16 Least Sustainable Fabrics: The Full Life-Cycle Analysis

16 Least Sustainable Fabrics: The Full Life-Cycle Analysis

By
Quynh Nguyen

Read Time:34 Minutes

CLICK TO
SUBSCRIBE

follow follow

Impactful Ninja is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more Learn more .

Affiliate Disclosure

Hey fellow impactful ninja ?

You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts.

  • Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click.

  • But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend.

Why do we add these product links?

First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide.

And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.

What do these affiliate links mean for you?
  1. First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.

  3. And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you.

What do these affiliate links mean for us?
  1. When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).

  3. And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself.

What does this mean for me personally?

You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money.

Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go.

Stay impactful,

Amid growing concerns about the textile industry’s environmental impact, the need for it to change—and, at the very least, avoid the worst offenders—is more pressing than ever. So, we have to ask: Which fabrics are the most sustainable? 

The least sustainable fabrics include polyester, conventional cotton, and viscose. They are produced in large quantities, accumulating huge adverse environmental impacts of global warming, land degradation, and pollution. Also, nylon and acrylic are nonbiodegradable fossil-based materials. 

In this article, we will walk you through the life-cycle of the least sustainable fabrics. Then, we will evaluate their sustainability, potential, and shortfalls. And in the end, we’ll show you tips for buying more sustainable fabrics.

Here’s How We Assessed the Sustainability of All Fabrics

The textile industry is rife with synthetic chemicals, which can play a role in how raw materials are sourced to even how they are processed. Chemical usage, which when high can cause pollution, damage the environment, and endanger human health, is one clear indicator of a fabric’s sustainability. 

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

One way to assess the sustainability of fabrics is to go through their life-cycles and evaluate each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to assess 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 look at the LCA of the 16 least sustainable fabrics.

In this article, we’ll use the cradle-to-grave perspective of the LCA, examining the five stages of each fabric’s life-cycle. Where it is relevant, we also use data from cradle-to-gate assessments

These Are the 16 Least Sustainable Fabrics

Some of these fabrics are synthetic materials made using nonrenewable fossil fuels in high-polluting and energy-demanding processes. In contrast, others are derived from plants or animals, yet the sourcing and manufacturing processes often depend heavily on chemicals that pollute the environment and degrade the land. 

Type of fabricsOverall sustainability
Polyester fabricsWhat makes it so unsustainable: Polyester fabrics are generally made with nonrenewable fossil resources in polluting and energy-intensive processes. Using and washing polyester fabrics releases microplastics into the environment, endangering wildlife that ingest the microplastics and animals further up the food chain. Furthermore, polyester is nonbiodegradable and can clog up landfills for centuries.

Additionally: The adverse environmental impacts of polyester are intensified by the sheer volume produced and consumed. 
Conventional cotton fabricsWhat makes it so unsustainable: The traditional way of cultivating cotton plants depends heavily on synthetic, toxic agrochemicals. 

Additionally: The cotton crop is water-thirsty, posing ecological challenges to drought-prone regions. 
Viscose fabricsWhat makes it so unsustainable: Manufacturing viscose fabric is associated with high usage of energy (often fossil fuels) and chemicals. 

Additionally: Viscose clothing lacks durability, requiring relatively frequent replacement and putting strain on natural resources. 
Nylon/Polyamide fabricsWhat makes it so unsustainable: Nylon/polyamide fabrics are generally made with nonrenewable fossil resources in polluting and energy-intensive processes. Using and washing nylon fabrics releases microplastics into the environment, endangering wildlife that ingest the microplastics and animals further up the food chain. 

Additionally: Nylon/polyamide is nonbiodegradable and can clog up landfills for centuries. 
Acrylic fabricsWhat makes it so unsustainable: Manufacturing this fossil-based material demands a lot of energy and uses toxic substances, posing environmental and health risks. Washing acrylic fabrics releases microplastics into marine environments.

Additionally: Acrylic fabrics are not biodegradable. 
Acetate fabricsWhat makes it so unsustainable: Acetate fabrics are commonly made using fossil-based chemicals. The manufacturing process is typically chemical- and energy-intensive. Washing acetate clothes also contributes to microplastic problems in marine environments.

Additionally: Conventional acetate fabrics take a relatively long time to degrade. 
Leather fabricsWhat makes it so unsustainable: Raising animals for this fabric—especially cows, whose hides are the most commonly used raw material for leather—has severe land use and global warming impacts. Also, chemical tanning in leather manufacturing is energy-intensive and harmful to the environment, animals, and humans. 

Additionally: Chemicals used in manufacturing hinder the biodegradability of leather fabrics. 
Spandex/Elastane/Lycra fabrics What makes it so unsustainable: Spandex/Elastane/Lycra fabric production is energy-intensive and high-polluting. 

Additionally: The options at the end of spandex/elastane/lycra fabrics’ life-cycles are very limited. 
Cupro fabrics What makes it so unsustainable: Manufacturing cupro fabrics is a chemical-intensive process, and even though chemical solutions can be reused, the final disposal is toxic and requires strict control. 

Additionally: Cupro clothes need relatively frequent replacement as the fibers are easy to break down. 
Cashmere wool fabricsWhat makes it so unsustainable: Maintaining oversized cashmere goat herds to keep up the demand for cashmere wool fabric leads to grassland degradation, loss of biodiversity, and elevated GHG emissions. 

Additionally: Collecting cashmere fibers can lead to goats’ ill health or death.
Sequin fabricsWhat makes it so unsustainable: Manufacturing fossil-based sequin fabrics demands a lot of energy and uses toxic substances, posing environmental and health risks. Meanwhile, washing them releases microplastics into marine environments.

