Know Your Materials: What Each One Means for Sustainable Fashion

~*The more you know*~


When was the last time you turned down a dress that made you look great and feel even better, simply because it was constructed with a questionable poly-blend?


I get it.

We live in our clothes.

Yet we’re not educated on what those clothes are made of, and why that matters, or if it matters at all.

It matters — for those of us learning to balance our interest in fashion with conscious consumption, an awareness of materials and their environmental impacts can guide us toward more sustainable purchasing decisions.

It’s estimated that each year we consume 80 billion pieces of clothing. Clothing is made of materials. Producing this volume of materials year after year strains the planet, both in terms of the natural resources use and environmental impacts like pollution and waste.

Let’s take a closer look at the three broad categories of materials: natural, synthetic and semi-synthetic, and a few of the high-level environmental issues involved with each.


Natural materials exist in — you guessed it — nature and come from the same place our food does: farms. Like our food, natural materials can come from plants or animals.

Plant-based materials, including cotton, linen, hemp and raffia, are the fruits and vegetables of our wardrobe. They can be organic and farmed in a cooperative, or they can be grown using chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Animal-based materials, like wool (from sheep), silk (from silk worms), cashmere (from goats) and alpaca are the protein of our closets. Meat eaters can opt for organic, cage-free eggs and grass-fed beef versus the alternative options from industrial farms, right? Well, the same goes for animal-based materials. The way that farm animals interact with the land has significant environmental implications.

+ Resources used: land, water, fossil-fuels (because many agricultural chemicals are petroleum-based)
+ Environmental issues: chemical pesticides and fertilizers pollute soil, water systems and air. Why air? Ruminant farm animals (including sheep and goats) release methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change.
+ Material miscreants: cashmere and cotton (discussed below)


Synthetic materials, like polyester, nylon and acrylic, don’t exist naturally but are made in factories. Synthetics are created through an industrial manufacturing process in which petroleum, a fossil fuel, is extracted from the earth and mechanically transformed into fibers for clothing. The resulting fiber, although soft and even silky, is actually a plastic. In fact, polyester is made of the same exact material used to make plastic bottles: polyethylene terephthalate, or PET.

+ Resources used: fossil-fuels
+ Environmental issues: the production of fossil fuels emits carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, which is the leading cause of climate change; washing synthetic fibers releases microplastics into the water supply and ultimately into our food chain, synthetics don’t decompose in landfills.
+ Material miscreants: polyester (because of its volume — it is the most common material in our clothes); nylon (because its production releases nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than CO2)

Semi-synthetic materials have a natural source, but require processing to transform that natural source into a fiber that can be used for clothing. These include rayon (aka viscose), modal, lyocell (aka TENCEL®) and bamboo.

+ Resources used: primarily wood
+ Environmental issues: deforestation (the cutting down of trees faster than forests can replenish them) which has climate change implications; heavy chemicals needed to transform the hard wood into a soft fiber release pollutants into the air and water
+ Material miscreants: rayon, modal and bamboo (discussed below)


How do we translate this knowledge into practice? Here are 10 ways:

1) Know your materials. Done! See above. Off to a great start.

2) Read the tags.

Here’s why: Awareness is the first step. As they PSAy with a shooting-star rainbow: The more you know.

3) For summer clothes, skip cotton and choose linen, hemp, and organic cotton instead.

Here’s why: Cotton, although a natural fiber, is one of the most environmentally intensive materials in our closets, for a few reasons. First, cotton needs a lot of pesticides and fertilizer to grow. It’s one of the world’s most pesticide-intensive crops. Second, cotton consumes a lot of water. It takes around 700 gallons of water to make enough cotton for one t-shirt. That’s roughly equivalent to 40 showers-worth. Third, most cotton is grown using genetically modified seeds. We tend to think of genetic modification as a food issue, but cotton is one of the world’s major genetically modified crops. GM crops present a host of environmental issues, including soil and water pollution and threats to biodiversity. Because cotton is the second-most common material in our clothes after polyester, these environmental issues are significant due to the scale at which we cultivate cotton.

Linen, hemp, and organic cotton are significantly less polluting. Linen and hemp in particular are highly sustainable materials that don’t need pesticides or fertilizers to grow and require little water. (P.S. Jungmaven has great hemp tees). Organic cotton is a more sustainable option as well because it is grown without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and using non-GM seeds.


