How Sustainable Are Velvet Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis

How Sustainable Are Velvet Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis

By
Quynh Nguyen

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Velvet is a type of fabric traditionally woven with silk and gradually modernized with more recently invented fibers. Since velvet can be made from any kind of yarn, its environmental impacts are diverse and inconsistent. So, we had to sit down and untangle the question: How sustainable are velvet fabrics? 

The sustainability of velvet fabrics depends on specific base fibers, ranging from unsustainable (silk, conventional cotton, plastic-based synthetic fibers) to sustainable (recycled/organic cotton, linen, lyocell). Traditionally, manufacturing velvet from silk uses a lot of land, water, and energy. 

In this article, we’ll walk you through the life-cycle of velvet fabrics used for clothes and household items. Then, we evaluate its sustainability, potential, and shortfalls. And in the end, we’ll show you tips for buying sustainable products made with velvet fabrics.

Here’s How We Assessed the Sustainability of Velvet Fabrics

Velvet fabrics are woven materials made with a specific type of yarn or a combination of several. 

The traditional silk-based velvet is generally not sustainable. Sourcing and processing silk protein fibers are resource-intensive. At the usage stage, washing and caring for velvet fabrics have high environmental impacts. 

However, sustainable velvet fabrics can be made from other types of yarns. 

Here is a nonexclusive list of other fibers used in velvet fabrics in the general order from the most sustainable (at the top) to the least sustainable (at the bottom), with reference to the ranking by Made-By Environmental Benchmark for Fibres

Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”

Oxford Dictionary

To understand the sustainability of velvet fabrics, we must assess their life-cycle and each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials. Over the years, companies have strategically used LCA to research and create more sustainable products. So, let’s have a look at the LCA of velvet fabrics!

In this article, we’ll use the cradle-to-grave perspective of the LCA, examining the five stages of the life-cycle of clothing items and accessories made with velvet fabrics. When applicable, we also look at cradle-to-gate assessments

The life-cycle stages of velvet fabricsEach stage’s sustainability
Sourcing of velvet fabricsSourcing silk as raw material for velvet fabrics is not sustainable. Silk comes from the cocoons that silkworm caterpillars produce to wrap around themselves while transforming into silkworm moths. The main food for these larvae is the mulberry tree leaves, which are often cultivated with significant land, irrigation, and (unnecessary) synthetic agrochemicals.

However, the sourcing stage of velvet fabrics can be sustainable when raw materials come from recycled waste, organically farmed and/or low-input plants, and fast-growing trees. For example, sourcing discarded cotton fibers (recycled cotton) or organic flax plants (organic linen), or eucalyptus wood (lyocell) as raw materials for velvet fabrics is sustainable. 
Manufacturing of velvet fabricsManufacturing velvet fabrics is reasonably sustainable. The processes in velvet manufacturing are fundamentally mechanical, regardless of which base textile is used. The type of process dyes and the associated environmental impacts vary depending on the base textile. 
Transporting of velvet fabricsTransporting of velvet fabrics is generally not sustainable. It can be a carbon-intensive life-cycle stage for clothing items made with velvet fabrics due to the distances covered and emissions associated with transporting vehicles. Velvet fabrics typically travel from farms or fields to processing and finishing factories, sorting centers, shops, and consumer houses before going to recycling centers or landfills. 
Usage of velvet fabricsThe sustainability of using velvet fabrics depends on the yarn(s) used in manufacturing. 
Using velvet fabrics made with plastic-based yarns like petroleum-derived polyester or nylon is unsustainable. These materials release microplastics into marine environments.

This doesn’t happen with bio-based yarns, such as linen or lyocell, leading to a more sustainable usage stage for bio-based velvet fabrics. 
End-of-life of velvet fabricsThe sustainability of velvet fabrics’ end-of-life stage depends on the yarn(s) used in manufacturing. 
The end-of-life of velvet fabrics made with plastic-based synthetic yarns like petroleum-derived polyester or nylon is not sustainable. These materials are not biodegradable.

