Since, they are made from natural fibres, it makes sense that natural fabrics would be sustainable. One great thing about natural fabrics is that because of the natural fibres, they are completely biodegradable. Unfortunately, farming practices and production methods are often much less environmentally friendly.
Some natural fabrics are more sustainable than others. Silk, for example, is considered to be one of the more sustainable options since it doesn’t need toxic pesticides or herbicides o grow. However, it does require specific temperatures for the optimum yield and maintaining the ideal temperature can be energy intensive, leaving a large carbon footprint.
Like silk, many natural fabrics are sustainable in some ways but aren’t perfect. The most sustainable natural fabric option is probably organic cotton while the least sustainable natural fabric would be regular cotton.
Standard cotton has been termed the world’s dirtiest crop, even worse than artificial fabrics made form plastic. It requires huge amounts of toxic pesticides than contaminate local water systems and damage human health. Additionally, it is incredibly water intensive and puts a huge strain on local water systems.
Organic cotton on the other hand, is the most sustainable choice of natural fabric as it doesn’t use toxic pesticides and is grown in ways to benefit the land and local ecosystems. Although, organic cotton does still require a lot of water.
To increase sustainability, it’s important for more natural fabrics to be grown and certified organic. The organic process is the key and organic linens, hemps and other natural fibres will become more sustainable.
Artificial materials are overall unsustainable and bad for the environment. They are mostly sourced from plastics in long, energy intensive processes. Additionally, plastics come from the finite source of crude oil which is non-replenishable.
Although not technically considered a natural fabric, one of the most sustainable fabric options is the semi-synthetic Tencel™. It is made from regenerated cellulose fibres from wood pulp. The trees sourced for the wood pulp are fast-growing and don’t need the application of toxic pesticides.
The process is also closed loop so any chemicals that any chemicals that are used, can be reused and aren’t introduced to the local environment.