4) For your winter wardrobe, pass on cashmere in favor of alpaca.

Here’s why: It’s probably been a while since you thought about the eating habits of goats. Well, in Mongolia, one of the world’s top producers of cashmere, overeating goats are severely altering the ecosystem. When goats graze, they pull grasses from the root, whereas sheep and alpaca only eat the grass at the surface, preserving the root system.

When land is overgrazed, the soil can’t store water or nutrients so it becomes unhealthy, which slowly transforms previously fertile land into a desert. Due in large part to overgrazing for cashmere production, 90% of the land in Mongolia is experiencing some form of this transition to desert land. To be clear, it’s not that cashmere is inherently unsustainable, it’s that these unprecedented volumes of cashmere production are. So, until cashmere can be produced more sustainably (this company is trying), choose alpaca instead. Alpaca have a really light environmental footprint. They eat and drink very little and tread softly on the ground. If you choose alpaca that’s fair trade or from a cooperative, you also support development in Peru’s remote alpaca growing communities.

5) For athletic wear, swimwear, outerwear, and any clothing in general where you need the properties of synthetic materials, skip polyester and choose recycled post-consumer PET instead.

Here’s why: The plastic waste we generate can be recycled to form polyester fibers that can be used to make new clothing. There is a dual benefit here: we reduce plastic waste and simultaneously decrease our reliance on fossil fuels, which in turn reduces GHG emissions. There are a growing number of companies, including Ecoalf, Odina Surf, Teeki, Patagonia and Nike making clothing and accessories using recycled plastics. This doesn’t address all of the problems associated with synthetic materials, like microplastic shedding, but it does take a step in the right direction.

6) For evening wear, choose silk.

Here’s why: Silk is a natural, durable, yet biodegradable material that has a very low environmental impact. As the technology to spin polyester fibers improves, polyester is making its way more and more into our evening wear — but we don’t need plastic in our evening gowns. Choose pieces made of 100% silk instead, even if that means buying vintage or second-hand. If you’re concerned about the ethical issues associated with silk production, consider peace silk.

7) Go nude! Just kidding. And making sure you’re still reading.


8) Embrace TENCEL®.

Here’s why: According to Reformation, “Tencel is like the Beyoncé of fabric.” Need I say more?

Lyocell, sold as the branded fabric TENCEL®, is a highly sustainable material. Tencel’s wood source is most commonly eucalyptus, which grows quickly without irrigation and doesn’t need chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Furthermore, eucalyptus can grow on marginal land that isn’t ideal for farming, which means its production doesn’t compete with the production of food. Tencel is produced through a closed loop system, in which virtually all of the chemicals are captured and reused, rather than being emitted into the environment as pollutants.

Given that over 70 million trees are cut down annually to make wood-based fibers (30% of which come from endangered/ancient forests), eucalyptus-based Tencel is a much more sustainable option than wood-based rayon.


(You may have heard about about bamboo-based synthetic fibers, too. That’s a tricky one: As opposed to rayon, bamboo, the source, is extremely sustainable. It grows quickly, needs very little irrigation and doesn’t require chemical pesticides or fertilizers. But when it comes to the sustainability of the production process, the majority of bamboo is produced in exactly the same way as rayon, which is a heavy chemical process that pollutes air and water. There is a type of bamboo known as bamboo linen, which is produced mechanically and not chemically. Bamboo linen is in fact a sustainable material option, but it’s rare to find it.)

9) Steer away from blended fibers when you can.

Here’s why: Blended fibers are those made from mixing two or more different materials together. For example, jeans are very often comprised of a blend of cotton and elastane, which makes the jeans a bit stretchier (and it’s appreciated). What is less appreciated is that clothing made of blended fibers cannot be recycled, because the technology doesn’t exist to separate the fibers yet. Because we are producing, consuming and turning over such a high volume of clothing, recycling fibers is an important way to reduce our use of virgin raw materials. So whenever possible, favor clothes made exclusively from a single material (i.e. 100% x).

10) Recycle or donate your clothes when you’re ready to move on from them.

Here’s why: Clothing that sits in landfills is a huge environmental problem. In the US alone, we throw away 10.5 million tons of clothing each year, which represents 85% of our clothing waste. Once in a landfill, plastic-based materials are essentially never going to budge because the sturdy chemical properties of plastic polymers means they won’t break down. Even though natural fibers could hypothetically decompose, landfills don’t provide the ideal conditions for that, so those fibers are effectively not breaking down either. So send a little love a landfill’s way and always donate or recycle your clothes.


