The Best Ethical Sustainable Fabrics

What to look for in a Fabric or brand information?

  • What Fabrics are the product made from? Usually it is more than one. One fabric might be more ethical than the other. Has the brand attempted to ensure both fabrics  are sustainable or is it relying on that one ethical fabric to carry its product? For example A product made from Organic Cotton and Nylon. Is it recycled Nylon or freshly made Nylon?
  • How is that fabric made, Is there details of the manufacturing process. If Bamboo, is it a closed loop system? Is there any mention of the dyeing process? Is there any certifications attached to the fabric, like GOTS or Oeko-Tex 100?
  • Where is the fabric & product made? By buying a product of a country you are contributing to their economy. Do you want to contribute to a communist regime or a dictatorship?  What do you know about workers rights from the country in question? Has the brand addressed this? Product Miles – How far has the fabric and product had to be transported to get to you.  Here in the UK, it makes sense to buy from Europe if we can as it is closer.
  • How transparent is the brand that you are contributing money towards? Do they state exactly what, how and where they make their products? Do they talk about their relationship with their production cycle or is is all written in airy fairy language that when you really look at it, it tells you nothing at all.
  • Is the brand using recycled fabrics? The world has a huge fabric mountain of old textiles, some like Nylon that are hard to biodegrade but use up less resources to recycle than make from new.

A lot to think about and consider. We need to be buying less. What we do buy needs to be bought in a more considered way. Fashion should not be throw away. What we buy needs to be made from a sustainable fabric, made in an ethical way and be of a quality that lasts us for years.


Cotton – Much has be written about the problems with convential cotton growing and processing. Environmental issues with pesticide & water use and the social impact for the cotton workers. I recommend this article by “Good on you”*

With Cotton it has to be Certified Organic by The Soil Assocation or GOTS. This ensures not only is the fabric organic, but that it has also been processed within strict standards See Here*

A more sustainable cotton than Organic Cotton would be recycled Cotton. A product made from Recycled Cotton is far superior as you are re-using a material rather than using up a new resource.


Bamboo – A sustainable plant but with a damaging manufacturing process. Bamboo Viscose Raylon has been manufactured using an intensive chemical process that can be harmful to the environment and its workers. This process can be done within a closed loop system, which means the chemicals are still used but are reused again and not released into the environment after use. The workers will still be using these chemicals and the chemicals could potentially be on the clothes. So additional certifications that you could look out for are Oeko-Tex 100 Certification * which ensures that the finished clothes have been found safe from harmful chemicals. You would also be on the look out for brands that have a transparent manufacturing process and are doing as much as they can to limit the effect on the environment.

Eucalyptus Trees
Eucalyptus Trees used to make Tencel

TENCEL™ Lyocell is made from eucalyptus trees – which grow fast and thick on low grade land. In comparison to cotton these trees take about 80% less water to grow. Seen as one of the most sustainable fabrics due to its manufacturing process which uses a non-toxic organic solvent in a closed loop system. Certified as compostable and Biodegradable.

Plastic bottles
Plastic Bottles can be recycled into Polyester

Polyester is a  polymers produced by mixing terephthalic acid.  and ethylene glycol, which is derived from petroleum. Petroleum is from the oil industry which is thought to be the most largest pollutant.

Polyester dyes are insoluable in water and do not easily decompose. They are very toxic to plant and marine life as well as  humans, with  large incidence of cancers within the worker’s in the industry.

Polyester is a form of plastic which is not biodegradable but can be recycled.

Recycling Polyester is usually made from recycling plastic bottles and is better to use then virgin Polyester unless it is a fleece material. Fleece materials give off microfibres (microplastic’s) when washed. These get into the water system and are dangerous for marine life.

Recycled Plastic Shreds
Recycled Plastic Shreds

Nylon – A fabric made as a replacement for silk and was one of the first synthetic fabrics. Made from reacting carbon-based chemicals such as oil & Petroleum in a high pressured heated environment. This forms a polymer which is a form of plastic.

Nylon has the same sort of environmental impact as discussed above for Polyester is cannot biodegrade but it can also be made out of recycled plastic. Econyl* is a nylon made from recycled plastic in a closed loop system.


Elastane/Spandex/Lycra –  Known as a fabric that is lightweight, elastic and strong. Often seen in sportwear and added to close fitting clothing such as underwear and socks as it helps keep the item in situ as its stretched over your body.

Another fabric made from a polymer from crude oil similar to Nylon & Polyester. Can be formed from recycled plastic’s

Fabric’s made from Recycled or virgin plastic is known to cause microplastic’s in our water cycle. This Micro-plastics are thought to be harmful to marine and human health. Micro-plastic shedding into the water is know for being worse in fleece materials and virgin plastics. The shedding is considered less in recycled fabrics.

For this reason I would hesitate to buy underwear made mostly from Polyester, recycled or otherwise. We wash underwear alot and even while using a Guppyfriend some microplastic will enter the water. For me it is about reducing the risk. Underwear with a small amount of recycled plastic, (as you need it for stretch and fit) would be fine but not mostly made from plastics.

I would much rather reuse plastic fabrics in other products that do not get washed alot, like curtains.

*This page contains affiliate links, that means we get a very small commission if you order through these links. This costs you nothing but helps keep these pages ad-free.

Share your thoughts