Additionally: Sequin clothes are often treated as outfits for special occasions, used only occasionally before being discarded.
Polyurethane (PU) fabricsWhat makes it so unsustainable: Manufacturing the PU coating of polyurethane fabrics from fossil-based materials demands a lot of energy and uses toxic substances, posing environmental and health risks. Meanwhile, washing them releases microplastics into marine environments.

Additionally: This material is not biodegradable and, being a composite, is very hard to recycle. 
Bamboo viscose fabricsWhat makes it so unsustainable: Manufacturing viscose fabric is associated with high usage of energy (often fossil fuels) and chemicals. 

Additionally: Clothing made with bamboo viscose lacks durability, requiring relatively frequent replacement and putting strain on natural resources. 
PLA fabricsWhat makes it so unsustainable: Manufacturing PLA fabrics is energy-intensive, which leads to serious knock-on ecological impacts when fossil fuels are the main energy source at manufacturing locations. 

Additionally: This material is not biodegradable. 
Mohair wool fabricsWhat makes it so unsustainable: Maintaining oversized Angora goat herds to keep up the demand for mohair wool fabric leads to land degradation and elevated greenhouse gas emissions. 

Additionally: Shearing Angora goats to collect mohair wool can lead to goats’ ill health or death.
Silk fabricsWhat makes it so unsustainable: Manufacturing silk fabrics is energy and water-intensive. 

Additionally: The usage phase of silk fabrics has high environmental impacts because they generally require dry cleaning using harmful solvents and steam pressing using a lot of energy.

Overall, each of these fabrics is not very sustainable. However, the actual environmental impact of using a specific textile product depends on many factors, including: 

  • the sourcing of fibers
  • the type of energy used in manufacturing and usage
  • the distance and mode of transportation 
  • the type of energy used in the home during the usage phase 

Let’s dive deeper into each type of fabrics and the stages of its life-cycle and find out how it can be even more sustainable. 

Polyester Fabrics: Mass-Produced, Nonbiodegradable Plastic Material From Non-Renewable Resources 

Polyester fabrics are generally made by extracting and refining nonrenewable fossil fuels, which has immense adverse environmental impacts. Polyester fabrics are very popular because of their low price tag and durability. The huge quantities of polyester consumed intensify the ecological costs of this material. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of polyester fabrics and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Sourcing of fossil fuels for polyester fabrics: The most common route to make polyester fabrics starts with fossil fuels, which are highly unsustainable because of the depletion of nonrenewable resources, the acceleration of climate change, and the environmental pollution of extracting and refining fossil fuels. However, renewable biomass, such as corn crops, can be used as a feedstock to make the raw materials for polyester fabrics. 
  • Manufacturing of polyester fabrics: Manufacturing polyester is energy-intensive, water-thirsty, and high-polluting. High energy demand can have serious knock-on ecological impacts when fossil fuels are the main energy sources at manufacturing locations. 
  • Transportation of polyester fabrics: Polyester fabrics typically travel from mines (where fossil fuels are extracted) to factories, then sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. The GHG emissions associated with transporting vehicles can be significant. 
  • Usage of polyester fabrics: Washing polyester clothes during the usage phase contributes to the increasingly serious problem of microplastic presence in marine environments. However, polyester fabrics can last a lifetime, eliminating the need for frequent replacement. 
  • End-of-life of polyester fabrics: The end-of-life stage for polyester is unsustainable because the fiber is not biodegradable. However, biodegradable polyesters can be created by adding organic compounds into the chemical mix used to form the fabric. This variety of polyester fabrics can decompose in 3 to 5 years instead. 

Polyester fabrics are one of the least sustainable textile materials. They are generally made with nonrenewable fossil resources in polluting and energy-intensive processes. Using and washing polyester fabrics releases microplastics into the environment, endangering wildlife that ingest the microplastics and animals further up the food chain. Polyester is nonbiodegradable and can clog up landfills for centuries. Also, the sheer volume of polyester fabrics made and consumed means that the adverse environmental impacts of this material are ever more significant. 

Conventional Cotton Fabrics: High Demand Material from Thirsty and Agrochemical-Dependent Crop 

Cotton is the most commonly used natural fiber. Yet, cotton fabrics are notorious for polluting production, exploitation, and even modern-day slavery. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of conventional cotton fabrics and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • The growing of cotton plants for conventional cotton fabrics: The widespread monoculture in the traditional cultivation of cotton depletes the soil and necessitates synthetic fertilizers, leading to disruptions in the ecosystem and elevated greenhouse gas emissions. The water-thirsty cotton crop is also vulnerable to various pests and, thus, is subject to many pesticides in conventional farming systems. Organic crops in the case of organic cotton, or cotton waste in the case of recycled cotton, are more sustainable ways to source cotton fibers. 
  • Manufacturing of conventional cotton fabrics: Manufacturing cotton fabrics often involves harmful synthetic chemicals. Also, cotton manufacturing is energy-intensive. High energy usage can have serious knock-on ecological impacts if manufacturing relies heavily on fossil fuels. 
  • Transportation of conventional cotton fabrics: Conventional cotton fabrics typically travel from cotton fields to factories, then sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. The GHG emissions associated with transporting vehicles can also be significant. 
  • Usage of conventional cotton fabrics: When made with a natural fabric, conventional cotton fabrics are highly breathable. They don’t need to be washed too frequently, thus saving water and energy. 
  • End-of-life of conventional cotton fabrics: The end-of-life stage for cotton fabrics is sustainable because the fiber is biodegradable and compostable. Cotton is fully biodegradable, typically taking 1 week to 5 months to decompose. 

