Sustainable Textiles 101
All the fabrics you need to try
Resonance works with North American and European brands that are innovating with fabrics to work toward a more sustainable fashion future. That means that when you read the materials labels on the garments we sell, you may see words you don't recognize. This blog post is designed to help.
What are sustainable fabrics?
Sustainability of fashion has many aspects. When you're buying new clothing, one of the most important aspects is the composition of the garments you buy. When you choose clothes made of sustainable fabrics, you reduce the carbon impacts of fashion and increase the biodiversity of our planet.
Sustainable fabrics are often made from natural or recycled materials. They’re designed to reduce harm to the environment through less harmful production processes and better biodegradability.
More options become available every day
This article will describe some of the common fabrics available in the fashion industry today. We’ll (eventually) cover the natural fibres you should look for – including organic cotton, organic linen and responsible wool. We’ll also describe some of the innovative synthetic fabrics that are increasingly common in the clothes we sell at Resonance.
There are honestly so many sustainable fabrics out there! So this is not intended to be an exhaustive list — at least not yet. We’ll be adding to this article regularly throughout 2022, focusing on the sustainable fabrics you’ll frequently find in our store. And as new fabrics enter our collections in future years, we’ll add them to the list.
Garments are more than just raw materials
The subject of sustainable fabrics is actually a bit complicated. It’s not as easy as saying: Wool good, acrylic bad. And that’s why this article is so needed.
Some synthetic fabrics are made from recycled materials — such as plastic water bottles that would otherwise go to landfill. Others are made from plant-based fibres such as bamboo or eucalyptus.
It all sounds very zen, but even granola-sounding fabrics can be made in irresponsible ways. Does your blouse contain viscose derived from wood sourced in a responsibly managed forest? Or does it contain viscose derived from wood sourced in an endangered forest? There’s a big difference.
As a retailer working with global brands, we’ve educated ourselves on the nuances of what sustainable really means in the fashion industry. And we are continually adding to our knowledge. We’re not experts, but we aim to pass on what we’ve learned so that you can tune in to the details when you’re ready. Together, we can make a difference.
Here goes! This list is in alphabetical order to make it easy to use as a reference.
Bamboo is a naturally fast-growing crop that regenerates itself and therefore doesn't need to be replanted. It also requires very little water in comparison to other fibre crops such as cotton, and can grow well without the use of pesticides.
But while bamboo does have promising qualities as a sustainable fabric, the energy used to manufacture the fabric is less efficient and environmental than some other fabrics.
Unfortunately, with bamboo, there isn't always information about how or where the fabric was produced, and whether the process was ecologically sound. Most bamboo fabric comes from China, and supply chain transparency is not always available.
Still, bamboo is a step up, sustainability-wise, from both non-organic cotton and traditional polyester. So it has a place in the industry right now.
As well, bamboo fabrics stay odour-free for a long time because of their superior breathability. That means they offer longevity in a lasting fashion wardrobe, which gives bamboo sustainability points.
Lenzing Ecovero is a brand name that refers to a viscose fabric made by Lenzing, an Austrian textile manufacturer. The company's branded version of viscose, a wood pulp-based fabric, is called EcoVero.
Lenzing is a leader in the sustainable fabrics business. The brand voluntarily allows its processes to be audited, and a third party ensures that its materials are drawn from responsibly managed forests.
This transparency makes this brand’s fabrics the gold standard in the industry at the moment. It’s why many clothing brands list Lenzing Ecovero on their labels, rather than something more generic.
In addition, Lenzing recovers and reuses almost all of the chemicals used in the production of EcoVero. That means the fabric causes less emissions and uses half the energy and water of other viscose fabrics.
Lyocell is a type of cellulose fabric that can be made from a variety of plant and wood fibres. These fibres can be harvested from natural forests and sustainably managed forests, or not.
Lyocell is often used for shirts and jackets, and is sometimes indistinguishable from cotton. It's a more sustainable substitute for non-organic cotton.
Modal is a cellulose fibre that can be made from a variety of plant or wood fibres.
