You see a really cute shirt, you check the price of said cute shirt, you buy the cute shirt.
That’s usually how we shop.
Are we missing a step?
No, we’re not talking about the step where we go look at 700 other alternatives before buying the first thing we saw.
Insert Step: Check what material the clothing is made of.
But, why? Does it matter what fabrics and materials our clothes are made of?
Should we bother checking before hitting the Cart button?
Yes, and yes.
It only takes a second, but it is SO important.
Now, we know everyone doesn’t have the time and energy to do a deep dive into which fabrics are good and which ones aren’t. & with all the information out there it’s hard to make sense of it all anyway.
So, we’ve done the work for you!
For those of you who don’t like reading, scroll to the bottom for an easy-peasy table!
Polyester = Plastic = Death Machines
First things first, let’s eradicate Polyester please.
“Plastic is SO last season.”, as heard at the Milan Fashion Week. Probably.
Its production uses enough fossil fuels to power a small country.
It is non-biodegradable and destroys the planet.
It is a major cause of microplastic pollution that is killing our marine life.
It’s everywhere when it really doesn’t need to be!
Spandex/elastane, georgette (sometimes) and chiffon are also polyester-based. So, check the product description for all these words and Delete from Cart please!
What’s more? Though widely promoted for athletic and athleisure outfits, polyester is actually very non-breathable and has terrible wicking properties, i.e., it doesn’t absorb moisture! Which is why even though your clothes dry up quickly after a workout, you’re constantly dripping and drowning in your sweat during it! That has its advantages, but the benefits don’t outweigh the risks of plastic.
Recycled Polyester Because Polyester Won’t Degrade
Recycled polyester is usually made of either recycled PET bottles OR recycled polyester clothing that we are done with. Also, theoretically, it can be recycled again and again and again.
So, is it a permanent solution to our plastic problems?
Washing polyester clothing releases tiny microplastics/microfibres that are too small for water filtration systems and thus, eventually they reach our rivers and oceans. Definitely not ideal. Neither for us, nor for our marine life.
It is, to some extent, a temporary solution though. How, you ask?
- Recycled polyester is essentially increasing the lifespan of plastic, before it eventually pollutes our land and seas. If 100% of PET-bottles could be recycled into bottles endlessly – that would be an ideal solution. Or you know, not producing and buying PET-bottles in the first place.
Cotton Is Thirsty AF
Cotton is a natural fibre, cotton is biodegradable. All good?
We really dislike this assumption that everything “natural” is great for the planet and for us.
Firstly, with the amount of water, land and pesticides/fertilizers being used to grow cotton intensively, in maaassive amounts, to meet our ever-increasing need for it – there is nothing natural about cotton anymore.
Our t-shirts should not be drinking more water than our entire neighbourhood and they sure as hell shouldn’t be polluting our water.
Also, remember Eutrophication? Yeah, we don’t either.
But basically, the pesticides/fertilizers enter the ocean, use up the oxygen in the water, create Dead Zones and kill all our marine life.
Except jellyfish. You can read more on why jellyfish thrive in dead zones here.
This destruction needs to be tackled.
& the next fabric in the list shows how!
Organic Cotton Won Gold At The Farmer’s Choice Awards
Organic fabrics sound like a white soccer mom fad, but there’s a reason it’s advocated for so much by environmentalists.
It has all the good aspects of cotton clothes – biodegradable, soft, breathable, and negates all the bad of regular cotton – less water, fewer pesticides and fertilizers.
Another huge advantage is that, since it isn’t intensively grown like regular cotton, but with non-GMO seeds & with natural farming techniques – the soil isn’t destroyed by continual depletion of nutrients, erosion and overuse of fertilizers/pesticides.
The soil remains healthy and fertile because it’s being used how it’s meant to be.
Land where cotton is intensively grown (rather than organically grown) starts becoming barren – requiring more chemicals to grow plants on it – making it more barren – A Vicious Cycle! One that may not affect us, but definitely affects cotton farmers.
Also, buying organic fabrics forces you to buy more mindfully because it isn’t cheap throwaway stuff – and THAT in this world of overconsumption and over-pollution is a BIG WIN! We’ve got to remember ladies and gentlemen - even biodegradable materials cause pollution. And uses up resources.
WTF Is Rayon?
