Many of us already take steps in our daily lives to care for our environment. Maybe you’re fastidious about recycling, you’ve planted native greenery in your garden, or you buy locally grown, organic produce at the farmer’s market every weekend (and never forget your reusable bags).
But did you know there’s another way to incorporate sustainability practices into your daily life—and it starts with what you’re wearing?
The clothes we wear can play a huge part in creating a more sustainable world. If you’re wondering how to find the most eco friendly fabrics and why they matter so much, have no fear—we’re diving deep into some of our favorite sustainable clothing materials and how environmental action can happen right inside your closet.
How Do I Identify Eco Friendly Fabrics?
A lot of factors can go into any one purchase—how an item of clothing looks, how it feels on your body, where and when you think you’ll wear it, and the price tag. What’s the best way to add sustainability to that list of considerations?
With a few tips and tricks, identifying planet-friendly fabrics might be easier than you think. Here are some of our favorite ways when shopping online or in person to determine if an item passes the sustainability test:
- Take a look at the tag – The piece’s composition should be listed on the tag or in the item description if you’re shopping online, with a line that will list the textile makeup with percentages. Look for pieces that consist mostly of natural fibers, like cotton, wool, or linen, or environmentally-friendly textiles, like Tencel (more on the difference between these later!).
- Take a look at where you’re shopping – Shop at stores that walk the walk. In other words, look for certifications like being a Certified B Corp, the gold standard for being a socially and environmentally responsible business, or a page on a store’s website focused on their sustainability efforts.
- Take a look at your lifestyle – Can you still see yourself wearing this item a year or two from now, or will it only hold your interest for one trend cycle? Is it something that you’ll actually wear, or something you already have in your closet? Part of being a smart and sustainable shopper is steering clear of ultra-fast fashion and being mindful about the clothes you purchase.
With all this in mind, let’s answer the question, “What are the most eco friendly fabrics?” and learn how to incorporate more eco friendly pieces into your wardrobe.
Linen is one type of eco friendly fabric that is often used for more lightweight clothing and is one of the best fabrics for summer. Did you know that humans have been using linen for thousands of years?1 It’s been a perennial favorite for a reason—linen is cool and breathable, and looks effortlessly elegant no matter how you wear it. But how is linen produced, and just what makes this beautiful natural fiber such a superb sustainable option?
Linen is made up of yarn spun out of fibers from the flax plant, and flax is an environmental superhero. Requiring very little to no pesticides or herbicides, the whole plant can be used for much more than just linen, including:
- Flaxseed oil
- Linseed oil
- Ground flax seeds (super tasty in smoothies!)
The production of linen also requires the use of very little water, needing only 6.4 liters of water to create a shirt.1 In addition, the flax plant actually helps remove greenhouse gas-producing carbon dioxide from the environment, removing 250,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year.
Linen is a hardy fabric that you’ll be able to use for years—and the best part of it all? When your linen piece has come to the end of its natural lifecycle, it’s fully biodegradable.
Linen’s earthy, drapey look as well as its cooling abilities make it an especially comfortable option for warm-weather clothing. We love it for flowy pieces like cropped wide leg pants or our sleeveless tank top with a polished tie waist detail. It works equally well for structured yet natural pieces, like our blouson sleeve dress or this short-sleeve jacket that features oversized lapels.
Another natural and sustainable fiber that we love is organic cotton fabric. Endlessly breathable and easy to wear and care for, it’s one of the most popular textiles across the globe—and it’s easy to tell why. But why does it also make such a great sustainable fabric option?
Just like linen fabric, cotton is all-natural and biodegradable, so that cotton T-shirt isn’t likely to be hanging around in a landfill for the next 200 years. Cotton also doesn’t produce microplastics like synthetic fabrics can. When synthetic fibers are washed, they can sometimes shed microplastics into the water system that can cause major damage to both aquatic wildlife and the wetlands, rivers, and oceans that serve as their natural habitat.2
We love cotton fabric for its versatility—no matter how you wear it, it always looks breezily beautiful. Here are a few of our favorite cotton pieces:
- Our tiered boho maxi dress and midi dress options featuring pretty puff sleeve details and delicate eyelet lace
- Our sweetly bohemian peasant blouse, which also boasts eye-catching eyelet detail
- An elegant poof sleeve dress in a rich navy, which is also contains silk, another sustainable fave
- Our shirred sleeve shirt, perfectly polished for the office
Wool also makes a terrific eco friendly fabric option and is one of the best fabrics for cold weather. We’ve all got a beloved wool sweater or scarf stashed away somewhere—full of warmth and comfort. Wool sweaters are one of the winter wardrobe essentials you should always have handy when the weather starts to get chilly but it also offers another superpower besides just coziness: Wool is also a fantastic option when you’re looking for sustainable fabrics.
