I get it… buying the latest fashion trendy dress sounds SO exciting, and it makes you feel like a fashion icon. But have you ever stopped to think how many times you’re actually going to wear that dress? Or what kind of manufacturing process it went through to get it done? Or even when, if at all, it will degrade? Will it harm the animals living nearby?
Growing up, my parents really instilled in me that less is more. We went shopping twice a year to get a few essentials and being the younger sister, I always got all the hand-me-downs, much to my chagrin.
It’s been a long time, but now as an adult, I have fully embraced that less is more, but I wasn’t always this way. I get scattered and overwhelmed easily, a big part of me working through adrenal fatigue, and clutter is one of the most stressful things for me! I literally feel panicked and instantly overwhelmed if I enter a room or a store that is packed with things.
A huge part of my creating a capsule wardrobe these past few years is:
- Because clutter and stuff overwhelm me
- Because I like nice (often more expensive things) and if I purchase less, I actually save money big picture…funny how that works
But the world of the fast fashion industry, ethical fashion, sustainable living, and choosing to purchase from conscious companies has really intrigued me and pulled at my heartstrings recently!
I know I want to do better when it comes to my purchases, and today I want to encourage you to shop with sustainable living in mind too!
First, here are some facts about the fashion industry…
Before I talk about the best and the worst fabric materials, I want to talk a bit about the fashion industry. And I don’t mean just the fast fashion industry (there’s some of that, too!), but just the fashion industry on its own. You may be surprised at these facts and harsh numbers – I know I was!
- Fashion is the third-highest polluting industry in the world and the second-largest consumer of water.
- The manufacturing process for fabric fashion accounts for up to 10% of global carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions.
- The use of chemicals is HUGE. 2,000 different chemicals, including some toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, chlorine, lead, and mercury, are used in textile processing. Of these, over 1,600 are used in dyeing processes, but only 16 are actually EPA-approved.
- Americans throw away over 14 million tons of textiles a year. Over 99% of the clothing thrown away in the US can be recycled or reused, but sadly more than 85% ends up in landfills. Even in a landfill, these materials don’t just go away—nylon takes 30 to 40 years to biodegrade, while polyester requires more than 200 years.
What is fast fashion?
Before we jump into what are the most sustainable, ethical, and natural fabrics, we need to first understand a bit about fast fashion. You have probably heard the term somewhere on TikTok, Instagram, or your preferred news outlet. But what is it exactly?
Fast fashion is…
An approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers. —Merriam Webster
But there is no such thing as free—it always comes at a cost! In a world where we are quick to purchase and quick to discard, often before even using, we have SO much waste! And that waste comes at a cost to all of us, including our health and the environment! Fast fashion has taken over the world, and nowadays, you cannot go anywhere without seeing a fast fashion brand advertised, be it in person or online.
You may feel tempted to get one or two items, but not only are they terrible for the planet for many reasons, but they are also made with bad quality materials that you will only be able to wash 6 or 7 times before they start losing their quality!
So, basically, you’ll be wasting your own money on items that won’t last AND are harming the planet at the same time. Ugh!
I could go on and on for days, but I got sucked into researching this for hours, and it is fascinating to me just how toxic our clothing really is—and yes, it is affecting our health, hormones, and future greatly!
So more posts to come, but I had to go ahead and hit publish not to overwhelm myself…or you!
The good news is that it’s not all lost! There are sustainable practices we can do to reduce our impact on the environment. If you’re already avoiding plastic bottles and plastic waste overall, what’s stopping you from using sustainable clothing brands that care about the planet and use eco-friendly fabric alternatives?
I want to encourage you to just think more consciously about your purchases! Don’t go and throw all your clothes out (that would just be the opposite of sustainable, right?!), but do carefully think the next time you walk the aisles of your local Target! At this time, it is SO important to look for environmentally friendly materials and look for sustainable brands that do what’s on their hands to reduce the negative impact on our planet.