The end-of-life of velvet fabrics made with bio-based yarns is generally sustainable. Because of their biodegradability, these materials can be disposed of by composting, incinerating, and landfilling. 

Overall, we can say velvet fabrics are on a spectrum from very sustainable to highly unsustainable. However, the actual environmental impact of a particular product, a dress or the upholstery for a chair, depends on more specific factors, including the sourcing of the raw material, the manufacturing process, the transportation distance, and the distance and mode of transport. 

Let’s dive deeper into each life-cycle stage and find out how you can buy velvet fabrics more sustainably. 

How Sustainable Is the Sourcing of Raw Materials for Velvet Fabrics

Sourcing silk as raw material for velvet fabrics is not sustainable. Silk comes from the cocoons that silkworm caterpillars produce to wrap around themselves while transforming into silkworm moths. The main food for these larvae is the mulberry tree leaves, which are often cultivated with significant land, irrigation, and (unnecessary) synthetic agrochemicals. 

However, the sourcing stage of velvet fabrics can be sustainable when raw materials come from recycled waste, organically farmed and/or low-input plants, and fast-growing trees. For example, sourcing discarded cotton fibers (recycled cotton) or organic flax plants (organic linen), or eucalyptus wood (lyocell) as raw materials for velvet fabrics is sustainable. 

What Raw Materials Are Used for Velvet Fabrics

In theory, velvet fabrics can be made from any yarn alone or in combination with others. In practice, there are truly a wide variety of velvet fabrics under the sun. 

However, we will focus on four commonly used yarns, representing four big fiber categories to give you concrete examples alongside a broader picture of sourcing raw materials for velvet fabrics: 

  • silk in the animal-derived natural fiber group 
  • cotton in the plant-derived natural fiber group
  • viscose in the bio-based synthetic fiber group
  • polyester in the plastic-based synthetic fiber group 

How Do the Raw Materials Sourced for Velvet Fabrics Impact the Environment

In this section, we will examine the four yarns mentioned above commonly sourced for velvet fabrics and the sustainability of sourcing such materials: 

  • Sourcing silk yarn as raw materials for velvet fabrics 
  • Sourcing cotton yarn as raw materials for velvet fabrics 
  • Sourcing viscose yarn as raw materials for velvet fabrics 
  • Sourcing polyester yarn as raw materials for velvet fabrics 
How Does Sourcing Silk Yarns for Velvet Fabrics Impact the Environment

Sourcing silk for velvet fabrics is not sustainable. Silk yarn production is resource-intensive and potentially high-polluting. 

Silk is the traditional raw material for velvet fabrics. 

Manufacturing silk yarn uses the protein fibers produced by silkworm caterpillars to form their chrysalis (or cocoons). In most commercial settings, these caterpillars from Bombyx mori moths species are farmed indoors, often with a controlled temperature and moisture. 

The environmental impacts of sourcing commercial silk yarn occur in the two following stages: 

  • Farming silkworm larvae up until metamorphosis: keeping them indoors and meeting their voracious appetite with a huge amount of mulberry leaves 
  • Producing silk yarn from silkworm cocoons

During the farming stage (the 1st stage mentioned above), major sustainability issues are as followings: 

During the manufacturing stage (the 2nd stage mentioned above), major sustainability issues are as followings: 

Related: Are you interested to learn more about the environmental impact of silk fabrics? Check it out in the following article: “How Sustainable Are Silk Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis

Sourcing Animal-Derived Yarns For Velvet Fabrics 

Wool is another animal-derived yarn that can be used for velvet fabrics. Manufacturing wool is similarly unsustainable, largely because of the farming stage of hairy ruminant species like sheep or goats. 

As a fiber group, animal-derived yarn tends to have higher environmental impacts than plant-derived counterparts. Growing animal feeds might require a lot of natural resources. Such natural resources could be more effectively used to grow plants that directly provide fibers (for making plant-based yarns). 

How Does Sourcing Cotton Yarns for Velvet Fabrics Impact the Environment

Sourcing cotton for velvet fabrics is not sustainable. Conventional cotton production uses a lot of water, energy, and harmful toxic chemicals. Yet, opting for organic and/or recycled cotton yarn for velvet fabrics is sustainable. 