Conventional cotton fabrics are among the least sustainable textile materials. The traditional way of cultivating cotton plants depends heavily on synthetic, toxic agrochemicals. Water consumption is another big environmental challenge of growing cotton plants, especially in monocropping systems where the soil’s water retention is low. The high demand for cotton means that the adverse environmental impacts of this material are even more significant. 

Viscose Fabrics: Popularized Plant-Based Material Made in a Chemical-Intensive Process 

Viscose fabrics are made in a chemical process using cellulose fibers from plants as raw materials. The high demand for viscose fabrics’ silk-like properties and relatively low cost exacerbates the adverse environmental impact of chemical and energy usage in manufacturing this material. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of viscose fabrics and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Sourcing of cellulose fibers for viscose fabrics: Viscose fabrics are made from renewable wood or wood-like material, such as from fast-growing eucalyptus trees, bamboo grasses, or soy plants. As plants grow, they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere while releasing oxygen, mitigating the climate crisis. There are concerns over the association between sourcing raw materials for viscose fabrics and deforestation in ancient and endangered forests
  • Manufacturing of viscose fabrics: Caustic soda, carbon disulfide, and sulphuric acid used in viscose manufacturing are all toxic chemicals that can potentially cause serious harm to the environment and to workers. Manufacturing viscose fabric is energy-intensive, which can have serious knock-on ecological impacts, especially if fossil fuels are the main energy sources at the manufacturing locations. However, integrated manufacturing processes can recover part of the energy during production while optimizing materials.
  • Transportation of viscose fabrics: Viscose fabrics typically travel from forests or fields to factories, then sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. The GHG emissions associated with transporting vehicles can be significant. 
  • Usage of viscose fabrics: The usage of viscose fabrics is generally not very sustainable because viscose clothing lacks durability. They need to be replaced relatively frequently, putting strain on natural resources. 
  • End-of-life of viscose fabrics: The end-of-life stage for viscose fabric is generally sustainable because it is reusable, biodegradable, and compostable. It takes about six weeks for viscose products to decompose, unlike plastic-based items that can take up space in the landfill for up to 100 years.

Viscose fabrics are among the least sustainable textile materials available, and this is largely because manufacturing viscose fabric is associated with high usage of energy (often fossil fuels) and chemicals. However, viscose fibers can be made more sustainably by sourcing raw materials from sustainably managed forests, recovering energy from production, and optimizing manufacturing inputs.

Nylon/Polyamide Fabrics: Nonbiodegradable Plastic Material From Nonrenewable Resources 

Nylon, or polyamide, was the very first entirely polymer fiber, invented as an alternative to silk. This elastic and strong material offers a long lifespan for items like stockings. Yet, producing virgin nylon/polyamide from fossil fuels, which is most often the case, has many adverse environmental impacts.

Here are the life-cycle stages of nylon/polyamide fabrics and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Sourcing of fossil fuels for nylon/polyamide fabrics: The most common route to make nylon/polyamide fabrics starts with fossil fuels, which is highly unsustainable because of the depletion of nonrenewable resources, the acceleration of climate change, and the environmental pollution of extracting and refining fossil fuels. However, some nylon/polyamide varieties have also been made using renewable feedstock or recycled plastics, which are more sustainably sourced. 
  • Manufacturing of nylon/polyamide fabrics: Nylon/polyamide production demands a lot of energy—twice as much as polyester, according to a life-cycle assessment. High energy demand can have serious knock-on ecological impacts when fossil fuels are the main energy sources at manufacturing locations. 
  • Transportation of nylon/polyamide fabrics: Nylon/polyamide fabrics typically travel from mines (where fossil fuels are extracted) to factories, then sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. The GHG emissions associated with transporting vehicles can be significant. 
  • Usage of nylon/polyamide fabrics: Washing nylon/polyamide clothes during the usage phase contributes to the increasingly serious problem of microplastic presence in marine environments. However, nylon/polyamide clothes tend to dry fast and do not require ironing, which saves energy during usage. Also, high-quality nylon fabrics can last a lifetime, eliminating the need for frequent replacement. 
  • End-of-life of nylon/polyamide fabrics: The end-of-life stage for nylon/polyamide is unsustainable because the fiber is not biodegradable. However, some biodegradable nylons have been developed to increase the sustainability of this stage. 

Nylon/polyamide fabrics are one of the least sustainable textile materials. They are generally made with nonrenewable fossil resources in polluting and energy-intensive processes. Using and washing nylon fabrics releases microplastics into the environment, endangering wildlife that ingest the microplastics and animals further up the food chain. Ultimately, nylon/polyamide is nonbiodegradable and can clog up landfills for centuries. 