When it comes to materials, taking a moderate approach is key. There is no perfectly sustainable material. The goal is to be more aware of the ways in which our material decisions matter in places far beyond our closets.

Nadine Farag is a sustainability writer and consultant in New York City. Nadine researched and authored Zady’s New Standard, which examines the social and environmental issues associated with apparel manufacturing. Follow her on Instagram @nadinefarag and Twitter @nadinefarag. Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis; gifs designed by Juliette Kang; Ana Khouri ring, Club Monaco necklace


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  • Eva Skewes

    I love this piece – knowing what goes into our clothing and how it affects the world around us is essential – but I don’t think it’s quite fair to say that genetically modified food and crops are automatically bad. We’ve been selectively breeding plants and animals for centuries, and that’s essentially what genetic modification is, if on a higher level. With climate change and population growth, it’s also essential to feeding a huge portion of the world.

    The main issue, for me, is transparency. Pesticide resistance, overuse of said pesticides, whatever’s going on with the bees (SAVE THE BEES), the notorious awfulness of Monsanto, etc. are also crucial issues.

    That said, I have stopped buying anything that’s polyester or other blended fabrics (jeans excepted), in part because I find they’re of poorer quality and they have shorter lives. I’m determined to create a sustainable wardrobe that last a long time and polyester just doesn’t have a place in it.

    • Nadine Farag

      Thanks so much Eva for your thoughtful comment. Oh the GM debate…I appreciate the nuance of your opinion! I wasn’t making any type of absolute judgement on GM but rather hoping to point out that there are environmental issues with its use. I agree about the transparency and agribusiness model/methods as being problematic, too. Would love to hear more about your post-polyester wardrobe.

      • Eva Skewes

        And I appreciate you writing the article! The GM debate is really tough and I used to be an absolutist (no GM anything) but am trying to have a more nuanced view of it.

        The post-polyester wardrobe has been pretty great so far. I buy less, in part because the items cost more, partly because i don’t need to buy as much because everything lasts longer, and also because it takes longer to find what I’m looking for (I’m on the hunt for a good midi skirt, preferably in a neutral but everything’s either extra expensive or super cheap or medium range…but poly. I don’t have access to a good vintage store, which also hurts the search). The clothes so far have had a much longer life even though I wear each item much more often. I air-dry all of my ‘good’ clothes, which helps as well.

        If anything it cuts down on spontaneous purchases, because I can only buy something on a whim if it’s not poly and so much is made of polyester nowadays. It’s been a definite habit change that takes constant work, but I’m happy I did it.

        • Nadine Farag

          This is great. I love your approach. Thank you so much for sharing.

        • I’m the same with polyester! On top of the planetary concerns (and impulse control) it’s such a game-changer not to always profusely sweat into your clothes.

          P.S. I do live in Singapore – which is like living on the sun. Everyday.

        • Rose

          For a midi skirt, see Sympatico Clothing’s Angled Skirt here: Made of a hemp and Tencel blend, (both of which will degrade. . .)

        • This is sooo interesting Eva!! I feel exactly the same – and sometimes feel I’m in a bit of a bubble, so it’s amazing to find like-minded folk!

  • Charlotte

    I’m in the final stages of my MA thesis Cultural Anthropology Sustainable Citizenship. It’s about a group of Syrian tailors, who are also refugees, who share their tailoring skills and their vision on social and environmental sustainable practices with design students in the host country. This morning I was thinking… what is it worth. It’s the insomnia talking, I know, but this is what I needed for some extra energy! Knowledge about ‘the fabric of our society’ and clothing matters. Thanks Nadine and MR in general for paying more and more attention to sustainability in fashion!

    • Nadine Farag

      Sounds so interesting, Charlotte! It is worth a lot! Keep at it and good luck finishing.

    • singledisneyprincess

      Where are you doing your MA! It sounds fascinating.

    • This does sound amazing! Don’t lose the faith Charlotte! There are so many people out there who really care about the impact of their products and what they wear. I’d love to hear more about it, and maybe feature you my blog: Please do get in touch info[@]

  • PDA

    I can never figure out this blog. One day, they want everyone to pose with items from H&M clothing because its a sponsored post. They will mentor the winner. The next day, they want us to buy better.