Best Natural Fabrics + the Worst Offenders
These are the most common fabrics that either have production processes that are harmful to the planet (ie, high energy consumption, using large amounts of water to produce, or using plastic microfibers or other materials that harm the ecosystem.) Keep an eye out to avoid these non-environmentally friendly fabrics and look for a better alternative instead (which you will find below this section!)
Offender: Synthetics—Polyester, Nylon, Rayon
Polyester—the worst offender and most widely used—is a plastic derived from petroleum and is not biodegradable, meaning it could take up to 200 years to decompose! Polyester requires a special type of coloring to penetrate the fabric, and these dyes are incredibly harmful to the environment and toxic to humans.
The production of polyester is a highly chemical process requiring the use of carcinogens and toxins. Nylon, like polyester, is a type of crude oil derived from plastics with similar concerns to both humans and the environment.
Sweat resistance or performance fabrics can be harmful as this highly synthetic fabric actually suffocates your skin (rather than letting it breathe) and has been linked to headaches, nausea, and skin issues. Plus, sweating is one of the best ways to encourage natural detox, so we don’t want to suppress that!
Ok, let’s chat microfibers because researching this really concerned me! Plastic-based materials (like polyester and nylon) are finding their way into oceans, soil, and waterways worldwide. When we wash synthetic fabrics, micro-plastics make it out of the laundry machine and into the environment. Acrylic, for example, can release 730,000 microfibers per wash!
Microfibers are making their way into our water and our food supply; in fact, “the average person ingests over 5,800 particles of synthetic debris” from our food and water supplies. Crazy!
Plastics are one of the biggest sources of endocrine disruption today, so one of the best things you can do for your health is to eliminate plastics from coming into contact with your skin all day and night, aka your clothes!!
Sustainable Living Picks—Recycled Polyester, Tencel, Lyocell
Recycled polyester takes existing plastic and melts it down, and re-spins it into polyester fibers—this keeps plastics from heading to landfills and into the ocean. Recycled polyester still releases microfibers and can use harmful chemicals in the dying process, but it is a step in the right direction toward more sustainable fashion!
Tencel, sometimes called lyocell or modal, is made by spinning dried wood chips and wood pulp. Although it still requires the use of conventional dyes, which can be harmful to your health and the environment, it is a biodegradable and natural fiber, so for sure is a step in the right direction. It is a very breathable fabric and a great option for working out or active wear.
Offender: Conventional Cotton
Convention cotton is, sadly, found in many of the clothes you’ll see in a typical clothing brand. But what is the problem with it, exactly? Conventional cotton fiber, although considered natural (which is preferable to synthetics for sure), is one of the worst offenders to produce as it requires takes a hefty dose of chemicals and water to produce. In fact, about 25% of the world’s insecticide use and more than 10% of the world’s pesticide use goes to growing cotton!
According to this study, hazardous pesticides applied during cotton manufacturing, including petroleum scours, heavy metals, flame retardants, ammonia, and formaldehyde, can also be detected in our clothes, impacting our health, respiratory tract, skin, hormones, and more!
In many countries, cotton is often hand-picked, so the farmers or manufacturers are coming into contact with these chemicals! There is also a link between cancer rates and those in the textile industry.
In India, where a large portion of the world’s cotton comes from, more than 100 million people do not have access to clean water, yet it takes 22,500 liters of water to produce 1 kilo of cotton—this water is then evaporated or too contaminated to be used again.
Sustainable Living Picks: Organic Cotton, Linen, Silk
We know that organic materials are always, without a doubt, the best choice for our planet AND for our health. Choosing organic cotton not only decreases the environmental toxins and water waste but also delivers a clean product for you to wear and use. Organic cotton requires less water and no pesticides or other harmful chemicals! Always look for GOTS certified.
Linen is one of the oldest and most natural, biodegradable, and safe fabrics to choose from; it is also very durable! A good linen shirt might cost more upfront but will save you money and help the environment long term.