Acrylic Fabrics: Nonbiodegradable Wool Alternative From Nonrenewable Resources 

Acrylic fabrics are the synthetic answer to wool. While no animal cruelty is involved in manufacturing acrylic fabrics, as in the case of many wool varieties, this material is nonbiodegradable and contributes to the increasingly alarming microplastics problem. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of acrylic fabrics and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Sourcing of fossil fuels for acrylic fabrics: The main raw material is acrylonitrile (85% or more of the content). Acrylonitrile is a molecule typically made from nonrenewable fossil fuels which is highly unsustainable because of the depletion of nonrenewable resources, the acceleration of climate change, and the environmental pollution of extracting and refining fossil fuels. However, acrylonitrile can also be made from renewable biomass
  • Manufacturing of acrylic fabrics: The acrylic manufacturing process is energy-intensive and chemically hazardous. High energy demand can have serious knock-on ecological impacts when fossil fuels are the main energy sources at manufacturing locations. Acrylonitrile is a carcinogen and a mutagen targeting the central nervous system. 
  • Transportation of acrylic fabrics: Acrylic fabrics typically travel from mines (where fossil fuels are extracted) to factories, then sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. The GHG emissions associated with transporting vehicles can be significant. 
  • Usage of acrylic fabrics: Washing acrylic clothes during the usage phase contributes to the increasingly serious problem of microplastic presence in marine environments. Acrylic is not resistant to abrasion and, thus, tends to have a shorter lifespan, especially compared to wool fabric—the material it is designed to imitate. Acrylic clothes must be replaced relatively frequently, putting a strain on natural resources. 
  • End-of-life of acrylic fabrics: The end-of-life stage for acrylic is unsustainable because the fiber is not biodegradable. Like many other synthetic materials, acrylic fabrics would take approximately 200 years to decompose

Acrylic fabrics are one of the least sustainable textile materials. Manufacturing this fossil-based material demands a lot of energy and uses toxic substances, posing environmental and health risks. Washing acrylic fabrics releases microplastics into marine environments. Also, this material is not biodegradable.

Acetate Fabrics: Thermoplastic Material Made in Chemical-Intensive Processes 

The soft, shiny acetate often used in fancy clothing is a thermoplastic material made in a chemical-intensive process. Acetate fabrics also contribute to the mounting problem of microplastics in marine environments. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of acetate fabrics and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Sourcing of acetate fabrics: The sustainability of sourcing acetate fibers for acetate fabrics largely depends on the ratio of the renewable plant materials to the chemical solvents. The sourcing stage is more sustainable when the plant-based raw materials account for a high percentage and are sourced from fast-growing tree species (eucalyptus, beech, or pine) and by-product waste (cotton linters). The chemicals used to dissolve the plant-based materials are typically derived from fossil fuels, which have many adverse environmental impacts. 
  • Manufacturing of acetate fabrics: Manufacturing acetate fabrics involves harmful artificial chemicals. Also, the process can be energy-intensive. High energy usage can have a serious knock-on ecological impact if manufacturing relies heavily on fossil fuels.
  • Transportation of acetate fabrics: Acetate fabrics typically travel from forests or fields to factories, sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. The GHG emissions associated with transporting vehicles can be significant. 
  • Usage of acetate fabrics: Acetate is a thermoplastic fiber that releases microplastic while being washed, endangering wildlife who ingest them and animals further up the food chain. Acetate fabrics might require dry cleaning because, as a thermoplastic, this material can melt when it gets hot. Dry cleaning often uses harmful solvents with adverse environmental impacts. 
  • End-of-life of acetate fabrics: The end-of-life stage for acetate fabrics is generally not sustainable because acetate fibers take a relatively long time to degrade, largely depending on the percentage of bio-based material and how a piece of acetate fabric is discarded. According to a study, acetate textile materials significantly deteriorated after two months in moist soil and broke up completely after 4 to 9 months, which is longer than other plant-based semi-synthetic fabrics (cupro, viscose, modal, and lyocell).

Acetate fabrics are one of the least sustainable textile materials mainly because they are commonly made using fossil-based chemicals. The manufacturing process is typically chemical- and energy-intensive. Washing acetate clothes also contributes to microplastic problems in marine environments. Lastly, conventional acetate fabrics take a relatively long time to degrade. 

Leather Fabrics: Highly Polluting Textile Material With Complicating Ethical Issues 

Leather is a material with a long history and a troublesome modern-day reality. Demand for leather leads to highly unsustainable and unethical practices in sourcing and making leather fabrics

Here are the life-cycle stages of leather fabrics and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Sourcing of animal hides for leather fabrics: The raw material for leather is animal skin, which has long been considered waste from the meat industry. Sourcing this supposed by-product to make leather reduces waste instead of straining natural resources. However, some animal skins are high-value products, and sourcing these materials would help subsidize keeping animals for the meat industry, which is too often plagued with unsustainable and unethical practices, from deforestation to animal cruelty
  • Manufacturing of leather fabrics: Chemical tanning in leather production is energy and chemical-intensive. The waste from leather tanning contaminates the environment and poses many health risks. (Vegetable tanning doesn’t use toxic synthetic chemicals but takes a lot longer and generally produces sturdier leather.) Additionally, dyeing leather fabrics can be chemical-intensive.
  • Transportation of leather fabrics: Leather fabrics typically travel from slaughterhouses, where animal skins are obtained, to processing and finishing factories, then sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. The GHG emissions associated with transporting vehicles can be significant. 
  • Usage of leather fabrics: Quality leather products can last a lifetime if they are taken care of, eliminating the need for frequent replacement and the natural resources required for making new leather. 
  • End-of-life of leather fabrics: The end-of-life stage for leather is generally not very sustainable because the heavy use of tannins and other chemicals hinders the biodegradability of this material. 

Leather fabrics are among the least sustainable textile materials. Raising animals, especially cows whose hides are the most used raw material for leather, has severe land use and global warming impacts. Also, chemical tanning in leather manufacturing is energy-intensive and harmful to the environment, animals, and humans. 