    • Errr … H&M actually uses/offers recycled polyester and wool, offers lyocell and organic cotton and also takes back any used clothes for further use?

  • Suzanne

    I’m so happy with this article! I always look at the label to see of what kind of fabric it’s made, but if you google it you get all those chemical terms that I don’t understand while this is just what I want to know!
    Maybe MR should do a podcast with Leandra and Nadine about sustainability? 🙂

    • Nadine Farag

      Thanks, Suzanne! I’m so happy you found it helpful.

  • Suzanne

    oh! I just found your website with podcasts on it! Still, one in collaboration with MR would be awesome:)

  • I’ll preface this by saying that this is a very important and informative article. There’s a giant problem with quantity of quality shopping in the US.

    Everyone is wearing polyester because it’s cheaper. Cheaper in stores, easier to maintain. I have a tough time finding reasonably priced cotton and linen shirts. I still remember the 2013 Man Repeller post about the luxury of Zara where the comment section exploded. (Zara is expensive!) It’s hard to convince people to “invest” in pieces when it requires saving up money in our #OOTD culture. I wish my best friend wouldn’t buy pleather, but her $20 boots and the two $40 moto jackets from the Macy’s junior section still cost less than the $250 Michael Kors jacket I found in the women’s section. My boyfriend won’t pay $30 for a plain hemp undershirt when he’s used to paying $5 at Old Navy. He bought some Meundies and they started falling apart before his Hanes do.

    Somewhat related: my grandmother immigrated from Poland and worked in borderline sweat shop conditions in New Jersey for 25 years – sewing discount clothing. My mother raised the funds to immigrate with me by sewing generic (and polyester!) business attire in Poland.

    • Nadine Farag

      I appreciated this comment, Adrianna. I’m curious…where do you think change begins? For example, is it a shift in mindset favoring quality over quantity or education or something else?

      • Like anything else it’s probably a combination. As a consumer and fashion follower, it feels like there’s a new cool trend I should try to acquire every few months. When we think of earlier American fashion, I think we all automatically imagine one or two iconic looks per decade. There are so many style options in 2016.

        I think education is very important. The ironic thing is, my European mother completely favors quantity despite having experience on the other side of clothing manufacturing. She taught me not to buy polyester or pleather, but I don’t think she’s noticed that her bar for quality diminished over the 20 years we’ve been here. She lives next to a large factory outlet in PA, and I watched the quality decrease – Lacoste sweaters rip after one wear, polyester instead of cotton in JCrew. I told her that the items are so much cheaper in factory outlets because the items are manufactured unethically or at least in impoverished countries. She looked shocked that I suggested that and admitted that she didn’t even consider the possibility.

        My friends and I come from blue collar backgrounds. I never heard of Chanel until I was in my early twenties. My boyfriend can certainly afford a $30 organic undershirt today, but his immediate reaction is that he’s being robbed. Money elicits strong emotions and it’s hard to get past that wall to convince people that they should spend more for ethical reasons.

        • Nadine Farag

          So many great points here. Thanks, Adrianna.

  • Pia Hocevar Mucic

    what a useful article, I need to be more careful in picking materials !
    Fash ‘n’ fudge
    Fash ‘n’ fudge

    • Nadine Farag

      Thanks, Pia!

  • Thank you! Thank you! thank you for is article! This is what I’m trying to learn more about. If we decide to be consumers we owe it to the earth to be more careful. With all the press around organic food and sustainable farming, I’m glad there is still buzz about sustainable dressing. Thank you again for posting this!

    • Nadine Farag

      Thank you, Leandra!

  • ecot

    what’s the word on viscose – i have a friend who works with NGO’s and said it is extremely destructive to environment – what do you know?

  • freerangefashion

    Really excellent piece thank you. The only thing I would add to your last point on recycling, try some upcycling too. I have just bought (for very little money on ebay) some enormous summer dresses in hideously old-fashioned cuts, but the prints and fabrics are gorgeous, so I’m taking the dresses apart and altering them. Not for everyone, I know, but it’s actually not that hard and also is a lot of fun. Paula /

    • Nadine Farag

      This is a great point! Thank you for sharing it.