One of the factors that makes wool so eco friendly is its durability. Wool products can last for years if properly maintained and taken care of, requiring less clothing to be produced over time. LIke organic cotton and linen fabric, it’s also biodegradable and recyclable, and comes from an (adorable) renewable resource: sheep!3
Another major part of wool’s sustainability factor is the way that you care for it. Wool knits should ideally be washed far less frequently than other fabrics, usually with cold water instead of warm or hot, and without the use of the dryer. Therefore, a wool piece’s washing requirements are much less energy intensive than pieces that require weekly washing with hot water, detergents, and thorough drying.
When the weather cools down, we love pieces made with wool as a way to bundle up while also staying stylish and sustainable. Some of our coziest wool faves are:
- Our easy-to-layer oversized shawl cardigan in charcoal
- Our plaid blazer for a colorful twist on a preppy staple
- A structured mid-length coat in elegant herringbone
- Our relaxed blouson sleeve sweater in an autumn-approved wheat shade
Eco friendly fabrics aren’t just limited to natural fibers. Non-natural textiles can get a bad rap, but there are plenty of options for sustainable manmade fabrics—and one of our favorites is Tencel.
Tencel is a newer kind of manmade fiber, made from a material called regenerated cellulose. The cellulose that makes up Tencel is created by spinning fibers out of wood pulp from eucalyptus trees, which are sustainably sourced through a transparent supply chain.4
Producing Tencel, which is biodegradable, requires less energy or water than the production of cotton. It also requires less dyes and no bleach since it starts out as a pure white color, producing less harmful chemicals that might leak into our water. Tencel also carries the OEKO-TEX 100 certification, which certifies that it contains no harmful substances.
Tencel can be made into a number of different textures, from silky soft fabric to a starched cottony feel, and is ultra breathable and durable, making it a super versatile option for your closet. We’re obsessed with our Tencel cuffed sleeve dress with its stylish tie belt detail (and pockets, since you know we love a dress with pockets!). Plus, check out our wide leg pants in dark wash Tencel cotton that have a comfy elastic waistband, and our Tencel chambray button down shirt in a romantic floral print.
Why Buy Eco Friendly Fabrics?
You might be curious about just why you should care about finding the most sustainable fabrics. After all, aren’t there bigger ways to make an environmental impact?
In fact, the clothes we wear and the materials they’re made of actually have a huge impact on our planet. The textile industry is responsible for 10% of our greenhouse gas emissions and uses 93 billion metric tons of water a year, as well as more energy than the shipping and aviation industries combined.5
The ripple effects don’t stop there—there are also countless trees chopped down and gallons of wastewater produced to support the fashion industry. Much of this is for clothes that won’t have any functional purpose, with over 20% of new clothing in the United States never worn.
For the sustainability-minded shopper, clothes can become so much more than just clothes—choosing eco friendly materials is a way of saying that you care deeply about the planet and the people who live on it. Luckily, there's been a rise in sustainable fashion and using sustainable material in the fashion industry.
Shop Sustainably with Karen Kane
Eco friendly fabrics aren’t just better for the Earth– they’re better for you and your lifestyle as well, since they last longer and wear better than flimsier unsustainable materials. By learning what materials are most sustainable, you can do your part to protect our planet (and look great doing it).
At Karen Kane, we’re passionate about creating chic women's clothing that is easy on our environment and empowering for the women who wear them. To us, it’s personal—we only have one planet, and we’ll do whatever we can to protect it.
To discover eco friendly fabrics in styles that’ll make you feel like your most confident and comfortable self, visit us at Karen Kane today.
- Sustainable Jungle. What is Linen and How Sustainable Is It? https://www.sustainablejungle.com/sustainable-fashion/what-is-linen/
- Cotton. Cotton Recycling and Sustainability. https://thefabricofourlives.com/the-benefits-of-cotton/sustainability
- International Wool Textile Organization. Wool Sustainability. https://iwto.org/sustainability/
- Good On You. Material Guide: What Is Tencel?. https://goodonyou.eco/how-ethical-is-tencel/
- Columbia Climate School State of the Planet. Why Fashion Needs to Be More Sustainable. https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2021/06/10/why-fashion-needs-to-be-more-sustainable/