Spandex/Elastane/Lycra Fabrics: Nonbiodegradable Plastic Material From Nonrenewable Resources 

Spandex, same as elastane or lycra, is a seemingly magical fiber that helps your form-fitting clothes stretch and contract without a fuss. Yet, it is another fossil-based material with all the associated adverse environmental impacts. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of spandex/elastane/lycra fabrics and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Sourcing of fossil fuels for spandex/elastane/lycra fabrics: The conventional raw materials used to start making spandex/elastane/lycra fabrics are petroleum-based. Petroleum (or crude oil) is a nonrenewable resource. Also, extracting and refining petroleum has a high energy demand, exacerbates the climate crisis, and pollutes the environment.
  • Manufacturing of spandex/elastane/lycra fabrics: The manufacturing process of spandex/elastane/lycra fabrics is energy-intensive. High energy demand can have serious knock-on ecological impacts when fossil fuels are the main energy sources at manufacturing locations.Production uses a lot of chemicals, some of which are linked to respiratory issues or cancer.
  • Transportation of spandex/elastane/lycra fabrics: Spandex/elastane/lycra fabrics typically travel from mines (where fossil fuels are extracted) to factories, then sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. The GHG emissions associated with transporting vehicles can be significant. 
  • Usage of spandex/elastane/lycra fabrics: Washing spandex/elastane/lycra clothes during the usage phase contributes to the increasingly serious problem of microplastic presence in marine environments. However, spandex/elastane/lycra fabrics don’t require frequent replacement because they resist damage from sewing and substances such as oils, lotions, and detergents. Also, its ability to stretch and contract means it lasts longer. 
  • End-of-life of spandex/elastane/lycra fabrics: The end-of-life stage for typical fossil-based spandex/elastane/lycra fabrics is not sustainable because they are not biodegradable. 

Spandex/elastane/lycra fabrics are among the least sustainable textile materials largely because of the energy-intensive and high-polluting manufacturing processes. Also, the options at the end of spandex/elastane/lycra fabrics’ life-cycle are very limited. 

Cupro Fabrics: Plant-Based Material Made in a Chemical-Intensive Process 

Cupro fabrics are often heralded as recycled, vegan silk alternatives made without animal cruelty. However, the chemical process that turns cotton waste into cupro fabrics is highly polluting and potentially harmful to humans, animals, and the environment. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of cupro fabrics and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Sourcing of fibers for cupro fabrics: The main raw materials used for cupro fabrics are cellulose fibers recycled from cotton waste (discarded cotton garments or cotton linters). Sourcing these raw materials utilizes cotton waste instead of growing new cotton plants. Thus, this stage can be sustainable, especially when the original cotton is organically grown. 
  • Manufacturing of cupro fabrics: Manufacturing cupro fabric can be energy and chemical-intensive. High energy usage can have serious knock-on ecological impacts, especially if fossil fuels are the main energy sources at the manufacturing locations. The manufacturing process of cupro fabrics uses large quantities of copper, ammonia, and caustic soda, all of which can be toxic to both people and the planet when not disposed of properly. However, integrated and closed-loop manufacturing processes can recover part of the energy during production while optimizing materials. 
  • Transportation of cupro fabrics: Cupro fabrics typically travel from fields or recycling centers where raw materials for cupro are grown or collected, to processing factories, then sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. The GHG emissions associated with transporting vehicles can be significant. 
  • Usage of cupro fabrics: Cupro fabrics are not very strong: they are easier to break than other plant-based regenerated fabrics (lyocell, modal, viscose). Consequently, cupro clothes need to be replaced relatively frequently, putting strain on resources required to produce new fabrics. However, cupro’s high breathability means fewer washes are needed, saving both water and energy. 
  • End-of-life of cupro fabrics: The end-of-life stage for cupro is sustainable because the fiber is biodegradable and compostable. 

Cupro fabrics are among the least sustainable textile materials. Manufacturing cupro fabrics is a chemical-intensive process; and though chemical solutions can be reused, the final disposal is toxic and requires strict control. Cupro clothes need relatively frequent replacement as the fibers are easy to break. 

Cashmere Wool: Animal-Derived Material With a High Carbon Footprint 

Cashmere is the soft and fine fibers collected from the inner coat of cashmere goats. The falling price of cashmere wool, once reserved exclusively for the few most luxurious items in one’s wardrobe, happened almost simultaneously with the intensified animal cruelty and ecological crises in places where these wonderful and unmatchable fibers originate. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of cashmere wool fabrics and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Sourcing of cashmere wool fabrics: The raw material for cashmere fabrics is the inner coat of hair collected from a specific species of goat, mostly found in Central Asia and the Gobi Desert. Cashmere goat farming degrades grassland and their biodiversity. It also intensifies the climate crisis while contaminating the grounds and waterways. All those adverse environmental impacts are amplified because of the rapid increase in goats grazing in relatively restricted areas to meet the ever-growing global cashmere demand. 
  • Manufacturing of cashmere wool fabrics: Manufacturing cashmere fabrics starts with collecting fine fibers from the goat undercoat. In many cases, obtaining these fibers is painful and stressful for the animal and can lead to ill health or even death. Animal cruelty in cashmere production is widespread, largely because of the push for a higher yield to meet the increasing demand for this material. Additionally, various manufacturing processes, such as scouring, dyeing, and finishing cause wastewater pollution
  • Transportation of cashmere wool fabrics: Cashmere wool fabrics typically travel from grasslands, where undercoat hair or down is collected, to processing factories, then sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. The GHG emissions associated with transporting vehicles can be significant. 
  • Usage of cashmere wool fabrics: The usage of cashmere is generally sustainable. Cashmere requires less frequent washes because it is a breathable, odor-resistant material with excellent moisture-wicking abilities. Besides, cashmere fabrics are considered durable and resilient, eliminating the need for frequent replacement. 
  • End-of-life of cashmere wool fabrics: The end-of-life stage for cashmere is generally sustainable because untreated cashmere is fully biodegradable and compostable. 