    • Great point Paula – I love upcycling. Even rags can get turned into rag-rugs!! Amaaazing fun 😀

  • Iris Lillian

    Bravo! Thank you for publishing this article and continuing the conversation. I think education is key. Once we understand the ramifications of our purchases we can make informed decisions and pass these on to the next generation. It’s going to take some time though, I’d imagine.
    Iris Lillian

    • Nadine Farag

      Thanks, Iris! And I completely agree with you…

  • LOVE this piece, thank you! I’ve been trying to steer clear of polyester for a long time for a multitude of reasons, and always donate or sell anything I no longer want.

    The only items that I really do throw away rather than donate are socks and underwear… are there any sustainable/biodegradable brands that you would recommend?

    • Nadine Farag

      Hi! You can donate (clean!) underwear and socks as well because donation centers sell unwearable clothing to companies that recycle the materials. Any 100% natural fiber underwear is biodegradable and can even be composted ( if you’re inclined! Rodale’s has a lot of organic cotton options.

  • Great article! As a designer myself, I’m always trying to educate my shoppers on the impacts and benefits of different fibers. I’d also mention that eucalyptus over-planting is an issue that is impacting ecosystems:

    • Nadine Farag

      Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Erica.

  • Perry

    Can someone explain to me why Vetements dresses are 100% POLYESTER??!! Especially at their retail value!

    • Nadine Farag

      This is a really important observation….I’m also curious! Thanks, Perry.

  • jade

    Cashmers are best material but there is still different way how to raise goat without damaging land.Mongolians will found out.Goats eat eveything even fabrics.People learn try different way to raise goats .I really did like very tine chashmer tee made in Italy.I am foreign inUSA but always be humble and check only clearance area.But found good things i like

    • jade

      I really dont like polyester when it is hot too hot when cold too cold.It is look ok but …..Cotton is nice.But cotton from India or Turkey is bravo.

  • Michelle Yasmin Hutchinson

    Great topic and coverage!! xxx

  • Jessicaaaa

    Thank you!!

  • slowfashionuy

    I love your interested in sustainable, recycle and reuse fashion!.
    Its such a HUGE matter nows a day, and being just consious of that its the zero step to climb the fashion waste montain.
    Lovely article for those who dont know how to start or dont know the origin of their garments either.
    I have a blog dedicated to cover all this topics (in the fashion industry) and to inform, awareness, help, besides others purposes.
    Keep posting like this!.
    All the best.

    • Nadine Farag

      Thank you, Macarena!

  • Anonymous

    I’m a bit disappointed in this article. While the information on materials was thoughtful (and interesting) the last statement on recycling was written as an afterthought.
    Focusing on the “cradle” aspect of clothing is important, but “grave” is the part that truely impacts sustainability.
    Arguably, this is a fashion based blog focused on buying and wearing new materials, trends and clothing styles and the selling of such products. However, it seems vintage clothing should be referenced if recycling and sustainability were the main point.
    That being said this was a well written article. I just have an opinion that the reduce, reuse, recycle should have been either the thesis of the post or not referenced at all.

    • Nadine Farag

      Thanks for your comment and for suggesting how you think the piece could have been more helpful for you. The main point of the article was not recycling but rather understanding more about materials and their impacts. If you have any vintage or recycling tips to share, please do!

  • Kristen

    Great article! This is something I am becoming more and more passionate about. However, I am curious about one thing: how do we recycle clothing? As far as I know, my city does not have a recycling facility that can take clothing. Does anyone know of legitimate places we can send single fibre clothing (100% polyester, especially) to be recycled?

    • Nadine Farag

      Hi! When you donate clothing to any donation center, they sort clothing into what is wearable and what isn’t. Unwearable clothing gets sent to textile sorting/recycling centers. Here is a link to search for the nearest donation or recycling center near you by zip code:

  • Beatrice

    This is AMAZING! Another great piece on sustainability from Nadine : ) I’m so happy Man Repeller has been publishing more about sustainable fashion.

    • Nadine Farag

      Thank you, Beatrice!

  • I love this post Nadine. Thanks for sharing! I am the owner and designer of a women’s clothing label ( I am constantly looking for better ways to create and design clothing when it comes to sustainability. I believe that the more we support organic and sustainable fabric manufactures, the more sustainability impact and demand we create. I also have a one-of-a-kind line where I up cycle Vintage clothing giving it a second life. I automatically stay away from synthetic materials, although if I am being honest, faux fur is a material I still can’t get away. It is like (for me) being vegan but having that bacon once in a while. I do, however, live by the “Quality over Quantity” set of mind. My pieces are limited edition and I am and I will be forever against mass production. Thanks again for setting a “good seed” to many of us. It is always helpful to keep encouraging others to stay on track. I am looking forward to always improving and sourcing more and more sustainability though out my work. As mother of 3, it is crucial to do my best to leave a better place for their future.