Cotton is among the alternative raw materials sourced for velvet fabrics, partly due to the lower price tag and the high availability. 

Manufacturing cotton yarn for velvet fabrics uses natural cellulose fibers extracted from cotton seeds (or so-called cotton bolls). Once separated, cotton fibers can be woven into cotton threads in a (mostly) mechanical process.

The environmental impacts of sourcing virgin cotton yarn occur in the two following stages: 

  • Cotton cultivation: growing cotton plants to harvest the fibers in their seeds 
  • Producing cotton yarn from cotton fibers 

During the conventional farming stage (the 1st stage mentioned above), major unsustainability issues are as followings: 

During the manufacturing stage (the 2nd stage mentioned above), major unsustainability issues are as followings: 

  • Producing cotton yarn for velvet fabrics is energy-intensive
  • Producing conventional cotton yarn for velvet fabrics uses toxic chemicals 
Related: Are you interested to learn more about the environmental impact of cotton fabrics? Check it out in the following article: “How Sustainable Are Cotton Fabrics? All You Need to Know

Sourcing Sustainable Cotton Yarns For Velvet Fabrics 

It is important to note that cotton yarns are not all equally made. Though conventional cotton is ranked class E – the least sustainable fiber class, recycled cotton belongs to class A – the most sustainable fiber class.

Here are various forms of cotton fabrics in the general order from the most sustainable (at the top) to the least sustainable (at the bottom), with reference to the ranking by Made-By Environmental Benchmark for Fibres

  1. Recycled cotton: mechanically recycled from pre- or post-consumer waste
  2. Organic cotton: grown without synthetic fertilizer and pesticides
  3. In-transition cotton: moving away from unsustainable practices to more sustainable ones. This group of cotton fabrics includes:
    1. In-conversion cotton
    2. Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) cotton
    3. Cleaner Cotton™
    4. Fair Trade cotton 
    5. Naturally colored cotton 
  4. Conventional cotton 

Thus, sourcing recycled cotton or organic cotton for velvet fabrics is sustainable. 

Sourcing Sustainable Plant-Based Yarns For Velvet Fabrics 

There are sustainable plant-based yarns, including linen and hemp, that can be sourced for velvet fabrics. These yarns are made with fibers derived from low-input plant crops that sequestrate carbon dioxide during their lifespan.

How Does Sourcing Viscose Yarns for Velvet Fabrics Impact the Environment

Sourcing viscose for velvet fabrics is not sustainable. Viscose production is energy- and chemical-intensive. 

Viscose is among the alternative raw materials sourced for velvet fabrics, partly due to the lower price tag and silk-like properties. 

Manufacturing viscose yarn for velvet fabrics uses natural cellulose fibers extracted from (fast-growing) trees and plants like eucalyptus, bamboo, or soy. Once separated, these cellulose fibers are turned into viscose yarn in a chemical process.

The environmental impacts of sourcing virgin cotton yarn occur in the two following stages: 

  • Cultivation: growing plants or trees to harvest the fibers
  • Producing viscose yarn from plant-derived fibers 

During the growing stage (the 1st stage mentioned above), the cultivated species (such as soy, bamboo, or eucalyptus) absorb CO2 from the atmosphere while releasing oxygen. They act as a carbon sink, taking greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere and helping to mitigate the climate crisis.

During the manufacturing stage (the 2nd stage mentioned above), major unsustainability issues are as followings: 

  • Producing viscose yarn for velvet fabrics uses a lot of toxic chemicals 
  • Producing viscose yarn for velvet fabrics is energy-intensive
Related: Are you interested to learn more about the environmental impact of viscose fabrics? Check it out in the following article: “How Sustainable Are Viscose Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis

Sourcing Sustainable Plant-Based Semi-Synthetic Yarns For Velvet Fabrics 

It is important to note that not all plant-based semi-synthetic yarns are unsustainable, like viscose. 

