemicals have been linked to health problems like
headaches and nerve damage. And the news gets worse. As bamboo becomes more
popular, environmentalists expect over-harvesting that will impact wildlife, as well as
the clearing of forests to grow additional bamboo.

Wool. While some clothing manufacturers consider wool sustainable because it's a
renewable resource, it's not a pretty picture for the sheep. They are subjected to
toxic pesticides and handled roughly by handlers who, during the shearing process,
slice off more than just wool. Wool that has been certified organic, however, comes
from sheep that have been treated ethically and humanely.

Silk. Silk is a natural fabric that is renewable and biodegradable, so that's a few check
marks in the sustainability column. But silk is usually produced in China, India, or
other Far East countries where where U.S. fair labor practices aren't in place, and
then transported across oceans to reach us - not great for fuel consumption. And
then there's the little matter of the moths that are boiled alive after they've finished
spinning the silk. For a more humane choice, look for vegan, or "peace" silk, in which
the moths are allowed to live.

Linen. True linen is considered eco-friendly because it's made from flax, which isn't
usually farmed with pesticides. But as with organic cotton, linen is better for you and
the environment when it's in a natural shade, or dyed with low impact tints. Our
fashion school experts also caution us to be wary of "faux linen," which is actually
just conventional cotton that's textured to look like linen.

Hemp. Hemp is considered one of the good guys because it requires no pesticides or
herbicides and requires no irrigation. It even improves the soil wherever it's grown. It
also has strong, naturally long fibers that can be spun with minimal processing.
However, hemp is not well regulated, so there is little monitoring of chemicals that
growers may or may not have used. You just have to take their word for it.

Recycled polyester. An increasingly popular textile marketed as eco-friendly is
polyester that is recycled to make new polyester. Basically, it's used clothing that's
been shredded and processed to produce new fabric. How eco-friendly it really is
depends on one's perspective. On one hand, it's polyester, which is not a natural
fiber, so that's a minus. But it's saving old clothing from being dumped in landfills, so
that's a plus. But it's processed with chemicals, so that's a minus again. Yet it takes
less processing than if the fabric was made from scratch, so that's another plus.

PET recycled fabric. It sounds like a miracle: polyester fabric made from recycled
water bottles. What a great use for all those millions of plastic water bottles we
throw away every day. Just be aware again of the toxic chemicals and processing
necessary to turn that bottle into a fleece jacket.

Tencel. Another man-made fiber, Tencel is made from wood pulp from managed
forests. Because it's made from wood, Tencel is biodegradable. It's produced using
less energy and water than conventional fabrics, and processed with a non-toxic
chemical that is continually recycled. The resulting fabric is breathable, with a hand
that can feel like suede or silk. Just be sure to check the label to make sure that the
Tencel was made from sustainable wood.

As you can see, sifting through all the organic and eco-friendly claims can be
confusing. But while there probably is no one "perfect" sustainable fabric, at least
environmental efforts in the textile and fashion design industries are heading in the
right direction. We just need to be educated, and learn to distinguish truth from hype.


About The Author

Lily McCallister

If you are interested in the newest developments in textiles, a career in textile or
might be for you. Visit FIDM - of Design &
Merchandising for more info.
It wasn't long ago that clothing made
with eco-friendly fabrics brought up
images of treehuggers in burlap. But
with ever-growing demand for
clothing made from sustainable
fabrics, more top designers are
embracing the environmental trend.
So which fabrics are truly
eco-friendly? So many manufacturers
are jumping on the bandwagon,
we've asked a panel of fashion school
experts to guide us through the
choices. The fact is, even if a garment
is marketed as eco-friendly, the label
doesn't necessarily tell you
everything about what makes the
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