    • Nadine Farag

      Thanks for your comment, Myriam. Happy to learn of your label.

  • Christine

    Hi, I would realy encourage everyone to see the documentary “The True Cost”. After seeing it I think everyone can find small ways to alter their thinking about fast fashion and saving towards quality. Thanks for the article.

    • Nadine Farag

      Thanks, Christine for offering this recommendation!

  • 808kate

    I would personally really like to know more about how to identify good quality clothing. In my experience more expensive hasn’t correlated to better quality – I’ve had H&M and Zara items that lasted forever, and more expensive stuff that just turned out to be expensive because of the label and fell apart easily. I’ve even had a bunch of Everlane stuff fall apart on me, which was disappointing, because I was trying to buy decent basics that would last! Anyway, I feel like if I knew more about how to identify quality it would be much easier to buy less stuff!

    • Nadine Farag

      This is such an important issue, Kate and one that we don’t really learn how to look for. Thanks for bringing it up as something that would be helpful for you.

  • Balancing our interest in fashion with conscious consumption; this is a great notion. Although many people take into account other strains we put on the planet, for example eating meat or car pollution, we never really talk about the issue of producing the billions of pieces of clothes we consume a year. We will definitely be taking a closer look at the label the next time we’re out shopping!

    • Nadine Farag

      Well said! Thanks for your comment.

  • I like to think of myself as a pretty aware consumer (I am fully OCD about checking tags and “literally” recoil in horror when I find polyester lurking) but
    I had no idea you couldn’t recycle blended fibres! Consider my mind blown.

    Fanks Team MR

    • Nadine Farag

      Love the polyester recoil.

  • Eleni Toubanos

    I’ve loved all of your articles! As a fiber science major (read: fiber nerd) I love high-quality textiles and materials; however, am distressed by how many of these materials are manufactured. I look forward to learning more about sustainability in the fashion industry from you!

    • Nadine Farag

      Thanks so much Eleni! If you have any good fiber-related tips, I’d love to hear them!

  • Great story, very well written and structured. A little disappointed that wool was just by-passed, as it is such a wonderful, durable and much loved fibre, offers enormous health benefits for the user (through temperature regulation) and is so flexible. I always travel in wool, sleep in it and excercise in it. It keeps the chills out and the cozy in. Laundering is also down to minimal, as all you have to do is air it. Makes for use pr unit above and beyond any other items in my wardrobe. The lack of smell retention and flame retardancy means adding chemical og other not very eco-friendly treatments are kept at a minimum.

  • Veronica
  • Aggie

    Thank you for this article!! I am glad you mentioned Lyocell as it is a recent discovery of mine and a very very comfortable textile. I may add that it’s actually very good for summer because it absorbs sweat much better than cotton. I found basic tshirts at & other stories and I’m glad that I could find this fabric in a somewhat affordable store. I hate polyester, to the touch you can definitely feel the difference and I think that’s the main thing with educating people. Most of them have never experienced how much more comfortable natural textiles are, for me there’s no way I can go back to wearing plastic!

  • Yass!! Lack of sustainability in fashion is one of my main soapbox issues. Love the tips and info here. I’d also like to put in a plug for second-hand and consignment stores. I’ve found some high-quality, like-new pieces in second-hand stores that have lasted many years. Cost is my biggest barrier to buying ethical brands. Buying second-hand has allowed me to pay fast-fashion prices for pieces that are made and sourced ethically.

  • As a sewing blogger, the topic of sustainable fabrics is one which we consider often. I’m so happy to see this covered in a fashion blog – thank you! I like to make my own clothes, and linen has been a recent favourite. I just bought some Tencel to sew a modern mandarin collar shirt. You really can get excited about sustainable fabrics!

  • Tanya Shariff

    This article was excellent – I learned a lot. I thought cotton was good but was shocked to learn how water intensive it is as a crop – especially when you put in the context of a tshirt!

