All of the fabric suppliers listed in this directory demonstrate an effort toward environmental consciousness and social justice. Their specific eco-credentials are listed, however it is important to constantly check in with these companies, and question whether their policies and certificates still stand. The information listed about each company is generally provided by the company themselves.
Below is an over-view of the most common fabrics and a brief description of their ecological properties. It is important to understand that no single fibre type offers the lowest impact in all categories, demonstrating that we must prioritize the most important impact areas when determining the fibre with the lowest impact.
Conventional cotton uses more chemicals than any other crop. Organic cotton, however, is an ecologically responsible fibre, is never genetically modified and does not use any highly polluting agrochemicals. Integrated soil and pest management techniques, such as crop rotation, are practiced in organic cotton cultivation. Organic cotton absorbs CO2.
Hemp / Nettle:
Hemp grows extremely fast in any kind of climate. Hemp is mostly grown organically in that it does not exhaust the soil, uses little water and requires no pesticides or herbicides. Its skin is tough and insect resistant and it is often used as a rotation crop. It is rarely certified, though it is widely considered to be the most sustainable crop available.
Linen / Flax:
By its nature linen is far more sustainable a crop than conventional cotton, however, herbicides are commonly used in conventional cultivation. Organic flax farming produces stronger seeds, and crops are rotated to minimize weeds and potential disease.
Bamboo is a highly sustainable crop as it is fast growing, does not require pesticides and does not claim farming land. It is also a much better CO2 extractor and oxygen emitter than trees, and its products are biodegradable and recyclable. However, bamboo fabric is controversial as its typical production methods require the use of chemical solvents and heavy bleaching, similar to how rayon or viscose is made. There are many suppliers who produce bamboo fabric with integrity, in a closed loop system, but it is worth considering the fabric’s possible short comings and questioning individual suppliers on how their fabric was produced.
Silk is a complicated fabric when it comes to determining its ethical and ecological properties. The vast majority of mass produced mulberry silk starts its life in developing countries such as China and India, though it may be woven elsewhere. For this reason, it is important to choose suppliers who identify themselves as fair trade. The organic cultivation of mulberry on an industrial scale is at the moment limited, however demand is slowly changing this. Silk production is also innately cruel in its treatment of silk worms. Ahimsa Silk (Peace Silk) and Wild Silk are vegan silks, which do not harm silk worms in their production.
The sustainability of wool relies on the farms where sheep have been reared, together with the spinning and weaving processes that follow. Buying Soil Association organic certified wool (or equivalent certification) means the wool comes from farms that put the sheep and the environment first. Specific suppliers of British wool such as Harris Tweed and Skye Weavers have also been included in this directory, due to their preserving of traditional crafts, and also that their production methods are practically carbon neutral. Yak Wool is gaining recognition as a truly sustainable alternative to commercially produced cashmere.
Synthetic fabrics such as Nylon, Polyester and Acrylic are increasingly replacing natural fabric use. Man made fabrics are largely made up of petrochemicals and oil, which have numerous negative impacts on the environment and people, as well as increasingly limited availability. However, synthetic fibre production can be much less water and energy demanding than many natural options and there are increasingly more up-cycled and recycled options that also support land waste diversion.