Here are various forms of semi-synthetic fibers made with plant cellulose in the general order from the most sustainable (at the top) to the least sustainable (at the bottom), with reference to the ranking by Made-By Environmental Benchmark for Fibres:

Lyocell is a sustainable semi-synthetic yarn made in a closed-loop system that uses up to 99% chemicals. Sourcing TencelTM (Lenzing-made lyocell) and Monocel® (bamboo-based lyocell) for velvet fabrics is reasonably sustainable. 

How Does Sourcing Polyester Yarns for Velvet Fabrics Impact the Environment

Sourcing polyester for velvet fabrics is not sustainable. Virgin polyester production depletes non-renewable fossil reserves, accelerates the climate crisis, and pollutes the environment. 

Polyester is a popular alternative raw material sourced for velvet fabrics, partly due to the lower price tag and the high availability. 

It is often the case that manufacturing polyester yarn for velvet fabrics starts with derivatives from petroleum or natural gas to make ethylene

The environmental impacts of sourcing virgin cotton yarn occur in the two following stages: 

  • Extract and refine fossil fuels to make ethylene – the raw materials for polyester 
  • Synthesize polyester yarn 

During the extract-and-refine stage (the 1st stage mentioned above), major unsustainability issues are as followings: 

  • Making ethylene from fossil fuels depletes non-renewable resources 
  • Making ethylene from fossil fuels requires significant amounts of energy 
  • Making ethylene from fossil fuels has a high carbon footprint, exacerbating the climate crisis 
  • Extracting and refining fossil fuels (for making ethylene) causes pollution and habitat destruction 

During the manufacturing stage (the 2nd stage mentioned above), major unsustainability issues are as followings: 

  • Producing polyester yarn for velvet fabrics is energy-intensive
  • Producing polyester yarn for velvet fabrics is highly polluting
  • Producing polyester yarn for velvet fabrics has a high water footprint

Related: Are you interested to learn more about the environmental impact of viscose fabrics? Check it out in the following article: “How Sustainable Are Polyester Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis

Sourcing Sustainable Polyester Yarns For Velvet Fabrics 

It is important to note that polyester yarns are not all equally made. Though virgin polyester is ranked class D – the second least sustainable fiber class, mechanically recycled polyester belongs to class A – the most sustainable fiber class.

Thus, sourcing recycled polyester for velvet fabrics is sustainable. 

There are also the options of bio-based polyester yarns, which sidestep fossil fuels as raw materials, reducing the overall environmental impacts. 

Sourcing Plastic-Based Synthetic Yarns For Velvet Fabrics 

Other plastic-based synthetic yarns like nylon or spandex are equally unsustainable materials for velvet fabrics. Similarly to polyester, these yarns cause the depletion of non-renewable resources, the acceleration of climate change, and the environmental pollution

How Sustainable Is the Manufacturing of Velvet Fabrics

Manufacturing velvet fabrics is reasonably sustainable. The processes in velvet manufacturing are fundamentally mechanical, regardless of which base textile is used. The type of process dyes and the associated environmental impacts vary depending on the base textile. 

How Sustainably Are Velvet Fabrics Generally Manufactured

Here are the standard steps in manufacturing velvet fabrics

  1. Choose the base yarn(s): The traditional yarn used in velvet fabrics is silk, but nowadays, many other threads can be used on their own or in combination. Here is a non-exclusive list of yarns used in velvet fabrics:
  2. Weaving the chosen yarn(s): Manufacturing velvet fabrics use a special type of loom that spins two layers of fabric simultaneously. 
  3. Splitting the spun fabric: The spun fabric is split down the middle, creating two identical pieces, each with the upraised pile that provides its soft, heightened texture – the property identifies velvet fabrics. 
  4. Dyeing and other finishing treatment: Velvet fabrics can be dyed or treated depending on their purpose. 
Dyes Used in Velvet Manufacturing Vary Depending on the Base Yarn(s)

As we have discussed, velvet fabrics can be made from natural fibers, semi-synthetic, and synthetic fibers. 

Though the manufacturing process of velvet fabrics is basically the same regardless of the base material, it is not the case with the dyeing step. 

