A guide to fashion’s most sustainable fabrics (and where you can get them)

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Sustainability has become an important consideration for buyers when finalising their new-season edits. Here we reveal the latest eco-friendly fabrics to consider for your boutique with key suppliers to bookmark…    

ORGANIC COTTON

Capri London

Dubbed “the world’s dirtiest crop,” non-organic cotton uses synthetic chemical inputs like nitrogen fertilisers and artificial pesticides to grow, which contributes to climate change. Womenswear brands are increasingly introducing organic cotton alternatives that are cultivated without harmful chemicals, helping to keep soils and rivers healthy. “We have been using sustainable cotton for the past three years now in all our collections,” says Capri London’s Hari Krishnadasan (capriclothingonline.com). “There are many benefits such as using less water for irrigation, which can be used by other local water users and natural habitats instead. The cotton seed is grown without using synthetic chemicals while farmers also benefit as they can sell at the organic price.”  

BAMBOO

Capri London

Softer and more luxurious than cotton, Bamboo is a great sustainable alternative for womenswear. It doesn’t need pesticides to grow and helps clean the air as bamboo grass absorbs five times more CO2 from the air than equivalent hardwood trees. Meanwhile, because it’s grass, it regrows when harvested. “We introduced bamboo for the first time in Capri London’s AW22 collection,” say Hari. “As well as being more sustainable than more traditional fashion fabrics, it’s three times more absorbent than cotton. Meanwhile, the bacteria that makes clothing smell doesn’t sit on the surface as it does with synthetics, helping our clothes stay fresher for longer and reducing the need to wash so frequently.”  

ECOVERO LENZING

Lily and Me

Derived from certified renewable wood sources using an eco-responsible production process, Ecovero Lenzing viscose is a great sustainable alternative to traditional viscose fabric. Its fibres generate 50 per cent lower emissions and water impact plus the fabric is fully biodegradable. British brand Lily and Me offers dresses and separates in the eco fabric, with various options available for AW22 (lilyandmeclothing.com). “Our Ecovero Lenzing woven viscose is available in two prints – Zebra and Pansy print – this season,” says the brand’s Polly Webb. “Meanwhile our Giraffe print Ecovero Lenzing viscose elastane has been extremely popular, particularly in the Witcombe skirt and dress.”

RECYCLED POLYESTER

Lily and Me

Polyester is one of fashion’s favourite fabrics, with nearly half of the world’s clothing made from the synthetic material. It’s made from polyethylene terephthalate – a common type of plastic – so it’s not sustainable. As an alternative, more brands are using recycled polyester. This is created by melting down existing plastic and re-spinning it into a new polyester fibre, which uses less resources and keeps things like discarded drinks bottles out of landfill. Lily and Me has created a line of knitwear this season using a wool and recycled polyester blend. “Our knitwear this season includes recycled polyester derived from household plastics,” says Polly. “It takes 50 per cent less energy to make clothes from recycled plastics compared to virgin polyester without compromising on hand feel or performance.”  

LYOCELL

Lily and Me

Made using wood pulp from sustainable sources, lyocell – or Tencel – was first developed in 1972. The fabric is considered semi-synthetic as it is processed with synthetic substances, much like viscose or rayon. However, it uses 20 per cent less emissions and up to 50 per cent less water compared to cotton while it’s also fully compostable and biodegradable. This season, Lily and Me has introduced a cotton and lyocell blend throughout its denim range, with several garments on offer including its Rowan Jacket.

MULESING-FREE MERINO WOOL

by basics

Mulesing is a painful procedure for sheep, which involves cutting skin away from a lamb’s rear to prevent potentially life-threatening parasitic infections. PETA strongly opposes mulesing, saying the practice is cruel and painful and that kinder alternatives such as special diets and spray washing exist. Danish label by basics/ blusbar (bybasics.com). offers short order merino wool garments from mulesing-free sheep, which have been treated humanely. All of its styles are Oeko-Tex certified and biodegradable with everything is made to order to reduce waste.

LINEN

by basics

Strong, moth resistant and made from flax plant fibres, linen is one of the oldest fibres known – making it the original sustainable alternative. The flax plant can grow in poor soil unsuitable for food production and can even rehabilitate infected soil. Plus, it also boasts a high carbon absorption rate, making it an eco-friendly choice for fashion. OWN by basics offers 100 per cent linen garments in numerous styles and colourways. “It’s breathable and highly absorbent,” says the brand’s Gitte Borup. “All by basics/ OWN styles are garment-dyed and Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex certified, with production taking place right here in Europe.”  

ECONYL

Masara

Perfect for swimwear, Econly is made using nylon waste such as discarded fishing nets and carpets that otherwise pollute the earth. It undergoes a complex process that produces a premium quality fabric resistant to sun cream, chlorine and pilling. “Econly is a more viable solution to virgin nylon that is sustainable and better for the environment overall,” says Francesca Fabric, founder of Italian swimwear specialist Masarà (masaramilano.com). “The fabric is also made in Italy where our beautiful swimwear is created, so using it for our collections mean we can also cut down on our carbon footprint.”

BIOCIR

Balena

Lastly, material science company Balena has created the world’s first pair of fully circular slides using biodegradable material BioCir. Its breakthrough compostable thermoplastic material goes through a biodegradation process in a compost environment – leaving no waste. The company says there are plans in the pipeline for future collaborations with major footwear manufacturers, so watch this space.