Cashmere wool fabrics are among the least sustainable textile materials largely because the high demand for this luxury material at a lower price has driven unsustainable and unethical practices in the industry. Keeping oversized cashmere goat herds for manufacturing the fabric leads to grassland degradation, loss of biodiversity, and elevated GHG emissions. Additionally, collecting cashmere fibers can lead to goats’ ill health or death.

Sequin Fabrics: Often Underused Party Clothing Made With Fossil-Based Raw Materials

Sequin fabrics are embellished with shiny and colorful fabric decorative ornaments—which are aptly called sequins. Both the fabrics and the sequins can be made from various materials. However, it is overwhelmingly common today to find sequin fabrics on the market made with plastics derived from fossil fuels. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of sequin fabrics and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Sourcing of fossil-derived plastics for sequin fabrics: Sourcing fossil-based thermoplastics—the most common raw material for today’s sequin fabrics—is unsustainable. It leads to the depletion of nonrenewable resources, acceleration of climate change, and environmental pollution. However, the sourcing stage of sequin fabrics can be somewhat sustainable when raw materials are recycled from waste, such as PET bottles or throw-away nylon fishing nets.
  • Manufacturing of sequin fabrics: Manufacturing sequin fabrics is generally unsustainable. The manufacturing process of sequin fabrics using fossil-derived feedstocks is generally energy-intensive and high-polluting. High energy demand can have serious knock-on ecological impacts when fossil fuels are the main energy sources at manufacturing locations. 
  • Transportation of sequin fabrics: Transporting sequin fabrics can be a carbon-intensive life-cycle stage due to the distances covered and emissions associated with transporting vehicles. Sequin fabrics typically travel from mines to factories, then sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. 
  • Usage of sequin fabrics: Using plastic-based sequin fabrics is generally unsustainable. Washing plastic-based clothing items contributes to the increasingly serious problem of microplastic presence in marine environments. Sequin clothes are often treated as outfits for special occasions, leading to them being underused before being discarded, which intensifies plastic waste problems
  • End-of-life of sequin fabrics: The end-of-life stage for plastic-based sequin fabrics is unsustainable because they are not biodegradable. 

Sequin fabrics are generally unsustainable as they are commonly made with fossil-based plastics. Fossil-based plastic production is energy-intensive and high-polluting. On top of that, washing clothes made with plastic materials contributes to microplastic problems in marine environments. Also, conventional fossil-based plastics aren’t biodegradable. 

Polyurethane (PU) Fabrics: Plastic-based Textile Blend With Limited End-of-Life Options

Polyurethane (PU) fabrics, which have gained popularity in recent years as a leather substitute, are composite materials with a polyurethane coating and a textile backing. The polyurethane coating comprises one or more layers of polymers generally made in energy-intensive processes while the textile backing can come in various forms (synthetic, semi-synthetic, or natural fabrics). 

Here are the life-cycle stages of polyurethane (PU) fabrics and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Sourcing of fossil-based raw materials for polyurethane (PU) fabrics: Sourcing conventional fossil-based raw materials for polyurethane fabrics is not sustainable. The conventional raw materials used to start making polyurethane fabrics are petroleum-based. Petroleum (or crude oil) is a non-renewable resource. Also, extracting and refining petroleum has a high energy demand, exacerbates the climate crisis, and pollutes the environment
  • Manufacturing of polyurethane (PU) fabrics: Manufacturing polyurethane fabrics is generally not sustainable. The process is energy-intensive and high-polluting. High energy demand could have serious knock-on ecological impacts when fossil fuels are the main energy sources at manufacturing locations. 
  • Transportation of polyurethane (PU) fabrics: Transporting polyurethane (PU) fabrics can be a carbon-intensive life-cycle stage due to the distances covered and emissions associated with transporting vehicles. Polyurethane (PU) fabrics typically travel from mines to factories, then sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. 
  • Usage of polyurethane (PU) fabrics: The usage of polyurethane fabrics is generally considered unsustainable. Washing polyurethane clothes and accessories during the usage phase contributes to the increasingly serious problem of microplastic presence in marine environments. 
  • End-of-life of polyurethane (PU) fabrics: The end-of-life stage for the typically fossil-based polyurethane fabrics is not sustainable because they are not biodegradable. Since PU is a composite, the recycling options are very limited. 

Polyurethane (PU) fabrics are generally unsustainable. PU fabric production is energy-intensive and high-polluting while depleting the non-renewable fossil reserves. Washing clothes made with polyurethane fabrics contributes to microplastic problems in marine environments. Also, conventional fossil-based polyurethane clothes aren’t biodegradable. 

Bamboo Viscose Fabrics: Bamboo-Derived Textiles Made in a Chemical-Intensive Process 

Bamboo viscose fabrics are made in a chemical process using cellulose fibers from bamboo as raw materials. The high demand for viscose fabrics’ silk-like properties and relatively low cost exacerbates the adverse environmental impact of chemical and energy usage in manufacturing this material. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of bamboo viscose fabrics and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Sourcing of bamboo fibers for bamboo viscose fabrics: The sourcing stage is generally sustainable because bamboo is a renewable material. Bamboo grows and regrows rapidly without needing fertilizer or irrigation like some other fiber crops. Additionally, bamboo acts as a carbon sink, helping to mitigate the climate crisis. However, there are concerns over the association between sourcing raw materials for viscose fabrics (including bamboo variety) and deforestation in ancient and endangered forests. 
  • Manufacturing of bamboo viscose fabrics: Manufacturing bamboo viscose is generally not sustainable because it involves harmful artificial chemicals. Also, manufacturing bamboo viscose fabric is energy-intensive. High energy usage could have a serious knock-on ecological impact if manufacturing relies heavily on fossil fuels. 
  • Transportation of bamboo viscose fabrics: Transporting bamboo viscose fabrics can be a carbon-intensive life-cycle stage due to the distances covered and emissions associated with transporting vehicles. Bamboo viscose fabrics typically travel from forests (where bamboo grows) to factories, then sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. 
  • Usage of bamboo viscose fabrics: The usage of bamboo viscose fabrics is generally not very sustainable because bamboo viscose clothing has relatively low durability
  • End-of-life of bamboo viscose fabrics: The end-of-life stage for bamboo viscose fabric is generally sustainable because it is reusable, biodegradable, and compostable. 