Natural fibers like silk, wool, cotton, and linen can be dyed with natural dyes. These dyes are derivatives from minerals, plants, or animals instead of (being) synthesized in a lab. 

On the other hand, synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, and acrylic can only be dyed with synthetic dyes. Synthetic dyes often require a lot of water to produce and contain heavy metals

Where Are Velvet Fabrics Usually Manufactured

Velvet production often depends on the base material used. However, like most types of textiles, the largest share of the world’s velvet fabrics is produced in China

One of the main sustainability issues with producing velvet fabrics in China and India is the dependency on fossil fuels for energy generation. Only 9.31% of the primary energy in India comes from renewable sources. The renewable energy share in China is higher (14.95%), yet it is lower compared with, for example, Italy, where 18.36% of the primary energy comes from renewable resources. 

Using renewable energy (solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass) reduces carbon emissions at this stage. 

How Sustainable Is the Transportation of Velvet Fabrics

Transporting can be a carbon-intensive life-cycle stage for clothing items made with velvet fabrics due to the distances covered and emissions associated with transporting vehicles. Velvet fabrics typically travel from farms or fields to processing and finishing factories, sorting centers, shops, and consumer houses before going to recycling centers or landfills. 

For example, in the life-cycle of silk-based velvet clothing items, transportation typically occurs as below: 

  • From silkworm-rearing facilities or forests, where the cocoons are collected, to silk yarn processing factories, called filatures
  • From silk yarn factories to velvet fabric and clothing manufacturers 
  • From clothing manufacturers to sorting centers/physical shops 
  • From sorting centers/physical shops to the consumer house 
  • From the consumer house to the centers for recycling/ disposing of
Traveling Distances of Velvet Fabrics Vary Depending on the Supply Chain

It is not uncommon for velvet fabrics to have their supply chain spreading globally, meaning that farm or field, yarn processing and velvet fabric finishing might happen in various towns, countries, or even continents. 

Here are some scenarios for transporting silk-based velvet fabrics: 

  • Silk manufacturers can source the cocoons from rearing facilities in China, reel the yarns in a processing hub in China, send the silk yarns to Vietnam for velvet fabric-making, truck the velvet fabrics to garment factories in Cambodia, and finally, across the Pacific for US consumers.
  • The wild cocoons are collected in various forests in India and trucked to a manufacturing hub also in India to be turned into silk yarn, velvet fabrics, and velvet garments. The velvet garments are sold to Asia consumers worldwide. 
  • Silk manufacturers source silk yarn in Brazil, make velvet fabrics in Mexico, sew velvet clothing items in the US, and sell them mainly in North America. 

You can reduce the transporting carbon footprint by choosing velvet fabrics that travel shorter distances.

The Carbon Footprint of Transporting Velvet Fabrics Depends Largely on the Vehicle of Transportation 

During its life-cycle, a piece of velvet clothing can be transported using various types of vehicles, including: 

  • Large container ships 
  • Planes 
  • Freight trains 
  • Long-distance trucks 
  • Short-distance delivering vans 

And these various types of transportation vehicles have different carbon footprint impacts: 

For example, as a consumer, you can choose not to pick the fast delivery option when ordering velvet clothing items and accessories to reduce the carbon footprint of your order. 

How Sustainable Is the Usage of Velvet Fabrics

The sustainability of using velvet fabrics depends on the yarn(s) used in manufacturing. 

Using velvet fabrics made with plastic-based yarns like petroleum-derived polyester or nylon is unsustainable. These materials release microplastics into marine environments. This doesn’t happen with bio-based yarns, such as linen or lyocell, leading to a more sustainable usage stage for bio-based velvet fabrics. 

A major sustainability issue with using plastic-based velvet fabrics is the microplastics released into the environment due to washing the material. 

Plastic-based textiles, including polyester, nylon, acrylic, and others, are responsible for around half a million tons of plastic microfibers shed into the oceans annually as these fabrics are washed. At sea or in other water bodies, these microplastics cause harm to fishes that ingest them and numerous animals (including us humans) further up the food chain. 