Rayon is such a misunderstood fabric. For starters, Rayon isn’t exactly ONE fabric. Because it doesn’t have ONE source.
Rayon is obtained from natural sources.
Wood, plants, paper, etc. are sourced, the cellulose in them run through a bunch of chemicals (Viscose Processing as it’s called) and turned into soft and pliable Rayon clothing fibre.
The wood can be from various types of trees - including bamboo. Which is why ‘bamboo fabric’ we see everywhere is usually bamboo viscose, not the actual eco-friendly mechanically made bamboo fabric. Some countries have laws preventing this misrepresentation - India does not.
The plants can be cotton, hemp, linen, etc. So again, if you see cotton, hemp or linen written there - Don’t be fooled! - make sure it isn’t really viscose. There’s much better ways to make hemp and linen clothing than via viscose processing.
Viscose processing of the cellulose can be done in an eco-friendly manner or in an eco-not-so-friendly manner.
Firstly, the sourcing. If you’re obtaining these natural raw materials aka cellulose by logging down vast swathes of beautiful biodiverse old-growth forests – that’s a problem. Which is what almost all Rayon is manufactured from. Rainforests are being mercilessly torn down for Rayon.
Secondly, the chemicals. Toxic chemicals like Carbon Disulphide (CS2), Sulphuric Acid (H2SO4), other Sulphates, Zinc and so on used in the viscose processing of the wood, literally kill people.
Not the people wearing it, no, but the garment factory workers. And the people who drink water from the rivers into which all these chemicals are dumped into.
Parkinson’s, other neurological diseases, heart disease and more have been caused by these chemicals. And of course, most of it is in countries like India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, South American countries, African countries – poorer countries with crappy labour laws. Or richer countries with crappy labour laws like China.
Our closets should not be responsible for disease and death. Absolutely not.
If you see just Rayon written, or bamboo/hemp/linen viscose - give it a miss.
Tencel, Livaeco, Modal - Co-Living Taken To Another Level
This processing of wood to fabric can be done in an eco-friendly manner as it is done with Lenzing Tencel, Livaeco and Lenzing Modal.
Sourcing the wood from sustainably managed forests is an important, important factor.
Sustainable forest management involves using nature’s resources in a controlled manner – in terms of the amount, the collection techniques, regeneration of the forests and so on.
This benefits the forest, the indigenous people living in it, and also sources biodegradable raw materials for clothing.
Sustainable Forest Management protects these ancient old-growth forests, and utilizes wood from parts of the remaining forest without logging down large areas of trees in their entirety, and by ensuring the local people living there are employed and benefitted.
Lenzing Tencel, Lenzing Modal, Birla Modal and Birla Livaeco are sourced from FSC-certified sustainable forests.
We come from nature and thus, cannot live without using natural resources – but we must do it sustainably. And minimally. Without destroying our planet. And its people.
As for the chemicals – Tencel replaces the toxic chemicals with non-toxic ones (NMMO) and Livaeco and Modal use the toxic chemicals in a 90% closed loop manner such that they don’t harm anybody.
So, if you don’t see Lenzing Tencel, Lenzing Modal, Birla Excel, Birla Modal or Livaeco written in the product description – delete from Cart!
Now Tencel is Lenzing’s brand name for lyocell. Generic lyocell and generic modal are not likely to be sourced from sustainable forests, and generic modal’s chemicals are likely to not be used in a closed loop manner – so don’t be fooled!
Transparency in the supply-chain is EVERYTHING!
Linen - Classier Than The Queen
According to the European Confederation of Linen and Hemp - flax respects the environment and preserves the land. Sounds great, right? It is.
Linen is obtained from the stem of the flax plant. Flax can grow on arid land, uses a lot less water than cotton, retains a considerable amount of CO2 and uses little energy & chemicals to process from plant to fabric.
Linen is also super strong so your clothes will last you a long, long time. It also goes without saying that linen is recyclable, vegan and 100% biodegradable.
From a fashion perspective as well – linen checks all the boxes. Linen dyes well, looks crisp and sophisticated, and feels great on our skin, all while having good wicking properties as well.
The only drawback with linen is that it tends to be kind of expensive. This is because it takes longer to grow, is more laborious to process, and is mainly cultivated in the cooler climates of Western Europe, where production costs are higher.
