Last Updated on January 15, 2021 by Nina Ahmedow
One question many people have with regards to the damage the fashion industry causes concerns the fabrics used in fashion. Many people know that some fabrics are not sustainable, but which are the worst fabrics in the fashion industry?
You would think that with cotton being a natural material it would be quite sustainable, right? Think again. Despite what the cotton industry would have you believe, cotton is actually one of the most water-intensive crops out there. India is one of the world’s largest producers of cotton. But the cotton is grown in India’s drier regions. So while more than 75 million people in India don’t have access to clean drinking water, it takes more than 20,000 liters of water to produce 1kg of cotton. The water goes to the cotton fields instead of humans. If that’s not wrong, then I don’t know what is.
Of course, organic cotton is a better option because of the lack of pesticides. But the crops still need water. So as weird as it may seem, cotton is actually one of the worst fabrics in the fashion industry. Despite the fact that it’s natural.
Leather and wool are animal-derived fabrics which by default makes them morally questionable. Animal agriculture is one of the most polluting industries in the world. The only positive thing I can think of in terms of these fabrics is that at least all the remains of the animal are used and not simply discarded. But we simply shouldn’t breed and slaughter animals in the first place.
Leather tanning is also a very dangerous process for workers, exposing them to toxins that can cause serious diseases. Tanneries produce extreme levels of chemical waste. In India, some tanneries had to be closed due to pollution. And that despite the lack of strict environmental laws.
Synthetic fabrics such as acrylic, nylon, and polyester often contain microplastics. By now, most people have heard of the dangers of microplastics. For example, they absorb toxins. And when clothes contain microplastics these microplastics seep into our water. Sooner or later they end up in the oceans where fish and other animals consume them. If you eat these animals then you also consume these microplastics. But even if you don’t, it should be clear that marine animals should not eat microplastics.
Because synthetic fabrics are so cheap they are very common nowadays. In fact, it can be quite difficult to find clothes that don’t contain any synthetic fabrics. But they are certainly among the worst fabrics in the fashion industry.
Viscose is a rayon fiber made from natural materials, such as wood and agricultural products. In general, natural materials are better than synthetic ones. But sadly, the wood often comes from endangered rainforests. In addition, carbon disulfide is needed to turn wood pulp into viscose. Carbon disulfide is highly toxic and has in the past poisoned workers and the local population.
In theory, viscose could become more sustainable. But for the moment it is still quite problematic. It would be nice to see a positive development here.
So what about the sustainable alternatives out there? Can they compete with these cheap fabrics? Let’s take a look.
Linen has cooling properties that make it perfect for hot summer days. However, it wrinkles easily making it less popular. But in terms of the actual cultivation process, it’s one of the most sustainable fabrics in the fashion industry. There is no need for pesticides, and linen is the only organic, natural fiber that is available in Europe. That means fewer imports. (Don’t forget that long transportation also adds to the pollution of our planet.)
The problem is that producing linen from flax is a very arduous process, which is why it’s not available in high quantities. So far, producers have not found a way to increase production.
Hemp fabric is very easy to produce and has been around for centuries. It requires less land than cotton and fewer toxic chemicals in the process. Lately, it has become more popular in ethical fashion.
However, the main producer of hemp is China, and Chinese laws are not very strict. Therefore, it’s not clear how organic hemp from China is. But the fact remains that humans can produce even organic hemp very easily if we want.
So What Can We Do?
Can we do anything? The question is if these materials will become affordable for the average person. Sustainable fabrics shouldn’t only be for the wealthy. In fact, the thought that due to financial restraints poor people have to buy unsustainable materials while at the same time being the people who will suffer most from environmental disasters is outrageous. Let’s hope that linen and hemp fabric will become more common and affordable. Because they are definitely the most sustainable fabrics in the fashion industry.
At the same time, let’s hope for new ideas and inventions. I’m sure we will still see some positive changes.
But until these materials become more readily available and at a good price, you can follow my four steps to shop ethically and quit fast fashion. I don’t believe that, at this point, it’s easy enough for the average person to avoid the worst fabrics in the fashion industry. Instead, we can reduce the overall amount of clothing we buy until more sustainable options become available to us. Read my post on creating a minimalist wardrobe, and if you love to travel have a look at my minimalist packing list.
Let’s hope that lawmakers will act. We need better laws to protect our environment. The fashion industry gets away with too much. And this can’t continue.
Did you know what the worst fabrics in the fashion industry are? What do you think we can do to make more sustainable materials more common? Leave me a comment.