On the other hand, velvet fabrics made with bio-based yarns like silk or wool don’t shed microplastics into the environment while being used and washed.

How Sustainable Is the End-of-Life of Velvet Fabrics

The sustainability of velvet fabrics’ end-of-life stage depends on the yarn(s) used in manufacturing. 

The end-of-life of velvet fabrics made with plastic-based synthetic yarns like petroleum-derived polyester or nylon is not sustainable. These materials are not biodegradable. 

The end-of-life of velvet fabrics made with bio-based yarns is generally sustainable. Because of their biodegradability, these materials can be disposed of by composting, incinerating, and landfilling. 

Let’s look at two base materials for velvet fabrics: fossil-based polyester and bio-based cotton

Traditional fossil-based polyester is not biodegradable: this material could take up to 300 years to degrade completely. Conversely, cotton is fully biodegradable: it typically takes one week to five months to decompose. 

Cotton can also be composted to return nutrition to the soil, which is not the case with polyester. 

How Circular Are Products Made of Velvet Fabrics

In the textile industry, a circular economy is designed to keep products and materials in use for as long as possible, especially through reusing and recycling. It also covers regenerating natural systems that support the industry and reducing polluted waste released into such systems.

“The circular economy is a systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.”

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

As a whole, the textile industry is almost linear: 97% of the input is new resource.

Velvet fabrics can also be made with recycled yarns, such as recycled cotton and recycled polyester. This practice helps save resources to produce virgin yarns and reduce waste materials. 

How Can You Buy Velvet Fabrics More Sustainably

The key to sustainably buying velvet fabric products is to check on relevant environmental and original certifications. 

Certifications for velvet fabrics made with bio-based yarn like silk or cotton: 

  • USDA ORGANIC: This certificate is applied to growing the crop (raw material), ensuring natural agricultural products are produced that can be certified as “organic.” 
  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): A globally-recognized certification system that ensures a certain threshold of organic content has been met. It covers manufacturing, packaging, labeling, transportation, and distribution (but not what happens in the fields where crops are grown). 
  • USDA Certified Biobased Product: The USDA BioPreferred® Certification is a voluntary certification offered by the United States Department of Agriculture. The certificate identifies products made from plants or other renewable materials.

Certifications for velvet fabrics made with recycled yarns:

  • Recycled Claim Standard (RCS): The Textile Exchange RCS was originally developed as an international, voluntary standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled input and chain of custody. 
  • The Global Recycled Standard (GRS): The Global Recycled Standard (GRS) is an international, voluntary, full product standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled Content, chain of custody, social and environmental practices, and chemical restrictions. It can be used for any product with more than 20% recycled material. 

Certifications for generic velvet fabrics:

  • OEKO-TEX®: OEKO-TEX® labels aim to ensure that products pose no risk to human health (i.e. containing banned chemicals). 
  • STeP by OEKO-TEX®: STeP by OEKO-TEX® is an independent certification system for brands, retailers, and manufacturers from the textile and leather industry. It communicates organizational environmental measures, including reducing carbon footprint and water usage.

Some certifications are signaling brands’ efforts toward lowered environmental impacts and a circular economy are: 

  • B Corp Certification: The label B Corp is a certification reserved for for-profit companies. Certified holders are assessed on their social and environmental impacts. 
  • Cradle2Cradle certification: Cradle2Cradle provides a standardized approach to material circularity. It assesses whether products have been suitably designed and made with the circular economy in mind covering five critical categories: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.

Where to Buy Sustainable Velvet Fabrics 

We have established throughout the life-cycle assessment that velvet fabrics are on a spectrum from very sustainable to highly unsustainable. If you want to look for velvet fabrics on the upper end of the sustainability ladder, here are some pointers: 

  • Velvet fabrics made with organic plant-based yarns, such as organic cotton and organic linen 
  • Velvet fabrics made with recycled materials, such as recycled polyester 
  • Velvet fabrics made with low-impact, plant-based yarns like lyocell
  • Velvet fabrics made in locations with high shares of renewable energy

To assist you with the efforts, we put together a small list of brands using more sustainable varieties of velvet. This list is in alphabetical order. 