But considering how good it looks & how long it's going to last you – it’s totally worth it.
Hemp - Cannabis Has Other Uses You Guys
The most unnecessarily controversial plant ever.
Hemp does not contain THC, but what it does have is a fabulous reputation amongst eco-friendly fabrics.
Looks and is textured like linen, it is also obtained from the stem of the plant. Aaaand,
- It requires less land for cultivation.
- It doesn’t usually require pesticides or fertilizers.
- It requires 50% of the water cotton does to grow, and 25% the water cotton does to process into fabric.
- It does not strip the soil of its nutrients leaving it barren – in fact it returns 60-70% of the nutrients back to it.
- It is a good CO2 sink.
Fabulous, isn’t it?
However, due to all the controversy surrounding it – hemp fabric isn’t easily grown or manufactured in India – which we think is a right old shame.
Now, while hemp and linen are great fabrics, it is once again important to ensure that they aren’t being viscose processed into hemp viscose and linen viscose, respectively. And if they Are, is it being done in a closed loop manner (aka are the toxic chemicals being recycled rather than released into the water and air)? If this information isn’t available, we’d say give it a miss.
To ensure you are getting organic hemp clothing not grown intensively (read harmfully) or being cultivated by destroying forest lands, see where they’re being sourced from.
Don’t let them big bad companies fool you, you guys.
Denim - America’s Sweetheart
Denim is deplorable.
Made from cotton, a thirsty AF crop - the amount of water required to grow cotton required to make a pair of jeans is 1800 gallons. 1800 gallons = 6814 litres of water.
Further, it takes approximately another 1500 litres/jeans for fabric processing.
Close to 8000 litres of water for a pair of jeans. & that’s not even including the water required for dyeing.
And everyone wears jeans now. We keep buying jeans endlessly. No wonder a large proportion of the world faces water shortages.
& that’s just about its effect on water resources.
Jeans are supposed to be made from 100% cotton. But now, they’re very often mixed with polyester aka plastic. We already know why plastic is a problem.
And then - the dreaded chemicals.
Indigo, used to dye jeans, causes aniline poisoning in factory workers. Jeans are sandblasted causing silicosis and lung cancer. Bleaching and fading jeans cause pollution with hypochlorites and potassium permanganate. Distressed jeans, acid-washed jeans, stone-washed jeans and the various types of jeans use even more toxic substances to make.
Xintang, China is considered the denim capital of the world. And so, its waterways are polluted with dangerous levels of lead, copper, and cadmium and with a pH as high as ammonia. Their Pearl River has literally turned an Indigo colour and is causing disease throughout the city.
And not to forget the pesticides and fertilizers used to grow the cotton.
These chemicals cause every imaginable ailment in factory workers and people living near denim factories and the waterways polluted by them.
There have been numerous advances in technology to try reducing the impact of denim on our planet and its people, but for the most part - we don’t know where our jeans are coming from or what technology is being used or how many people are being diseased by them. And this ethical denim is a tiny proportion of all the denim being produced.
I’m not a big fan of thrifted or upcycled denim either. While a small percentage of denim is being thrifted, other denim manufacturers can continue producing large quantities of horrible denim guilt-free.
Moreover, we’re still propagating a harmful fashion trend. Denim does not have to be a staple in our wardrobes - pants come in many fabrics!
& if it absolutely must be worn - 100% recycled denim or denim made from organic cotton is the way forward. For instance, initiatives like Puma’s Mud Jeans that are avoiding the production of new denim - however, this program is not available in India just yet. However, both recycled and organic denim have a long way to go before being widely available. Denim alternatives are truly the best solution.
Bamboo - Mankind’s Latest Obsession
Bamboo trees mature rapidly, aka they can be harvested frequently and so do not require large amounts of land to keep up their supply. They also require less resources to grow than does cotton.
Pretty great, right?
But, to get them to be soft and pliable fabrics - companies often resort to viscose processing of bamboo wood. We’ve already spoken about that so you know what it is.
And since most bamboo found in clothing nowadays is viscose processed without any traceability in terms of sourcing and chemicals - we’d say give it a miss unless you’re sure of its source & processing!
Leather - For Those Who Like Wearing Skin On Their Skin
If You Absolutely Must