These fibres can be harvested from natural forests and sustainably managed forests, or not. And modal fabrics can be made in closed loop manufacturing systems, or not. This is why brands that offer supply chain transparency of their modal production methods are preferred.
When compared to other pulp-based fabrics, modal tends to be the one used for stretchy, super-soft items like leggings and tanks, whereas lyocell tends to be a bit stiffer and it's used for shirts and blouses.
Textiles that contain organic cotton are more sustainable than those containing regular cotton because pesticides and other harmful chemicals are not introduced into the environment during the growth cycle of organic cotton.
This is important because cotton production is responsible for a whopping 16 per cent of the world’s pesticide use. Pesticides can leak into the soil and stream systems near the croplands, thereby reducing biodiversity.
Beyond avoiding harmful chemicals, organic cotton farmers are also more likely to depend on rain, rather than irrigation. This significantly reduces their water consumption.
And because organic cotton is more regulated than non-organic cotton, producers are more likely to undergo audits that ensure producers create a healthy environment for workers.
NEW! Organic Linen
Made of flax fibres, linen is considered the strongest of all fabrics, including cotton. That means your linen pieces will last longer than any other items in your wardrobe, which gives it sustainability cred.
Not only that, flax can grow in poor soil without fertilizers, so the production of linen is more environmentally friendly than for other fibres.
When you add the fact that organic flax farmers do not use pesticides in their production methods, protecting biodiversity, organic linen looks like an incredible choice for a sustainable capsule wardrobe.
NEW! Tencel Lyocell
Tencel is a trademark owned by Lenzing. The Austrian textile company is known for thorough supply chain transparency, which allows retailers and consumers to see the origins of the wood fibres Lenzing uses in the production of its fabrics. This transparency makes it a world leader in the cellulose fibre industry.
Because Tencel Lyocell is made by a company that is offers transparency, made clothing labels indicate that they've used Tencel Lyocell rather than generic lyocell.
Generic lyocell may be made from a variety of wood fibres, but Tencel Lyocell is made from eucalyptus fibres from natural forests and sustainably managed tree farms. Eucalyptus is fast-growing, regenerative, and requires little water and no use of pesticides to cultivate.
Chemicals are used in the process of making Tencel Lyocell, but the production is a closed-loop process, which means that the chemicals are recovered and reused, thereby eliminating potentially toxic waste from being released into the environment.
Lyocell is often used for shirts and jackets, and is sometimes indistinguishable from cotton. That makes it a more sustainable substitute for non-organic cotton.
NEW! Tencel Modal
The first thing you should know is that Tencel is a trademark owned by Lenzing. (See the Lenzing EcoVero entry above.) The Austrian textile company is known for thorough supply chain transparency, which allows retailers and consumers to see the origins of the wood fibres Lenzing uses in the production of its fabrics. This transparency makes it a world leader in the cellulose fibre industry.
Tencel Modal fibres are made from naturally grown beech wood, and are unusually flexible and soft. Tencel claims its modal fabric is biodegradable and compostable under industrial, home, soil and marine conditions, and can fully return to nature.
The production of Tencel Modal requires only one organic chemical, and the production is a closed-loop system, which means that the chemical is recovered and reused.
Because Tencel Modal is made by a company that is offers transparency and environmentally sound practices, many clothing labels indicate that they've used Tencel Modal rather than generic modal.
When compared to other pulp-based fabrics, modal tends to be the one used for stretchy, super-soft items like leggings and tanks, whereas viscose tends a bit stiffer and it's used for shirts and blouses.
Sustainable viscose is made from cellulose, or wood pulp, drawn from fast-growing regenerative trees such as eucalyptus, bamboo or soy. The cellulose is dissolved in a chemical solution to produce a viscous substance, which can then be spun into fibres, then made into threads.
The Vancouver-based not-for-profit Canopy Planet works with viscose manufacturers to protect old growth forests. Canopy’s 2020 report on the state of the viscose industry is worth a read. It documents exciting progress in the field of sustainable textiles, and also discusses next steps.COMING SOON...