As with anything else in the sustainable world, there are many shades of green when it comes to sustainable fabrics. It can be challenging to decide just "how green" a fabric is. There are three basic factors to consider: fiber, blend, and finish. That's not so complicated, is it? Depends on how deep you want to go. Today we're discussing fibers. We have natural fibers and synthetic fibers, and synthetic fibers made from natural fibers. What to choose?
In my opinion, natural fibers are usually the "darkest green" of the bunch... naturally. They are made from renewable resources, and can decompose when we dispose of them. I also prefer them to synthetics because many of them don't build up static electricity. Unfortunately, designers are limited when using natural fibers in commercial settings because of flammability and durability requirements. Natural fibers can also fade, stain easily, and be susceptible to mildew. (Wool is an exception to many of these limitations, but it's often too pricey for commercial use.) Fabrics are often treated for fire and stain resistance, but that brings up issues that will be covered in another post.
Not all natural fibers are created equal. The most common choices are bamboo, cotton, linen, wool, silk, and hemp. Would leather be considered a natural fiber? Yes, in my opinion, but there are enough challenges with leather to warrant another post as well!
Bamboo is currently my favorite natural fiber. It grows crazy fast (rapidly renewable), and the plant doesn't need a lot of specialized care. Bamboo fabrics are super soft and absorbant. Bamboo fabric is a relatively new material, but it has finally become affordable. There are many concerns, however, about the chemicals used in processing a lot of the bamboo currently on the market. For a much more in-depth look, check out Organic Clothing's opinion of bamboo.
review of the pros and cons of cotton.
creative design products such as rugs, cushions, bowls, and other accessories. Harvesting wool doesn't hurt the sheep at all. The only things to watch out for are how well the sheep are treated, and how the wool is processed (as with any textile, there are many eco drawbacks inherent in the processing). Check out Organic Clothing's post on wool.
Treehugger has a very informative post on the green credentials of silk. Organic Clothing also has a well-written post about silk.
So where do you look for these green materials? I'll be posting more resources in future posts, so stay tuned. In the meantime, here's a mini-directory of green fabrics from our friends at Treehugger.