Bamboo viscose fabric is generally not a very sustainable material. The heavy use of harmful chemicals makes it less sustainable than, for example, bamboo fabrics made in the lyocell process. Also, manufacturing bamboo viscose is energy-intensive. 

PLA Fabrics: Nonbiodegradable Polymer Textile Derived From Plants

PLA fabrics are plant-based polymers and, thus, are often considered a more eco-friendly alternative to conventional fossil-based plastic. Nevertheless, PLA fabrics are generally unsustainable because of the energy-intensive manufacturing processes and the limited options available at the end of the fabrics’ life. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of PLA fabrics and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Sourcing of plant materials for PLA fabrics: Sourcing plant materials to make PLA fabrics can be sustainable. As plants sequester carbon, helping to mitigate the climate crisis, plant materials are thus renewable, contrary to the nonrenewable fossil fuels used to make conventional plastics for fabrics like polyester or nylon. However, the traditional corn crop—the common feedstock for PLA fabrics in the US—is not very sustainable due to the high level of fertilizer and pesticide usage coming hand in hand with corn farming’s monocropping culture. 
  • Manufacturing of PLA fabrics: Manufacturing PLA fabrics is generally not sustainable. The process is energy-intensive. High energy demand could also have serious knock-on ecological impacts when fossil fuels are the main energy source at manufacturing locations. 
  • Transportation of PLA fabrics: Transporting PLA fabrics is generally unsustainable. It can be a carbon-intensive life-cycle stage for clothing and household items made with PLA fibers due to the distances covered and emissions associated with transporting vehicles. PLA fabrics typically travel from fields (where the plant materials are sourced) to factories, then sorting centers, shops, and then consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. 
  • Usage of PLA fabrics: Using PLA fabrics is generally sustainable. PLA fabrics are breathable and, thus, don’t require washing too frequently, which saves water and energy. Also, as a bio-based material, PLA fabrics don’t shed microplastics into the environment, like in the case of fabrics made with fossil-based plastics. PLA fabrics can be fairly durable, too, especially when PLA fiber is treated during production or blended with another fiber, yet not comparable to synthetic fibers’ durability. 
  • End-of-life of PLA fabrics: The end-of-life stage for PLA fabrics is not very sustainable, though there are more options available for the end-of-life of PLA fabrics than synthetic ones. It’s possible to recycle and compost PLA fabrics, but these end-of-life options have some logistical challenges. Landfilling is currently the most feasible option for PLA fabrics at the end-of-life, where they break down very slowly in natural environment temperatures

PLA (polylactic acid) fabrics are generally not very sustainable because PLA production is energy intensive while disposing of PLA fabrics is proven to be challenging. However, PLA fabrics tend to be more sustainable than fabrics made with fossil-based plastic counterparts like polyester or nylon because the former don’t contribute to microplastic problems in marine environments, and sourcing plant-based materials is less polluting and carbon-intensive than sourcing fossil fuels.

Mohair Wool Fabrics: Resource-Intensive Material Derived From Ruminant Animals

Mohair wool is made from the long, lustrous, strong, and resilient fibers collected from the coats of Angora goats. The demand for mohair wool leads to overgrazing and other land-degrading practices in goat herding. Elevated greenhouse gas emissions are another concern during the life-cycle of mohair wool fabric. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of mohair wool fabrics and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Sourcing of mohair fibers for mohair wool fabrics: The sourcing of Angora goat hair as the raw material for mohair wool fabrics is generally unsustainable.​​ The two main adverse environmental impacts of farming Angora goats, especially in large industrial-sized herds, are global warming and land degradation. However, when sustainable and ethical management practices are in place, Angora goat hair could be considered a renewable resource. 
  • Manufacturing of mohair wool fabrics: Manufacturing mohair wool fabrics is typically not very sustainable. Manufacturing processes are mostly mechanical, which often requires a significant amount of energy and water. Also, the shearing of the Angora goat at the beginning of the manufacturing process is, in many cases, painful and stressful for the animal. Shearing could lead to ill health or even the death of the Angora goat. Animal cruelty in mohair production is widespread, largely because of the push for a higher yield to meet the demand for this material.
  • Transportation of mohair wool fabrics: Transporting can be a carbon-intensive stage in the life-cycle of clothing items made with mohair wool fabrics due to the distances covered and emissions associated with transporting vehicles. Mohair wool fabrics typically travel from pasture lands, where the mohair coats are collected, to processing and finishing factories, then sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. 
  • Usage of mohair wool fabrics: The usage of mohair wool is generally sustainable. Mohair wool requires less frequent washes because it is a breathable, odor-resistant, and crease-resistant material. Besides, mohair fibers are durable and resilient
  • End-of-life of mohair wool fabrics: The end-of-life stage for mohair wool is generally sustainable because untreated mohair wool fabric is fully biodegradable and compostable. 