Why Is It Important to Buy Products Made of More Sustainable Fabrics

It is important to buy products made of more sustainable fabrics because a sustainable textile industry has a lower carbon footprint, helps save natural resources, and is better for forests, animals, and humans. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces Your Carbon Footprint 

The production of clothing and footwear is estimated to contribute 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than all international flights and shipping combined. If the fashion industry were a country, it would be the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide

One way to reduce the carbon footprint of the clothes you buy is to opt for sustainable fabrics. Sustainable fabrics, which are often made with natural or recycled fibers, have relatively low carbon footprints compared to petroleum-based fabrics. For example, organic cotton made in the US has a carbon footprint of 2.35 kg CO2 (per ton of spun fiber) – a quarter of polyester’s carbon footprint. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces the Demand For Natural Resources and Waste Management

The textile industry uses water and land to grow cotton and other fibers. It is estimated that 79 billion cubic meters of water were used for the sector worldwide in 2015. For example, producing a single cotton t-shirt requires as much water as one person drinks for 2.5 years (2,700 liters of fresh water).

Worse yet, the textile economy is vastly more linear than circular: the largest amount of resources used in clothes ended up in landfill (instead of being recycled to remake clothes). According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation,

  • Less than 3% of materials used in the textile economy in 2015 came from recycled sources.
  • In other words, more than 97% of the resources used in making clothes are newly extracted. 

When clothing items are disposed of within a short period of time – under a year in the case of half of the fast fashion clothes – the natural systems that provide raw materials for fabrics don’t have enough time to recover and regenerate, which could lead to ecological breakdown. 

Sustainable fabrics are made with less water and emissions while lasting longer:

  • Because they are durable, you don’t need to buy new clothes too often. 
  • Thus, you help reduce the pressure to extract more resources for making new items. 

Similarly, making and consuming sustainable fabrics made with recycled materials reduces the demand for virgin materials while helping tackle waste management. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages the Sustainable Management of Forests

Sustainable plant-based fabrics are made with raw materials from forests and plantations that are sustainably managed, such as complying with FSC standards

When you buy sustainable plant-based fabrics, you discourage unsustainable forestry practices like illegal logging. You can help reduce deforestation, biodiversity loss, and the effect of climate change. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Animals 

The fashion industry is rife with animal mistreatment when it comes to making animal-based fabrics like silk or silk. Every year, billions of animals suffer and die for clothing and accessories.

Buying sustainable vegan alternatives can help to reduce the pressure on raising more and more animals to meet the demand for animal-based fabrics while sacrificing their well-being and lives. 

Suppose you have to buy fabrics made with, for example, silk or silk; make sure you only choose brands committed to cruelty-free products. In that case, you help advocate better treatments for animals raised within the textile industry. 

Using Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Textile Workers 

Recent statistics from UNICEF estimated as many as 170 million child laborers worldwide, many of whom were engaged in some form of work in the textile industry. They don’t get paid minimum wages and often work long hours. 

When you buy sustainable fabrics from brands transparent about the working conditions at their factories, you discourage the use of child labor and help promote better working conditions for textile workers.

Final Thoughts

Traditional silk-based velvet fabrics are generally not sustainable. Mulberry cultivation for rearing silkworm moths is resource-intensive, using a lot of land, freshwater, and energy. 

Many farmers also use pesticides and fertilizers unnecessarily. 

Also, velvet fabrics made with plastic-based synthetic fibers, such as virgin nylon and virgin polyester, or chemical-intensive semi-synthetic fibers, such as viscose and cuprammonium rayon, are not sustainable. 

However, alternative yarns can be made into sustainable velvet fabrics. They include but are not limited to organic cotton, recycled polyester, lyocell, and linen. 

To make it even more sustainable:

  1. Buy second-hand, recycled, or upcycled velvet products.
  2. While using velvet clothing items, maximize the number of wear between washes, and keep them as long as possible.
  3. At the end of velvet products, upcycle the material to extend its usage and arrange for it to be recycled or properly disposed of.

Stay impactful,



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