What Are Sustainable Fabrics | Ethical Elements

There are many variables that make a fabric truly sustainable. Find out what makes a fabric “green,” and how to choose the most ethical fabrics for your business or home.

Each year, the world is consuming 80 billion new pieces of clothing.

Yes, that’s right, that’s BILLION with a B.

Comparatively, in the early 2000s, we consumed less than a quarter of that amount.

Fast fashion and fast-paced interior design trends are fast becoming a global issue, and people are calling out for more sustainable solutions that are ethically sourced.

However, sustainability is a general, sweeping term, but what does it actually mean?

What Exactly Are Sustainable Fabrics?

Sustainable textiles are often produced from natural or recycled materials with the goal of minimizing harm either during production, fiber characteristics, or overall environmental effect.

The 3 main categories in fabrics are:

  • Natural Fabrics
  • Synthetic Fabrics
  • Semi-Synthetic Fabrics

Let’s take a closer look at what each one means and how they are (or aren’t sustainable).

Natural Fabrics:

Natural fabrics are one of the most sustainable options within textiles.

They frequently come from renewable resources, such as cotton and linen fibers, that grow back quickly after being harvested.

Generally, natural fabrics don’t have as much of a negative impact on the environment as synthetic or semi-synthetic fabrics, because they aren’t produced with toxic chemicals or processes.

In fact, natural textiles can help to preserve our planet by sequestering carbon in the ground where it belongs instead of adding to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

But not all natural fabrics are created equal; some may use chemical treatments during production, while others may be made from recycled materials like plastic bottles.

Linen, organic cotton, hemp, and raffia are popular natural fabrics.

The majority of organic cotton fabric is also GOTS certified, making it a great choice for ethical apparel.

Organic Cotton Fabric:

Organic cotton fabric comes from crops that are grown without pesticides or herbicides and aren’t treated with chemicals.

Organic cotton fabric is often soft and breathable, making it a great choice for clothing that will be worn against the skin. It also absorbs moisture easily, so it’s perfect when you’re looking to make activewear garments. This makes this fabric an ideal choice for casual wear too!

Cashmere and non-organic cotton can have a negative environmental impact, despite being natural fabrics.

Synthetic Fabrics:

Synthetic fabrics, also known as artificial or man-made fabrics, are a type of fabric that is made from non-natural materials. In fact, the fibers in polyester are made from the same material as plastic bottles.

The primary cause of global warming is carbon dioxide, which is made when creating synthetic fibers because they use fossil fuels.

It has also been proven that washing artificial fibers generates micro-plastics that pollute the water supply and eventually make their way into our food chain. Synthetic fibers do not decompose, so if not recycled they will end up in landfills for decades before they start to break down.

The GOOD NEWS is that synthetic fibers CAN be recycled. And they can also be created using recycled bottles, plastics and so much more.

Don’t write off all synthetic materials as having a negative impact. They are not all created equal, and if you know what to look out for can be environmentally friendlier than some natural materials.

There are many types of synthetic fabric, from polyester to nylon, and they have varying degrees of environmental impact.

Recycled Polyester Fabric

Switching to recycled polyester fabric is a great way to reduce the environmental impact of your business.

In fact, it will have a positive effect on both the environment and potentially your bottom line too.

Recycled or recycled post-consumer materials are frequently made from plastic bottles, which reduce the amount of petroleum used to create fabric and help reduce landfill waste.

One of the fabrics made with this method is 100% Polyester fabricated with polyethylene terephthalate (PET) from post-consumer recycled plastic bottles

Polyester fabrics are typically strong and durable, which makes them popular for workwear. However, they can also be toxic and cause skin irritation to some wearers.

Recycled polyester fabric can help reduce the negative effects of this type of material without compromising on strength, durability, or performance.

100% recycled PET fabrics are often made from post-consumer plastic bottles that would otherwise end up in a landfill site. They can be stronger than standard polyester fabrics due to the strength of the recycled material.  

Semi-Synthetic Fabrics:

Semi-synthetic materials come from a natural source but must be processed to become fibers that may be used in clothing. Viscose, modal, lyocell, and bamboo are examples of this type of material.

Many semi-synthetics are made from chemically treated cellulose fibers that pollute water sources with toxic chemicals during manufacturing processes.

Some, however, do not and with a little research, we are able to source these for you and stock them here in our head office in Dubai.


Whether your business is interior design, within the ever-changing world of fashion, or even if your interest in sustainability and ethical fabrics is purely personal – there are a few key ways to decipher whether fabrics you are purchasing are environmentally sustainable and ethically sourced.

If you are ever in need of some free advice, or you would like to come down and see our range of ethically sourced and sustainable fabrics – get in touch.

We provide designers with a clear understanding of what they are buying, how it was made, and what the impact is.

We understand that being sustainable can be a challenge, but we want you to know that you are not alone. If you require any help choosing material for your next project, we are here to help, and we have a wealth of information at hand.

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Bamboo itself can be a highly sustainable crop, if grown under the right conditions.

There are a wide variety of textiles derived from the bamboo plant that are called bamboo fabric which has been used for thousands of years ( for infrastructure, medicinal use and for paper).

Bamboo fabric possesses antibacterial as well as UV protection properties.

In order to produce bamboo fabric of the highest quality, cellulose is not extracted during production. The bamboo fibers are instead coated with a natural enzyme before being washed and spun into yarn.

Often called bamboo linen, this fabric has a silky texture and is made from silky yarn.

