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Go Green! Hints for Eco-Friendly Clothing and Fabrics


The Problem: What is eco-friendly clothing and fabrics and why do we need them?

As the population of our planet increases, our resources, such as oil, other types of fuels, trees, water, etc. dwindle.  When we create materials to replace non-renewable resources, the planet’s air, water, soil, plants, and animals are negatively affected.  Consequently, it is important to find and promote materials that are considered "environmentally-friendly.”  Such materials are resources that can be replenished in a relatively short amount of time (as opposed to millennia). 

Besides considering the rate of renewal of fabric resources, we must also consider how much land it takes to create renewable fabric resources and how many chemicals it requires to grow and process them for market.

Thus, when we consider clothing and fabrics for homes, we see a need for environmentally friendly materials such as organic fabrics and non-toxic inks and dyes.  Organic cotton and fast-growing plants like bamboo, hemp, and soy are becoming popular alternatives to traditional cotton and wool fibers for clothing and fabrics. 


Solutions to the Need for Eco-Friendly Clothing

Clothing companies, hearing about their customers’ love for the environment, are increasingly making more eco-friendly clothing, using organic and recycled materials, less packaging, and energy-efficient manufacturing.  Concerns over global warming, the impact of clothing production on the Earth, and worker health has spurred on this trend. (2)

“Consumers are demanding it,” says Megan Davis, spokeswoman for the Outdoor Industry Association in Boulder, Colo.  “Green is certainly hip but consumers are starting to look a little bit more carefully at what they’re buying.”  (2)  Eco-clothing is hot in fashion.  Rock star Bono started a new eco-friendly clothing line with his wife.  Sustainability was a big theme of the recent London Fashion Week, due to the sudden appearance of so many eco-friendly clothing manufacturers.

The fashion industry is raising its environmental consciousness and “There’s a growing competitive advantage for companies that take on environmental issues in a very real way and talking to consumers about it,” states Betsy Blaisdell, Timberland’s (a $1.6 billion outdoor company) manager of environmental concerns. (2)  Eco-friendly clothing manufacturers who recognize this are quickly developing new product lines. 


The ecological footprint of hemp is smaller than that of other plants used for fibers. Hemp plants grow quickly and densely, eliminating the need for herbicides and artificial fertilizers.  It requires no irrigation other than average rainfall and is highly bug-resistant.

Hemp has naturally long fibres, easily spun with a minimum of processing. The fibres are long-lasting and tough. Hemp fabrics come in many weights and textures. (2)


Wool is a fairly good eco-friendly resource, with a few exceptions.  Sheep graze plants until they are gone and sheep manure enters the water supply.  Factory-farmed sheep often live miserable lives when farmers only care about productivity and speed.  During the shearing process, cuts are common even to the point of slicing the nose off the sheep.

Then there is the problem of bleaching wool to get it white, or dyeing it, but by acting responsibly most of these issues can be overcome. (2)

Organic Cotton

Organic cotton is a more eco-friendly fabric than traditional cotton, as it needs no pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides.  There are many growers, and the number is increasing.

Usually manufacturers using this plant also use natural dyes to reduce the amount of chemicals dumped into water systems and soil.

Sally Fox, a biologist, has perfected a coloured cotton with long fibres that can be spun into thread.  It grows naturally in shades of green and brown.  It does not fade in colour and gets brighter after the first few washings. (2)

Soy Silk

Soy silk is made from the by-products of tofu-making.  The liquefied proteins are extruded into fibres which are spun and used like any other fibre.  It is very easy to colour it with natural dyes. (2)


Bamboo fabric is created when bamboo pulp is put through a process of hydrolysis-alkalization and multi-phase bleaching.  Bamboo is eco-friendly because it is a highly renewable grass, which is very fast growing and nearly impossible to kill.  It has antibacterial properties and the fabric breathes.”   Bamboo cloth is biodegradable. (2)

Effectiveness / Result

Eco-Friendly Clothing Brands

This year, Keen, a Portland, Oregon shoemaker, introduced the Ventura, a sneaker that uses recycled aluminum eyelets, non-synthetic and biodegradable rubber, and water-based glues.  Sales of organic cotton are projected to hit $2.8 billion next year due to brands like Nike and Patagonia developing organic cotton clothing.  The apparel company Kavu introduced a new line of bamboo, soy, and hemp shirts, pullovers, and pants. GoLite brand backpacking shirts are made from discarded coconut shells.  You can find socks made of corn in some REI outlets. The corn socks are soft like cotton, but they stay drier. (2)

The Facts

Facts About Eco-Friendly Clothing and Fabrics

Growing cotton uses 22.5% of all the insecticides used around the world.  Growing enough cotton for one T-shirt requires 257 gallons of water.  Bleaching and then dyeing fabrics creates toxins that flow into our lakes, rivers, and oceans. The use of rayon is contributing to the rapid depletion of the world's forests.  Petroleum-based products are detrimental to the environment in many ways. Fortunately there are alternatives. (2)


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Submitted by Ann on Aug 3, 2008