Mohair wool fabrics are currently considered unsustainable. The demand for this luxurious material leads to increased numbers of Angora goats being bred, intensifying the adverse environmental impacts of raising these animals. Also, domestic animals are frequently subject to cruelty, while wildlife animals are at risk of losing their natural habitats. However, it is possible to produce mohair wool fabrics sustainably and ethically, with controlled grazing, animal well-being considerations, and less fossil fuel dependency. 

Silk Fabrics: Animal-Derived Textile Made in Energy and Water-Intensive Processes 

Silk fabrics are made with silk proteins unraveled from the cocoons of silkworm caterpillars. Silk has a beautiful luster and the properties needed to keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer, yet sourcing and processing silk protein fibers are resource-intensive. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of silk fabrics and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Sourcing of silk protein fibers for silk fabrics: Sourcing raw materials for silk fabrics is not sustainable. The raw materials for most commercial silk fabrics come from the cocoons that silkworm caterpillars produce to wrap around themselves during their transformation into silkworm moths. The main food for these larvae is the leaves of mulberry trees, which often require significant land and water to grow. Heavy overuse of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides is common in mulberry cultivation, even though the species generally don’t need such agrochemicals.
  • Manufacturing of silk fabrics: Large-scale commercial silk manufacturing is energy and water-intensive, making silk processing unsustainable. The process starts with collecting silk protein fibers from the cocoons produced by the caterpillars of the silkworm moth species. Then, the yarns go through various mechanical and chemical processes, including degumming, weighting, dyeing, and weaving.
  • Transportation of silk fabrics: Transporting can be a carbon-intensive life-cycle stage for clothing items made with silk fabrics due to the distances covered and emissions associated with transporting vehicles. Silk fabrics typically travel from silkworm-rearing facilities or forests, where the cocoons are collected, to processing and finishing factories, sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. 
  • Usage of silk fabrics: The usage of silk is generally not sustainable. Many silk fabrics require dry cleaning using harmful solvents. Silk clothes are also prone to wrinkles, resulting in high energy demand for steam pressing. However, silk is a strong natural fiber that can make long-lasting clothes. 
  • End-of-life of silk fabrics: The end-of-life stage for silk is generally sustainable because untreated silk is fully biodegradable and compostable. 

Silk fabrics made in large-scale commercial settings are generally considered neither sustainable nor ethical. 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, the silk industry is tainted with the ethical problems surrounding the killing of many silkworms for the sake of obtaining the finest variety of these fabrics.

How Can You Buy Fabrics More Sustainably

Though fabrics on this list are generally unsustainable, it is possible to find various varieties with lower impacts. The key to this is checking relevant environmental and original certifications. 

For natural fabrics

  • 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 certification identifies products made from plants or other renewable materials.
  • Ecolabel: Ecolabel is the official European Union voluntary label recognized worldwide for certified products with a guaranteed, independently-verified low environmental impact. The label requires high environmental standards throughout the entire life-cycle: from raw material extraction through production and distribution to disposal. It also encourages companies to develop innovative, durable, easy-to-repair, and recyclable products. 

For plant-based semi-natural/semi-synthetic fabrics:

  • Program for Endorsement of Forest Certification: PEFC’s approaches to sustainable forest management are in line with protecting the forests globally and locally and making the certificate work for everyone. Getting a PEFC certification is strict enough to ensure the sustainable management of a forest is socially just, ecologically sound, and economically viable but attainable not only by big but small forest owners.

For recycled fabrics:

  • 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.

For all types of fabrics:

  • 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.
  • OEKO-TEX® Standard 100: OEKO-TEX® labels aim to ensure that products pose no risk to human health (i.e. containing banned chemicals). 

Some certifications that 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.

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 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 landfills (instead of being recycled to create new 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 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 can lead to ecological breakdown. 

Sustainable fabrics are made with less water and fewer 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 Sustainable Management of Forests

Sustainable plant-based fabrics are made with raw materials from forests and plantations that are sustainably managed, such as those 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 effects 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 wool or silk. Every year, billions of animals suffer and die for clothing and accessories.

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

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

Using Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Textile Workers 

Recent statistics from UNICEF estimated that there are as many as 170 million child laborers worldwide, many of whom are 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

To recap, the least sustainable fabrics are as follows: 

  1. Polyester
  2. Conventional cotton
  3. Viscose
  4. Nylon
  5. Acrylic
  6. Acetate 
  7. Leather
  8. Spandex/Elastane/Lycra
  9. Cupro
  10. Cashmere wool
  11. Sequin
  12. Polyurethane (PU)
  13. Bamboo viscose
  14. PLA
  15. Mohair wool
  16. Silk

Fabrics like polyester, nylon, acrylic, spandex, and acetate are (semi-)synthetic materials made using nonrenewable fossil fuels in high-polluting and energy-demanding processes. Cotton, viscose, cupro, and cashmere fabrics are derived from plants or animals, yet the sourcing and manufacturing processes often depend heavily on chemicals, enabling them to pollute the environment and degrade the land. 

If you have to purchase any of these fabrics due to their price, performance, or other properties, here are a few steps you can follow to lower their environmental impacts: 

  1. Buy second-hand, recycled, or upcycled clothes made with these fabrics.
  2. While using these fabrics, maximize the number of wears between washes and keep them as long as possible.
  3. At the end-of-life of the fabrics, upcycle materials to extend their usage and arrange for them to be recycled or properly disposed of.

Stay impactful,



Sources

Photo of author
Did you like this article?

Get the 5-minute newsletter that makes reading impactful news enjoyable—packed with actionable insights to make a positive impact in your daily life.

Three Related Posts

One Unrelated Post