This method makes bamboo fabric that is strong, durable, and environmentally friendly.

  • One can wash bamboo fabric by hand or in a washing machine, but it is absolutely important to use only cold water, never warm or hot water during this process (maximum recommended temperature: 60°C).
  • Wash bamboo clothes after turning them inside out, for best results.
  • Use a minimal amount of soap, and wash gently along with other clothes of similar colors, in short cycles.
  • It is important to rinse the clothes well to get rid of all the soap.
  • Never use softener or bleach on these clothes as they significantly reduce its life.
  • The cloth should never be dried in direct, strong sunlight, as this can cause permanent damage.
  • Bamboo fabric should never be dried in a machine dryer, as this causes it to shrink and lose shape rapidly.
  • Dry cleaning bamboo fabrics should be avoided as far as possible.


Modal is manufactured from cellulose using chemical processing, just as are bamboo, rayon (viscose) and lyocell. In the case of modal, the cellulose comes from softwood trees.  The manufacturing process is closed loop, which means that the chemicals used in processing are captured and reused. The small amount of discharged is considered non-hazardous. The finished textile is biodegradable and also takes well to natural dyes, eliminating the need for more harmful chemical dyes. Although in most cases modal is still dyed with conventional chemical dyes.

  • Beech trees are harvested, chipped, and cellulose is extracted from the pulp.
  • Next, the cellulose is made into sheets, which are soaked in sodium hydroxide.
  • Those sheets are broken into smaller pieces, which are soaked in carbon disulfate. This produces sodium cellulose xanthate.
  • Cellulose xanthate is soaked in sodium hydroxide again. The subsequent liquid solution is put through a spinneret, which is a device with a series of holes that help create fibers.
  • The created fibers are soaked in sulfuric acid to form yarn. Once washed, bleached, and dried, the yarn is loaded onto spools.
  • From there, the yarn can be woven or knit into a fabric to form modal.
Good news Modal can be washed in the washing machine with warm water. But if you know me, you know I prefer cold, it uses way less energy. It can also be machine dried (use the gentle cycle), but I highly recommend air drying your clothes. I’ve got a whole guide on how to do it right. Never use bleach on delicates fabrics, it breaks down the fibres and I always recommend using more natural, eco-friendly detergents for all your clothing. You can think of the care in the same way you would good linen. If you have lingerie or undies made from Modal, hand wash or use a mesh washing bag.

Organic Linen

Organic linen comes from a flax plant that is farmed without any use of toxic chemicals at the farming or processing stage.
The flax plant usually grows naturally in Western Europe, in temperate climates.

  • We recommend always using a low temperature or cold wash.
  • Use gentle detergents that are environmentally safe, and use a washable garment bag for particularly delicate items. Do not use fabric conditioner.
  • For stains, pre-soak and do not use an iron until the stain is completely gone.
  • Wash inside out and with like colors.
  • Do NOT wash with garments that have Velcro or zippers to avoid abrasion marks.
  • Always air dry when you can.
  • If you must iron, use a medium temperature iron and test on an inconspicuous piece first.
Organic linen is made from flax, a natural raw material. Flax is a recyclable fiber that does not need irrigation. It also requires almost no chemical treatment. All parts of the flax plant are used, ensuring no waste.


The milk fiber has been widely used in sweaters, underwear, garments, home textiles and other
fields, milk fiber products are quite welcome to consumers for the excellent properties of milk fiber super soft,anti-allergy, Eco-friendly, healthy and comfortable.

The most specific characteristics of milk protein fiber are skin-nourishing and bacteria-fighting.

Milk fiber is made from milk casein instead of fresh milk. It is new generation of innovative Fiber & a kind of synthetic Fiber created through bio-engineering method with biological health benefits which has passed international ecological certification of OEKO-tex standard 100.

Since they contain acrylic, however, semi-synthetic forms of this fabric can only be washed in cold or warm water.

Organic Hemp

Hemp fabric gives all the softness of other natural textiles, but with a strength that is an amazing 3 times higher than cotton.
This unique durability makes it uniquely hard-wearing and long-lasting.

  • We recommend always using a low temperature or cold wash.
  • Use gentle detergents that are environmentally safe, and use a washable garment bag for particularly delicate items. Do not use fabric conditioner.
  • For stains, pre-soak and do not use an iron until the stain is completely gone.
  • Wash inside out and with like colors.
  • Do NOT wash with garments that have Velcro or zippers to avoid abrasion marks.
  • Always air dry when you can.
  • If you must iron, use a medium temperature iron and test on an inconspicuous piece first

Hemp fabric is a long-lasting and durable fabric which is made from the long strands of fiber that make up the stalk of the plant.
These fibers are separated from the bark through a process called “retting.”
The retted fibers are then spun together to produce a continuous thread (or yarn) that can be woven into a fabric.

Recycled Polyster

Recycled Polyester, much like traditional polyester, is a man-made fabric.
However, recycled polyester is made from recycled plastic such as plastic bottles.

  • We recommend always using a low temperature or cold wash.
  • Use gentle detergents that are environmentally safe, and use a washable garment bag for particularly delicate items.
  • Wash inside out and with like colors.
  • Always air dry when you can.
  • Should not have to be ironed, but if you do, use a medium temperature iron and test on an inconspicuous piece first.

Recycled polyester is made by breaking down used plastic into small, thin chips. These thin pieces and chips are then melted down further and spun into yarn, which is then made into fabric.