Silk is a natural fiber, biodegradable, and has a smaller environmental footprint, but it often is made unethical due to the boiling of silkworms. Always look for a sustainable and ethical company!
Acrylic is another plastic-based fabric, similar to polyester and nylon, made from fossil fuels like petroleum and created through a chemical process. Acrylic fiber is made from the polymer polyacrylonitrile, which the Environmental Protection Agency found that inhaling polyacrylonitrile produces similar symptoms to cyanide poisoning and is a potential cancer hazard. Keep in mind that acrylic is often seen in blends, so if you see fabrics like “cotton blend” or “wool blend,” that most likely contains acrylic.
Sustainable Living Picks: Wool, Cashmere
Wool and cashmere are a bit more expensive at times, but these natural fabrics won’t come at a cost to your health! You want to be on the lookout for ethically made wool and cashmere, as that can be an issue with many brands. These fabrics stand the test of time and will look good for years to come!
What can you do to incorporate more natural fabrics in your closet?
Now, don’t go throwing out all your clothing, but I do want to encourage you on a few steps you can take to be mindful of your fashion choices!
- Build a capsule wardrobe—this limits your clothing items and will help you save money and free up brain power, plus it will have a low environmental impact.
- Check your tags—spend 10 minutes and go through your current clothing and see what it’s made of; this will be so eye-opening! This will help you choose the most sustainable clothing materials.
- Keep a list of sustainable fabrics to make your shopping process more conscious.
- Look for companies with trade-in programs—Madewell, Cuyana, and Patagonia are a few that come to mind.
- When you do need something new, plan ahead and do some research on a more natural, sustainable clothing brand.
- Thrifting is always a good option, especially if you’re looking for original and creative items. Just make sure you read the label in order to protect yourself!
- Be intentional! Whether it’s in your clothes, technology, or even food choices, make sure you’re thinking about how your choices impact our planet. That’s all that matters!
My favorite natural and sustainable fashion brands:
These clothing brands use the most sustainable fabrics and also have a supply chain that is environmentally friendly with the eco-systems and the planet itself.
- Christy Dawn: One of my all time favorite! So feminine, cozy and fits no matter what season you find yourself in (great for pregnancy and breastfeeding).
- Cleobella: feminine prints with a modern flair. I could live in their pieces. Great quality!
- Mirth Caftans: so comfortable and great for layering. You’ll adore wearing these.
- Cuyana: Quality, timeless pieces. I usually invest in one per season, and their quality does not disappoint!
- Agolde: my go to for sustainable denim that uses fewer chemicals in the dying process. SO comfy, runs slightly large.
- All Birds: sustainable sneakers
- Sezane: This French brand is so feminine, a good price point—look for the natural material, sustainable material, recycled packaging, and audited factory icons!
- Simple Folk Co: I adore everything about this brand; such great quality; my littles have worn their sweaters for 2+ seasons
- Girlfriend Collective: recycled workout apparel
- Mate the Label: Organic, everyday essentials
- Kotn: ethically made cotton staples, not organic but a very transparent company
- Reformation: Sustainable clothing for every occasion
- Everlane: they are totally transparent with their process, which is a step in the right direction
- Patagonia: One of the original sustainable and fair trade brands
- FashionAble: They are all about providing economic opportunities to women around the world, which I love
- Kayu: Hand-crafted bags using natural, sustainable materials
- Alice and Whittles: Fairtrade, sustainable footwear
- Vyayama: Workout apparel using botanical fibers
- Knickey: Organic underwear
- Veja: Super comfortable sneakers made with organic cotton and natural materials
As you can see, there are many things that come into play when choosing fashion brands and even types of fabric that aren’t as harmful to the planet. But as long as we all do our part and contribute to this cause that matters to all of us, we can be sure we’re heading towards a better future for us, our kids, and future generations.
It may take some time to truly live sustainable lifestyles, and I’m not there yet, but trust me when I say every bit helps! Don’t give up; the future of the Earth is in our hands!
Check out my Sustainable Spring + Summer Capsule Wardrobe >