    On your final point regarding donating – I’m afraid that donating isn’t always the best solution because many clothes that we donate to the likes of The Salvation Army or Goodwill end up across poor African countries where it is cheaper to buy these used clothes than to buy new clothes that are manufactured in those countries. It effectively ends up killing the garment manufacturing industries in those countries, putting factory workers and farmers out of jobs. I’m not sure I can post the link here but George Packer’s March 31, 2002, NYTimes article, “How Susie Bayer’s T-shirt Ended Up on Yusuf Mama’s Back,” explains how T-shirts and other donated U.S. clothing ends up in third world countries. It’s a great read.

  • Greenhaus

    This is a wonderful article! So nicely written, not intimidating nor heavy . . . simply explanatory and easy to read. Thank you! My ideal would be a mixture of newly made organic basics, quality vintage (or thrifted) garments, and (as mentioned in previous comments) upcycled pieces. Ah! The trifecta is perfect!!! Good on good on good! 🙂 – Ana

  • Daisy Gardner

    Thanks for the wonderful article! I always try to buy ethical and sustainable clothing and it can be really hard sometimes to get to the bottom of what is ok to buy, and what isn’t. I think many companies make it purposefully misleading, or confusing so that most people will give up. Thanks for the well researched, clear, easy-to-read article on fabrics 🙂

  • Love this! There is so much great information in this post. Thank you for doing so much research and making this big topic seem a bit easier to get into. One of my resolutions this year is to buy less and when I do shop to buy more sustainable. Knowing about fabric is totally a part of this new lifestyle.

    • Great mindset, Alyson! Check out some of my ‘Sustainable Fashion Talk’-videos for more on this topic :))) Love, Veronica

  • This is a great piece. But I’ve seen some garments being mislabeled too – an obviously polyester top labeled cotton! How do we tackle this?

  • FabricUK

    I recently wrote a couple of posts on fashion sustainability and ethics These points are very interesting and it seems there is always more to add to the topic. I suppose if we are constantly aiming to be more environmentally friendly then there will always be more we can learn and better ways of doing things e.g. dyeing methods etc. However it’s unfortunate that some people aren’t interested in this issue at all, and for those who are it is hard to actually find more sustainable clothing. I mean it’s difficult enough finding a style you like that fits well let alone being made out of fibres as rare as hemp, recycled polyester or not blended at all. I think what consumers need to do is raise more awareness and do the best they can to purchase more responsibly, but ultimately companies need to be making that change in their research and production methods. Great post, always love to learn more about the topic and see the word being spread!

  • BeachBohemians

    Dear Nadine, may i ask where i can find data for the infos you provided? I´d like to make a pie chart or diagram for my blog and you have very useful informations in your article. But i want to make something instantly understandable and don´t want to rip apart your article without any research?
    Thank you in advance!

    Btw: i think a large part in the absolute chaotic fast fashion consumerism behavior is due to a combination of too many options and the a lack of a plan. I like the food pyramid – everyone knows it since childhood and even if we don´t always eat as suggested, in the back of our mind we know what we should eat more and what less.
    I absolutely need something similar for fashion: a plan of what to buy and how much of it. I´m not talking about absolute numbers or quantities but about proportions. And it´s not meant to be a must but a tool to clarify and separate the needs from the desires (It is ok to have pieces of desire, something you consume as if it´s chocolate).
    I made a pyramid to help me avoid “Fehlkäufe” – best translated as misbuyings maybe? What do you think?

  • Meg

    Thank you for sharing Nadine- just out of curiosity, is there a significant difference between the amount of chemicals used and pollutants created from the production/manufacture of bamboo as compared to lyocell?

    Also, I saw that a few people mentioned H&M, and for anyone who believes and supports ethical products, you might be disappointed by how H&M runs operations behind the scenes. You can read more about it in the following websites:

  • Eve

    Great article. I started to check a composition but does take so much time. Recently I have found a website where you can find a lot of items made of cotton, silk and other natural or semi-natural fabrics from most common brands like Zara, AE or H&M. They show detailed composition, so you don’t have to click on every item to check if it’s 100% of cotton or 1%. They don’t have search engine unfortunately, but worth to check.

  • jupe77

    This is the BEST article I’ve read on this subject so far, and I’ve read many.

  • Stephanie

    Powerful piece. Through platforms like, there are new business models emerging in sustainable fashion that give fashion brands a marketplace to monetize their textile waste and recycle anything proprietary. Together we can change the world!

  • Thanks for sharing this again! Love it when Nadine contributes <3
    We also shared some tips for Earth Day. An excuse to skip laundry day, and tips to avoid saggy butt syndrome!